If I don’t speak about this, who will?

From the first book launch of Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa — a paper record. at Ramp Festival, Kirikiriroa, we share the notes from graphic designer Aakifa Chida who shared a few poignant words on the day —

by Aakifa Chida

kia ora, my name is Aakifa and i’m honoured to be one of the participants of the Wāhine Toi Aotearoa poster call of 2019. one of the reasons i always say it’s an honour is because if you’ve ever spoken to me for longer than 10 minutes, you would know that this poster call was truly one of the most important things i have ever taken part in.

i’m an Indian Muslim born and raised here in Aotearoa. so to set the scene a little bit, i grew up with knowing that people don’t like me. whether it was because of the colour of my skin or the food i ate or the language i spoke or the piece of cloth on top of my head. i knew they didn’t like me, but i never understood why. being discriminated against wasn’t anything new — in fact i got to a stage where i’d barely feel it or address it at all because i had subconsciously normalised it so much. the one thing everyone in my community always said to each other, was “yeah; i guess people can be pretty mean, but at least we aren’t in…” and then proceed to name a country where the Islamophobia and outright racism was supposedly much worse.

and i believed that, for my entire childhood and early adulthood. but a few months after turning 18, the day i handed in my first assignment in the second year of uni, that all changed. because when i received a WhatsApp message on my family group chat saying “they’re saying there’s a shooting at the mosque” — my heart dropped and my whole world got flipped upside down. now it wasn’t “at least we aren’t in.. so and so country” anymore. it was here. it was at home. it was happening to people i loved and cared about, people that i had grown up with.

when we were on the plane ride back to auckland after helping with the burials in christchurch – one recurring thought was circling my mind. i knew i had to do something. i didn’t know what, or how, or when, but i knew the why. a few weeks afterwards, when Designers Speak (Up) opened the poster call, i suddenly knew my how and when. my sister and i saw it as the perfect opportunity to shine light on what had happened, on what we’d been through, in the way that we knew best.

a few weeks afterwards, when Designers Speak (Up) opened the poster call, i suddenly knew my how and when.

my sister, being the original graphic designer of the family and much more typographically advanced, created her poster first. and i remember thinking how on earth i was going to compete with that. but then i realised that i didn’t need to, i didn’t have to compete at all. it was the first time in my life i had put whatever design skills i had towards something i wasn’t getting graded on or paid for or even asked to do. all i needed to do was communicate a message. i kept second guessing myself but the only thing that kept me going was a question i asked myself — if i don’t speak about this, who will?

Aakifa Chida shares her story at the Kirikiriroa book launch hosted by Ramp Festival 2023 / photo: Geoff Widder

and so i did, i drew a girl wearing a hijab — leaving her facial featured unseen. growing up i always thought to myself, “imagine walking down a street and being able to relate to the identity of someone in a poster” — so i took this as my chance to stop waiting for somebody else to make it happen. in islam we have a phrase “ان لله و ان اليه راجعون” inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon. it means to god we belong and to him we return. you usually say it when someone passes away, as a consolation and a recognition of mourning. i had never said those words more in my life than i had in March of 2019.

i kept second guessing myself but the only thing that kept me going was a question i asked myself — if i don’t speak about this, who will?

Double-page spread presenting Aakifa Chida’s poster and text, The Mosque That Bled, 2019

i drew the Arabic calligraphy into the hijab of the girl in the poster. i took my favourite words from the Friday sermon given one week on from the shootings. the sermon that i watched in person at Hagley Park before I boarded the bus with hundreds of other Muslims headed to Linwood cemetery.

by the time i was finished, i took a step back and realised that i had never created anything that i’d been more proud of. it may seem small, but that moment defined exactly what i want my design to do for the rest of my career and life. i now had a refreshed lens through which i saw every creative endeavour i undertook after — academic or otherwise — till now. when i run out of motivation or creativity i think back to this poster and i think about the feeling i had when i saw it on the streets near Britomart for the first time. and that — is what keeps me going.

Double-page spread from the book showing Aakifa Chida, her sister Akifa, and family at the Britomart poster paste-up, 2019

i want thank you all for coming, and i’d also like to thank designers speak up for existing. you have no idea how much you’ve changed my life. i’m going to end on one final piece of motivation that has set the tone for every piece of design i’ve been proud of. design changes people, and people change the world.

thank you


Aakifa Chida / Graphic designer / aakifachida.design / @studiochida


Read about \\\ Present Tense : Wāhine Toi Aotearoa—a paper record. /// here  and the 2019 project here with books (and posters) available from our SHOP

Limited copies can be found at Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Enjoy Contemporary Art Space, Evening Books, Objectspace, and Te Tuhi.

Library copies can be found at Auckland Central Library and Auckland Museum Library,  and several university libraries. Not in your library? Ask to have our book included as course research!

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