Pissing down with rain and umbrellaless (of course), I had planned to meet Zeyna outside the Saatchi gallery. I found her stood by the entrance having an animated conversation with the security guard, who by the end of their chit chat was left entertained and somewhat intrigued by her. Which is exactly why I had chosen to interview Zeyna, she intrigued me.
Why have you chosen this location?
This was my first “real job”. I worked as the head press officer at the Saatchi Gallery generating and archiving print and online press. It was a small office so we all worked super close - everyone from Charles Saatchi’s PA, to the book store manager, the business development officer, head of finance, etc. I was 18 when I started here. I always come back to visit them for openings or just to say hi.
I learnt so much here beyond my job title. I got to help make ads for magazines, help with the organisation of events, I learnt the key factors of curating exhibitions, making and maintaing solid contacts and so much more.
How did you get into your field of work?
I guess it started when I took a “gap year” from uni… Which lasted longer than a year. I began interning at Dazed & Confused, I was only meant to stay for two weeks but I worked really hard, I went above and beyond - not because I was trying to kiss anyone’s ass but because I really wanted to learn! I really wanted to make the most of where I was and what was going on especially because I wasn’t in uni. This was in a way school for me.
I was originally advertising intern, but it was fashion week at the time so AnOther Magazine’s fashion assistant stole me from the advertising department (Dazed & AnOther mag are in the same office) and she asked me to stay for a month. We worked really close - I did everything from booking flights to sorting out front row seats at shows for the fashion director of AnOther as well as assisting with budgeting and getting pieces for shoots. I remember texting the fashion assistant at like 8pm saying “can I help you with this! Can I help you with that?!” She was the sweetest - she even took me to my first fashion shows! I just wanted to make being an intern benefit me. I didn’t want to just be there for the sake of being there. I wanted to leave with something in my hands.
I studied art and design at college and applied for fine art/photography at university. After I got accepted I thought - do I really want to do this right now? Do I want to be a photographer, no. Do I want to be a fine artist, no. I have a great appreciation for photography and most of the people I work with today are photographers or fine artists. I just didn’t want to be practitioner. I feel like my talents lie behind the scenes. (…for now. But you never know what may happen in the future!)
I went on to curate a show for a Paris based photographer Emmanuelle Tricoire. That was one of the best things ever, she was like my guinea-pig - I was honoured that such a great artist trusted me. I was 19! After that I did another show for a New York based photographer called Mike Schreiber. It was an exhibition and book launch ; he was quite well known in Europe but had never exhibited here. We did that at Protein’s gallery space on Hewett Street. I was overwhelmed by the response and the exhibitions turnout. The guest list was at capacity and I had people emailing me for interviews, cost of prints etc. So many people were introduced to his work through all the press ( by using the approach as well as some of the contacts I had gained by working at the Saatchi gallery) . We did a live Q & A session, which was really interesting because we don’t always get to hear the stories behind the pictures directly from the photographer. I loved how the audience responded to that and was proud to have made that happen. I realised I loved being able to give people, or should I say artists, that kind of exposure. I then started writing for Dazed and I now contribute to/write for some of my other favourite publications like Interview, i-D, WAD, BULLETT, Twin, Nowness, Vogue and most recently Condé Nast Traveller. I mostly feature photographers or fine artists who are often my friends or become my friends once the piece is done ! I only really write about things that I genuinely love and support. It’s more about me being excited about someone or something and wanting to shine a light on it/them for everyone to see and appreciate rather than me wanting to be a writer or journalist.
I then went to intern in New York, I was like fuck it. I need to see something new. I started off at a Fashion PR agency - I began the day after my arrival at 9AM. It was fun in the beginning, super intense. But after fashion week was over I realised I didn’t want to be there and it had stopped being beneficial to me. That’s the thing with interning, you have to make it worth your while otherwise you’re just a donkey….wasting time…chewing grass or whatever donkeys eat. Fashion is part of what I do, certain aspects of the industry interests me but what I was doing there didn’t. I felt super limited and stagnant. A feeling that I hate. So I was just like, bye guys. Then I went to The Fader magazine, I was working in the advertising department, then the project manager at Cornerstone (Cornerstone Agency and The Fader are in the same office) stole me and I started to actually work… for MONEY. More with promotions/ branding. I met so many people and I also took on another internship at Milk Gallery. That was so fun - I was working with the gallery & events director. It was super hands-on and I was doing exactly what I had wanted to do for a long time. I got really close to the head of PR at Milk and a year later she emailed me asking if I would come back, I did, she ended up hiring me and I was working with the senior fashion team during Made Fashion Week ( fashion shows produced by Milk studios for emerging designers) I was assisting with sponsorship liaison, organising and producing events/Alexander Wang after party etc. that’s when it alllll began to get juicy. Both Milk & Fader are like family. That’s where the foundation was set and everything grew from. I still maintain a work relationship with them to this day.
