Sulaiman Othman is a journalist, digital curator, researcher. He manages Hikateya (meaning,
‘our story’ in Arabic), the community art project running since 2014, multimedia,
collaborative creative project that has helped young refugee people express themselves
through writing, storytelling, and photographs. His most significant recent achievement- during the Covid-19 pandemic- was that he launched his digital magazine, Caravel, to celebrate art, culture and heritage from MENA.
Along with his master’s degree in Digital Media Management at Birkbeck University, he has
worked as a news and current affairs journalist for the BBC and Alaraby TV. The above ongoing experience provides a solid basis for his expanding work as a producer and a digital curator, contributing to social media channels in a professional setting and reporting in diverse contexts. Coming from a middle eastern culture and language background, He has the knowledge and experience of working in the Middle East and on subjects and projects concerning the Middle East. In 2019 he received the Mayor of London’s Culture Seeds Award for the Zoomed photography project. In 2021 he received an award from UnLtd for the Digital for Refugees venture.
We talk to Sulaiman about digital publishing and how storytelling can create social change.
Caravel is a multimedia platform to explore art, culture and heritage of the Middle East and North Africa. How did you come up with the concept from ideation to creation?
I love magazines, colours, images, and design, so publishing a magazine was challenging for me as a journalist who worked with traditional media and was born in an age of print where there was no Internet. I was always keen to create my print magazine and lead a team with ambitious and young talent. In the last decades, the publishing industry has changed a lot, newspapers and magazines were closed down or went online while thousands of websites were created, and social media platforms were set up during the last decade. This transformation has shifted my vision of media. As a result, I enrolled in the Digital Media Management master at Birkbeck University which provided an academic education, research, and management skills and motivated me to be more engaged in digital media as the future of journalism.
Why was it important for you to offer a space for creatives to have a voice to share their work with the wider public?
Creating such a digital magazine in art and culture is crucial nowadays for many reasons. Firstly, the digital revolution allows the opportunity to document cultural heritage through digital content like a magazine. Secondly, international media ignored cultural diversity in the region, and building Caravel magazine could be a window to explore those engaging in the MENA. Thirdly, art and culture can bring a community together and open space for different voices and educate people
You document the MENA’s heritage, artworks, and culture bringing it alive to a broader audience. What impact do you hope it has on the audience?
The aim is to document the artworks, cultural, and traditional heritage to protect and enable them to survive digitally and be a good reference and source for academic institutes and students. And also make people more aware of cultural diversity in the Middle East and North Africa.
Do you think the arts have the ability to build mutual understanding and social change?
I believe arts and culture bring people together across traditional barriers such as age, education, race and religion; wherefore the magazine aimed to enhance values of art and culture within wider communities including youth artists’ voices in the magazine, and help readers understand the MENA better.
Can you tell us about Hikayetna, how did the project come about?
Hikayetna aimed to motivate young people to write and create stories by equipping them practical training and sharing their stories. In the long term, the project wanted to bring people together to talk about the human side of Syrian society as, for decades, freedom of expression has been absent from our community.
The idea was to raise awareness among other communities about Syrian refugees and Syrian culture. We also intended to break the stereotypical image of Syria and Syrian people and produce community cultural events promoting refugees' rights and justice.
How can stories of hope help healing build understanding?
We hope to spread Syrians’ thoughts, words, and feelings through this, especially Syrians living in refugee camps. We aim to make their voice heard by different audiences worldwide, who would have never had the chance to listen to those stories otherwise.
Why is it important to own our own stories?
Our stories encourage building bridges from one heart to another to deliver our voice to the world. We also see storytelling as an excellent way to express our emotions and feelings.
What are your thoughts on the current migrant crisis and issues Syrian refugees face?
After more than eleven years of war, Syrians face the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. More than 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees, and 6.1 million are displaced within Syria. As the Syrian crisis gets ever deeper, there is ongoing pressure for Europe to accept more refugees, and some countries are failing in their responsibility to resettle vulnerable refugees who have fled Syria. While people are still drowning in the Mediterranean, and thousands of them are putting their lives in danger to seek safety in Europe, many countries are closing their doors to them.
How do you select and curate content for your platforms?
We aim these projects will be a voice for all MENA, regardless of their views, religion or background. We also aim to break the media’s negative images and show a beautiful picture.
The cooperation model of our project brings together voices who may not otherwise have worked together to ensure understanding of diversity and to better content will develop.