By Manar and Sharifah Alhinai
Sekka was born out of a conversation that we had in December 2016 about the state of journalism when it came to coverage of the Arab Gulf States. As consumers of media and as Khaleejis, we were frustrated to see our beloved region continuously underrepresented and misrepresented on influential international media outlets and publications, knowing full well the real and potential effects of that. We were tired of hearing orientalist narratives being repeated globally every day, and of our region being viewed largely through a political or religious lens and through foreign voices, many of whom have spent little to no time in the region to truly understand it and grasp its nuances. This has resulted in the marginalization of our rich art and culture stories, and our regional perspectives on important human and universal issues. We decided to do something about it then and there.
A month of brainstorming later, we had already settled on a name and a format. It was going to be a magazine and it was going to be called Sekka. The word ‘sekka,’ which is Arabic for a path that connects neighborhoods together, reflected what we aimed to do most. We set out to be a periodic publication that is dedicated to art, culture and thought from the Arab Gulf States, and that is written by the people of the region, or those who have a close relationship with it, in an effort to reclaim our narrative, and tell our own stories in our own voices. Through our work, our mission was, and still is, to connect our region with others around the world and vice versa, and just over nine months later, we were doing exactly that.
This month marks four years since we launched Sekka’s first issue, which was themed around breaking norms. Throughout this time, we have published hundreds of regional stories in written, video and audio formats, which have ranged from “The culture of hiding faces in the Gulf region” to “Layla AlAmmar: What it means to be an Arab writer in the Western world” to “To yadooh and the whole world: I’m anorexic,” and so many more. We have amplified the voices of some of the region’s emerging and more established thought leaders, and have showcased and published the work of Khaleeji and Gulf based artists and creative writers, many of whom had their debut on Sekka following thorough searches by our hardworking team to highlight regional talents. In 2019, after an expansion in our resources, we were happy to be able to expand our area of focus to include the wider Arab world, which no doubt faces similar challenges when it comes to narrative and representation.
In the last four years, our stories have reached readers from various backgrounds in more than 90 countries around the world, who have come to see the region in a different lens through us, and some of whom were even inspired by them to start their own platforms and initiatives that likewise reclaim the narrative of the region and its people, or highlights them. Our stories have also reached the offices of well-known regional and international publications and news outlets, which have on some occasions published stunningly similar stories to our original stories at Sekka shortly after they were published on our platform.
The onset of COVID-19 brought with it its own set of challenges to the media industry, but we saw opportunities. In the early stages of the crisis, we opened our doors even more widely to contributors from all walks of life to record and share their thoughts and reflections on this significant moment in our history. Because of this documentation effort, we received the Arab Woman Award in the media category last year. During this time, we also trained more than 10 interns after launching an internship program to support aspiring journalists and talents during the pandemic, when so many opportunities were closed off to them in the chaos of the global crisis. In May 2020, we also founded our sister venture, the Khaleeji Art Museum, which is the first digital museum dedicated to showcasing art from the Arab Gulf States. The museum was born out of a pre-existing passion that we have for Khaleeji art, which grew as we gained more in-depth knowledge about art and artists in the region through Sekka. Like Sekka, the mission of the museum is to build cultural bridges and foster cross-cultural dialogues through art.
What’s next for Sekka, you ask? A lot. In our next chapter, we will be internationalizing Sekka even more, and expanding our readership reach. To better do this, we have recently partnered with American fine arts publication Art & Object to bring our region’s stories to US readers, and to bring their stories to us to foster further cultural understanding. We also moved our base to London, UK to better improve our reach, and are looking forward to sharing more details about the future of Sekka, and what it will look like, in light of ongoing internal changes, over the next couple of months.
In the meantime, we would like to thank everyone who has been a loyal reader of, contributor to, or a supporter of Sekka. We truly could not be here, celebrating four years of Sekka, without you. We would also like to invite those of you who are interested to participate in our newly upcoming annual Sekka Literary Competition, details of which will be revealed on October 31, 2021.