The Ajala Project connects artist from all over the world to raise awareness about social causes. Through their ecommerce and exhibitions, they are promoting emerging talent, art and social initiatives. Art is now even more gratifying.
To understand how they do it and how it all started, we interviewed Hassan Bello and Narmeen Naser, two of the Co-Founders.
THE INTERVIEW: THE AJALA PROJECT
What is Ajala?
The AJALA Project is an online platform that uses art to raise awareness about social causes and empowers grassroot initiatives and emerging artists around the world. We connect artists to causes, who create artwork highlighting their mission. This artwork is then sold through our ecommerce platform, our community events and through our corporate art sales.
Ajala Project has featured 80 grassroot initiatives and causes. We are representing 200 local and international artists and we have facilitated impact for over 25 communities around the world. We aspire to become the No. 1 art and social impact platform across the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Who else are behind Ajala? We are a diverse team with expertise in Global Health, Project Management, Technology, Art and Design. The team is made up of Hassan Bello (Co-Founder, Software Engineer and Writer), Narmeen Naser (CoFounder, Global Health and Artist) and Anushka Advani (Community Manager and Illustrator).
How did you get inspired, what was your motivation for creating something like that? It started shortly after my longest traveling adventure, where I spent about 5 months volunteering and backpacking across Southeast Asia. I worked with All Hands Volunteer in Leyte, Philippines helping in the construction of makeshift homes, evacuation shelters, schools and playgrounds for survivors of one of the biggest and deadliest typhoons. As I planned to share the story of my inspiring encounters; the amazing people and life-changing experiences I had when I was in the Philippines, I came across the story of Olabisi Ajala. Ajala was an African explorer, during the 1950s, who traveled to 87 countries on a scooter, to spread a positive message of love and compassion.
When he passed away, his lifelong efforts to curb discrimination and racism were forgotten. We, at the AJALA Project, are providing a platform for inspiring initiatives and individuals like Olabisi Ajala, people who need to be commemorated. It is important that these stories are shared and the people who’ve inspired these stories, celebrated. We connect artists and social initiatives to the global community and facilitate meaningful partnerships with private and public entities that will provide access to resources to help scale their impact.
How do you select the artists? We have received an overwhelming response from artists attending our events and exhibitions who would like to join us to use their artistic talents for social good. We don’t discriminate against artists and provide everybody a chance to be able to create artwork based on a cause. We’ve seen our artists develop their skills over the short period of time that they’ve been working with us. It has been incredibly rewarding for us to hear that our Artists are being given exhibition space, event space, and online exposure for the first time in their lives through their work with us. We work with artists from all backgrounds and have been exploring collaborations with performance artists and graphic artists too.
What is the common factor all of them have? They all need exposure and as emerging artists worldwide, struggle to get their foot in the door in the highly competitive art market. They join us for various reasons, some are very passionate about being able to create art to support a cause and some want to be part of our platform to get their names and talent showcased on a public and global platform.
What was your relation with art before getting involved in this adventure ?
Well, I am an Artist and an Art lover. I have exhibited my own paintings online and across various art fairs and exhibitions. Also, I own a hand-painted art clothing brand called ‘Narsahsist’. I am born and raised in UAE. But have visited almost all of the major art galleries and museums in the world. My true passion lies in bringing this Art world home.
As a child here, there was definitely a lack of an art culture in this region. Luckily, over the last decade, UAE has become an art and cultural hub in the Middle East. We’re so proud to be a part of this emerging art scene as we build our platform to support artists and social initiatives from the furthest corners around the world.
Why the name AJALA, what doesn’t it mean for you? AJALA in my language, Yoruba means ‘to be victorious’. If you have a global mindset or liked to explore new places, people would also call you Ajala. The widespread use of the name AJALA is inspired by the story of Moshood Olabisi Ajala, the Nigerian explorer. I recently discovered that in Arabic AJALA means a wheel. And, it actually connects well with The AJALA Project’s philosophy, Nomads Changing the World.
THE AJALA MESSAGE
Tell us more about the next exhibition “Home without borders”, what do you want to transmit? Our recent art exhibition called Home Without Borders that raised awareness about displaced communities around the world. The exhibition showcased artwork by local and international artists. Their paintings illustrated the resilience and strength of displaced communities,including music performances and recitals by seasoned poets. The event was held at The Workshop.
How can people contribute with social change through AJALA? We strongly believe in empowering initiatives that work on the ground and work directly with underrepresented communities around the world. After being shortlisted as top social entrepreneurs in the Middle East by both MIT Enterprise Forum and World Bank, we have been able to showcase our efforts on a global scale. We have connected countless social impact initiatives with artists around the world. Thanks to the sale of Artwork and Art Merchandise, we’ve been able to garner a wide range of supporters and followers. By connecting individual, corporate, and government partners, with grassroots initiatives, we believe we are creating impact by creating meaningful partnerships.
We are glad that our leaders have mandated this year to be the ‘Year of Giving’. It highlights the need for increased partnerships and therefore greater generosity and giving. Through our services, we are proposing to companies to use their CSR budget to buy Art. This way they will be able to directly impact grassroots initiatives worldwide and enhance their local Arts and Culture industry.
Future projects and initiatives?
We are a team of three managing a database of 200 artists and 80 initiatives. On top of that, we are managing our website and organizing all the events and exhibitions we hold. We are looking for corporate and individual sponsors to help support our project. Our aim is to expand our team and be able to connect more initiatives with partners. We want to become the leading art and social impact platform. Hopefully, we can bring on more volunteers to help us achieve this dream.
Our focus this summer is on corporate art sales. We’re looking to offer our collection of exclusive artwork to businesses (hotels, restaurants and offices) and private collectors. Each of our artwork highlights various social or environmental issues (gender inequality, climate change, etc). The sale of each artwork supports the artists and communities that are affected by any of this issues. In addition, we are also holding art therapy sessions and creative workshops for kids and adults. Also, employee engagement activities for local and international entities in the UAE.