You seem pretty fearless..
I just choose to take the road less travelled in order to make the pursuit of my efforts well worth the journey. Taking risks is super important. I have no net. I am a free-faller and can adapt in mid air to land somewhat on my feet. I don’t ever want to be too comfortable, well not just yet anyway. Shit gets stale and repetitive. The only thing I like repeating is Mariah Carey “melt away”! I love that song, everyone else I know hates it! *laughs*
I don’t think there’s any progress in comfort
Exactly! There really really isn’t! When I was 14 I remember being in school and thinking, I hate it here so I moved to Jamaica for four years and went to school there. That was the best experience of my life. It wasn’t easy, all my friends and family were here in London. But I had to do it. That Jamaica experience gave me so much. It taught me that being uncomfortable for a minute is okay! It taught me that there is actually beauty in uncertainty - as long as you have a vision and a purpose.
I always feel like I’ll be okay, when I first went to New York I think I brought enough money for a monthly metro card and a $1 pizza every day for 90 days. I used to get off at random stops on the subway and just roam around, those are the places in New York I now know the best. Plus I talk to strangers all the time *laughs* who have then gone on to become long-lasting friends. I always talk to people, you saw me chatting to that guy outside when you came *laughs*.
Haah! Oh yes!
His name was Fernando *laughs*.
Okay, what’s been your greatest moment so far?
I think it might be pending, there is so much that has happened that is amazing, that I am super proud of but the other day my grandma called me and said, “Zeyna you’ve done a lot, but you haven’t anything yet…” and I definitely agree with her. It hasn’t come yet but I think with a bit more focus I could have my stand out moment, it’s cooking, it’s coming. It’s in the oven *laughs*.
What would you tell the you of 3 years ago?
I don’t know, everything happens the way it’s meant to happen. Hmmm, I was 19. Maybe go a little bit harder and plan a little bit better. Oh, and change your hairstyle! I’ve had this hairstyle since I was 12 years old! Go harder with a little more focus, plan and change your hairstyle.
If this world were mine….
*sings* If this world were mineee, I would place at your feeeet *laughs*
Haha that song is why I ask this question!
It’s all about balance, don’t think I’d change anything. I could say world peace. I could say no more poverty. I could say I would have an unlimited supply of Percy Pigs. But what good would that do for my teeth? As I said it’s all about balance. You’ve got to have a bit of bad to appreciate the good. Or to sometimes lack to appreciate when you have. The one thing I would probably change though is the process of getting a visa. I would eliminate it completely so we could all roam the earth with no boundaries!
What do you know for sure?
That’s a hard one… I don’t think I know anything but myself for sure. Not everyone does. Sometimes it takes a really long time to truly know and accept the true essence of who you are. It’s really important, with relationships, with work…It takes a lot of reflection, it takes honestly, you will probably have to talk to yourself (no necessarily aloud - but that’s always fun) you have to talk openly and honestly with others and accept when they tell you things you don’t want to hear or things that aren’t so “pretty” about your characteristics. If you can change it, that’s great but knowing and accepting who you are is more important…in my opinion.
Im born in the week of the loner and I spend a lot if time alone. Sometimes because I want to and other times it just happens. I went to boarding school in Jamaica when I was 14 but I was the only child boarding. (Yes very weird) I was by myself ALL THE TIME. Then I went to live with my grandma in an area where all the returnees and retired folk lived. *laughs* it was super rural, no internet, no nothing. Just lizards and Mosquitos. Being in that environment I had to entertain myself or I’m sure I would go mad. It taught me to love my own company and it may sound sad, but I became my own best friend. And who do you know better than your best friend? No one! So one thing I know for sure is Zeyna, I know myself… For sure.