Stylist Safia Elena explores the intersection between art and self-expression

Photo: Marlon James, Creative Direction & Styling: Ian “Cylenz” Lee and Safia Elena Ali

Through adopting roles in the fields of creative direction, styling, production and fashion marketing, creative Safia Elena Ali has quickly become a familiar name on the local creative scene. With the collaboration and support of her long-time friend and creative partner, Elena Marquez, “SafiaElena” was founded, followed by the introduction of a joint, new perspective on Caribbean creativity and fashion. A multifaceted individual, Safia has a strong science background as she holds a Bachelor of Human Biology, and enjoys exploring the intersection between art, the human psyche and issues of self-expression within contemporary society. Her work has been featured both internationally and locally in publications including Elle Kazakhstan, Pitch Fanzine, Caribbean Lookbook, and Fashion Focus Magazine, as well as on influential social media accounts such as @Blackexistence founded by Emmy award-winning artist Speech. In addition to pursuing two Master’s degrees, Safia is currently focusing her free time on creative projects centered around the female perspective and human identity through SafiaElena and the New Haven Collective. This is what she shared with WE Mag in an interview.

 What are you all working on at present, what is keeping you excited?

I’ve partnered with two of my friends and fellow creatives, Marlon James (a BOSS photographer) and Ian “Cylenz” Lee (an amazing creative director, stylist and music producer), to found “New Haven Collective”. Our aim at New Haven is to use artistic expression to create and establish more positive forms of communication and engagement that promote messages of equality, diversity and inclusion for all, a concept that we are truly passionate about. We’re currently working on our first project as a collective, a photo series and interactive exhibition entitled ‘Magnetic Sin’, which focuses on the strength of women as they confront issues of gender equality in their day to day lives. I’m beyond excited for us to share this body of work because I think that it is important for us as women to question the influence that society had on shaping our perceptions of ourselves. 

What are some of your treasured milestones thus far?

I went through a transition period last year whereby I felt the need to incorporate more dialogue in my work. Up until that point, it was just about putting together a cool look and taking a cool picture. I felt as though I wasn’t putting my creative powers to good use, so to speak. I believe that art represents a unique way to connect to people and to share thoughts and ideas, and more so, to promote discussion. Recognising the communicative power of art has inspired me to pursue projects that feel more intentional and align with my own questions and concerns about life and society in the present time. I now feel more responsible for the work that I produce and put out there. As an individual and artist, I’m particularly interested in human identity: who we see ourselves as versus who we want to be seen as, who other people think we are and who we actually are – which is most important. 

Finding ways to use the tools that I love (creative direction and styling) to create something that can potentially connect to and engage with people on a deeper level than simply “this outfit is really cool”, ignites a fire within me. Now it’s less about doing something cool; I want my work to help people peel back their layers in order to recognise and embrace the deeper parts of themselves. Coming to this realisation and learning how to embrace this shift in perspective has been the single largest and most treasured milestone of my creative career. 

 What is your ultimate goal or biggest dream for your future as a team?

Nowadays, there’s a great number of young people who are interested in creative fields and I think that’s so exciting! In the near future, I hope that SafiaElena can collaborate with other local organisations and creatives to organise events that will provide support and insight to those curious about pursuing creative ventures. It takes a lot of courage, discipline and hard work to be a creative professional, so I think that any guidance that can be passed along to up-and-coming generations will prove to be invaluable. 

With respect to New Haven Collective, we hope that our art will promote conversation surrounding major humanitarian and societal issues, and because art is open to interpretation, we look forward to the emergence of new perspectives on those issues that can pave the way for potential solutions. We also hope that people can recognise themselves in our work; we hope that it will foster an attitude of empathy that will have a positive effect on the way that people interact with themselves and with others as well, so that real change can begin from these simple day to day interactions and sincere understanding.

Why do you do what you do?

Undeniably, the way that a person presents himself/herself to the world through his/her appearance, influences others’ perceptions of him/her. I think because of this, many people don’t fully express themselves through their style. They end up dressing to be perceived in a particular way that they hope others will find acceptable instead of dressing in a way that feels most authentic (to who they really are). This is why something as simple as dressing for yourself and discovering your sense of style can be extremely empowering. Expressing yourself through the way that you dress can allow you to feel more confident in your own skin not only on an exterior level but on an interior level. I do what I do because I want my work to inspire and encourage others to be fearless about who they are and express that version of themselves freely through their sense of style. 

Do you have any advice for young women who may want to become a stylist locally?

I’ll say it like this: there’s only one you on the planet and no one else can you do better than you. There’s a reason that you are you! Who cares if it’s “weird” or “different” or goes against the grain; that will become your biggest strength, your signature, the thing that sets you apart from the crowd. Expressing your innate uniqueness and individuality will connect you to the right people and the right opportunities for you. It will allow you to forge your own path in the light as opposed to walking someone else’s path in their shadow. So my advice is quite simple:

Embrace ALL that you are and channel it into your creative work and styling, and you will produce a body of work that not only speaks for itself but speaks to your strengths and unique perspective as a member of the creative community. That is how you will find success in your creativity.

Eunoia by Safia Elena Ali & Elena Marquez Photographer: Marlon James Models (left to right): Genesia, Emma, Anna, Asia, Gesiye, Afiya Clothing: Kaleen Sanois (Brand: Kalois) Makeup: Krystle Mahabir Hair: Rejanne Lockhart


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