in conversation... laylah amarchih

Illustrator Laylah Amarchih
talks Morocco, Muslim body image and horror movies

18th May, 2020

“I don’t feel as attractive because I don’t have everything on show. I wear my headscarf all of the time, and I feel like it’s weird because you don’t know how people see you”

Laylah Amerchih is a London based illustrator, her work incorporates silk screen and relief printing against free flowing line work and block colouring to create lively depictions of day to day life.

Laylah studied at University of the Arts London, and cites her love of manga and graphic novels as greatly informing her practice. Her work has been featured at So Young magazine, It’s Nice That, New Now and more. She also heads A Zine A Week, a place outside of her usual work to create weekly zines as a vehicle for personal and artistic growth.

We met with pre-lockdown Laylah in London’s North Acton, where she greets us from her window - waving joyously. Her studio resides within an industrial estate, where she works and creates in the same building. She works in one of the offices across the hall whilst her small studio setup acts as a welcoming refuge from her e-commerce day job.

You okay hun?

Isn’t the automatic response to be like, ‘yeah i’m okay’. You know what I’m saying? Like today I actually don’t feel that bad, quite honestly. I’m going out with my friends. I haven’t gone out for a meal in a while. I'm not very outgoing, I don’t go to too many places. I’m quite a homebody. It’s comfortable, and if I have the choice to have people over, I’ll do that. But y’know, I haven’t been out in a while so let’s just go somewhere, forget about our problems, and enjoy ourselves.

Your work incorporates a variety of mediums - linocut, textiles, paint, pencil and ink. Which do you enjoy working with?

At the moment I’m enjoying a lot of gouache and coloured pencils, as well as a lot of digital colouring. Not completely digital, but working the two together. I’ve been trying to do a lot more traditional stuff. I feel that when I was studying at university we were pushed to do this whole digital thing and I was never like that. I’m trying to get back into certain things that I’ve not used in a few years just to see where it goes.

What do you gain from setting your own creative briefs?

I try to give myself deadlines. It’s about trying different things. I think when you’re at university you’ll get a brief and you’ll know the direction it’s going in. You’re never sure if it’s going in the direction you want it to but you’ll go with it anyway. I set briefs as a way to explore more.

How did ‘Zine A Week’ come about?

When you’re creative you tend to prolong projects and fall into a trap of procrastination, especially if it’s your personal work. You put it off. I think that if you do weekly projects that are short and sweet, it can be a good thing. You create it, don’t dwell on it and move onto something new. With it you learn and progress. People forget that drawing everyday is something that’s really helpful. I try to do something everyday and I think if you don’t, you get scared of drawing. What’s the worst that you could do, make a crappy drawing?

‘Barbershop’ by Laylah Amarchih

You were born in the USA to a Finnish mother and a Moroccan father, and moved to the UK aged 11. What are your experiences with each country - has this world view informed your work in any way?

I was very young at the time, so my experiences might be subject to my own personal interpretation. I don’t remember exactly what I was doing at any one age, but I do think there is a big difference between London and the US. London is a huge city but it’s very compact. Where I was originally living was very quiet, it was weird because it was like fifteen minutes outside of DC. It was suburban but not too much, it wasn’t like West Virginia where I was born in Arlington.

I definitely spent more time in Morocco growing up. I’ve been to Finland a few times, and it’s such a different place and family life. Finnish people are generally these lone wolf types of people, they don’t need company, they’re content. I’m a mixture of both because I appreciate company but I don’t mind spending time alone. My Morroccan father was far fussier than my Finnish mum, she was more like, ‘get over it I don’t need to hug and kiss you everyday for you to know I love you’. My dad’s the ‘we love you, go see your family, go spend three weeks in Morocco and be smothered by your family’ type. Finnish people only really come together at Christmas and maybe Easter, whereas Morrocan people are always together - there’s a big family dynamic.

“I think some people like to say that you’ve got ‘bad confidence’ and ‘it’s fine, don’t worry about it’, but when it’s all consuming that’s a problem”

I think my work is a bit of both. I think it can be very minimalist. Sometimes I do like the colour and texture of patterns, I enjoy that because I think it’s interesting and Morocco is very different. It’s just very aesthetically different to England. I go there all the time and even now I still like and enjoy it. I haven’t been to many parts, and that’s a shame on my part, but whenever I go it’s always so vibrant and interesting as there’s so much to do and look at. Sometimes seeing something so different to your norm can be inspiring.

Managing projects with a mental health issue can be difficult - particularly when confidence is low. How do you stay creative?

It’s hard because sometimes you feel so bad about your work and it’s the last thing that you want to do. It helps if you have creative friends. Especially if you see them doing things that you want to try, it can inspire you and spur you into something else. It’s one of those things where you’ve just got to do it, and get lost in it. Afterwards you won’t be so upset with what you’ve done. Doing nothing just doesn’t help me.

What’re your experiences with body image?

I think most girls go through this. I’m not going to say that I’m the only person that experiences this, but I am going to say that it’s not on a healthy level. I think some people like to say that you’ve got ‘bad confidence’ and ‘it’s fine, don’t worry about it’, but when it’s all consuming that’s a problem. There are some days when I won’t think about it but it’ll always be there - ‘you look awful’, ‘you’re fat’, ‘you’re ugly’.

I’m not a fan of mirrors. I have days where I have to, and that’s most days, because obviously you have to get ready to leave your house. It’s that thing of wanting to forget how you look for a few minutes, and not realise how you actually look.

Do you think that social media can contribute to body related issues?

I don’t follow people on specific platforms because I know that it can make me feel bad, but sometimes they will come up as suggested anyway. I’m like ‘I really don’t need to see this face tuned person today’. I’m slowly trying to accept the way I am, and just get on with it. It’s not the most important thing in the world but when everyone appears otherwise, it can become hard to listen to your own advice.

‘2019 FIFA Women's World Cup’ by Laylah Amarchih

What do you think contributes to body image issues - what do you think can be done to promote positivity and good mental health in relation to our bodies?

I feel that art is really good because it can challenge the way that we are, whether it’s body image, race, sexuality or religion, it’s important to see people that represent you. I appreciate artists that put Muslim women into their work, or even Muslim artists themselves, because I think that’s something I’ve also struggled with. There are a lot more women in illustration, but there are also a lot of white women, so I wonder where I fit into that demographic. It’s about seeing that you can still have a career in a hugely white dominated industry.

Tutors will bring up and imply that you’re going to have to work harder. It’s not outright, but it’s inferred because it’s the truth and it’s up to whether you choose to be ignorant or embrace it, like ‘I know you’re right but I’ve got something to offer’. I’m not dependent on my identity but my identity is important so I should probably use that in a way to talk about issues, because I have a right to do so.

As a woman wearing a headscarf I tend to dress more covered than most women, and this isn’t me shaming other women; it's an observable fact, but I think it plays on my body image. I don’t feel as attractive because I don’t have everything on show. I wear my headscarf all of the time, and I feel like it’s weird because you don’t know how people see you. It’s one of those things where you feel ugly, fat and disgusting, and I’m also covering my hair. Not having your assets on show plays into your body image, it can make you feel bad.

How do you cope with a ‘bad day’ - how do you move forward?

I’ll watch a horror movie. It’s funny because they’re not really that scary. I love them, you can forget about the outside world and you can watch someone being murdered and be like ‘wow’.

People think horror cinema is quite low brow, but I could sit here all day and talk about film theory and how horror is the best genre, and how it’s actually quite clever. I like all of its subgenres, like slasher and paranormal. I really like art house movies, but good ones by weird people.

I really liked ‘Mother!’ by Arronofsky, I love his movies. I watched ‘Suspiria’ recently - amazing! The newest adaptation is great. I saw the old one and they’re two completely different films, it’s more like a reimagining as opposed to a remake. It’s got a very different tone, the old one kind of feels like a comedy-horror. It’s really good but the latest ‘Suspiria’ is a very different kind of movie, and I like it because it’s more ‘horror’ than the original. That’s the problem with a lot of horror movies, they’re just so badly made. 

‘Suspiria’ by Laylah Amarchih

View, collaborate and learn more about Laylah Amarchih below: / @azineaweek


words and images: patrick taylor

uoh 2020 — @uok.hun