Tokyo Life of an Artist in a Hijab
Her penetrating gaze discerns the truth of the world. Her fragile body exudes a quiet strength.
She is an artist, based in Tokyo, who shares "modest fashion" that hides her hair and skin from the world. Her "works of art" strongly reflect her presence. Rahmalia Aufa Yazid, 25-years-old, is Indonesian and a Muslim. At the same time, she was born and raised in downtown Tokyo, a full-fledged Tokyoite. She told us how she wants to "break down society's 'walls'" through her role as an artist.
This "wall" reflects how she feels living in Japan as a minority.
Rahmalia currently promotes fashion, make-up, and design products as a Creator.
One of the works that Rahmalia personally worked on, which she was involved throughout all steps of the process, including the planning, performance and editing, is a collaboration video with Matsuya Ginza (a prestigious department store, est. in 1925, located in Ginza, central Tokyo, a well-known shopping & entertainment district). The video is to target Muslim tourists visiting Japan, and she had her brother assist her with the filming and editing.
Dressed elegantly in a black hijab and dress, Rahmalia struts through Ginza in heels.
She enters a department store and peruses displayed shoes and hats with a sedate look on her face. Sorting through the wind chimes and fancy miscellanies, picking up items that grab her interest, she consumes matcha with gusto and passes through the curtain at a tempura restaurant... Rahmalia recalls that with the limitation of not having any brand names or proper nouns show up in the video, "It was difficult to show the impression of Ginza just based on the atmosphere."
She depicted "the image of a luxurious and elite Ginza" by using fashion, accessories, and background music, as well as her poise. Regarding styling, to give Ginza an atmosphere of luxury, she wore an outfit that was completely black. At the same time, to give off a feminine elegance, she chose a hijab made from chiffon and wore it in a floaty fashion.
"When tourists come to Japan, they come to see 'the cherry blossoms' and 'Asakusa (a popular sightseeing spot in Tokyo, famous for its temples and traditional shopping areas).' I wanted to show them how to enjoy a modern and stylish Tokyo," Rahmalia says.
Rahmalia is also in collaborations with a number of apparel companies. With the number of Muslims visiting Japan growing every day, there is increasing number of companies looking to collaborate with her.
Japan's mono no aware (exquisite feeling on sadness or impermanence) worldview is also present in Instagram
Rahmalia's career as an artist began in 2015 when she started using Instagram. As of September 2019, she has over 83,000 followers. In 2018, she began receiving business offers from companies asking her for collaboration. The theme of her Instagram profile is "Tokyo x Modest Fashion." Her profile features photos of herself wearing a hijab against the backdrop of the streets of Tokyo.
She let us join her on one of her photoshoots.
When Rahmalia arrives at the set, she is wearing a black beret to go along with her hijab made from a refreshing dark blue material reminiscent of summer. Under her dark green blouse, she is wearing navy blue bottoms.
"Today's shoot takes place near Ueno (a traditional downtown, located in eastern side of Tokyo), so I thought that it would be better for me to go with a matte sporty look rather than trying to look elegant. Honestly, I wanted to wear a knitted hat, but I thought that it would seem too casual."
As a stylist, "fitting into each neighborhood" is her key pledge.
After deciding on a place to shoot, she unfolds a tripod and sets up her camera. The camera connects to her smartphone using an app.
With every pose she strikes for the camera, she presses the shutter with the smartphone in her hand and begins the shoot. She makes small changes in her gaze and orientation based on the photos sent to her smartphone.
The photoshoot takes an entire day. "After deciding that today will be 'photo day,' I would spend the day taking as many photos as I can," Rahmalia tells us. Styling, makeup, photography, and editing all take around two hours each to do, and she does everything by herself.
"Worldview" is her key focus in her art.
For example, she depicts "The Japan Shade" that she sees for her Instagram posts. "My works have a gloomy tone, but I think that this is reflective of Japan. How should I describe it? It captures Japan's worldview of mono no aware and 'impermanence.'
The transient beauty of the changing seasons is something unique to Japan. For example, the warm light of lamps in the cold winter, the refreshing sound of wind chimes in the muggy summer... and stuff like that. These sonority are unique to Japan.
It's summer in Indonesia all year round. Everyone is warm and kind. However, that is all it has. On the other hand, in Japan, the fleeting feeling of sadness is given importance. This feeling is 'The Japan Shade,' and you can find it not just in fashion, but also in how photographs are taken."
Many of her photos feature residential areas and streets in the background. "I don't really like things that are dazzling. There are some people who portray Tokyo using dynamic neon, but I prefer to portray a 'cold, grieving' Tokyo in my photos."
Fell in love with makeup
As an artist, Rahmalia is proactively publishing photos of herself wearing a hijab. We asked her what prompted her to start using Instagram. "To tell you the truth, I was originally indifferent about fashion," Rahmalia confesses.
In fact, she tells us that in the past, she was "conflicted" about wearing a hijab.
A hijab is a scarf designed to hide a Muslim woman's hair in public places in accordance with the precepts of the Qur'an, which is the central religious text of Islam. In certain countries, it is mandated by law for women to wear hijab, but in most places, it depends on the community, one's family, as well as one's values whether one wears a hijab or not.
According to Rahmalia, Muslim women are supposed to start wearing hijab when they hit puberty. However, because Japanese middle schools and high schools require uniforms, she only started wearing a hijab regularly after graduation.
Rahmalia tells us that she chose to start wearing a hijab herself. She had no struggle with the idea of wearing it. However, she found herself taking issue with the designs she was presented with. The pink and orange hijab that her mother had bought in Indonesia were too flashy. She felt like she was standing out too much when walking through the streets of Tokyo while wearing them.
"The colors and designs were things foreign to Japan. There were no other hijab I owned, so I had no choice but to wear them. Because my name and face both give me away as a foreigner, I got used to other people's gazes when I was young. However, [when I wear a Hijab,] I stand out even more. Having to wear something that didn't match my fashion preferences when walking through the streets was not a comfortable experience."
That was when she came across HANA TAJIMA, a Muslim designer of Japanese descent, and her modest fashion. The hijab she designed were perfect for the streets of Tokyo. What left an impression on her was how HANA TAJIMA was able to make the hijab on her own. She realized that "There's a way to own your style even when wearing a hijab!"
It was around the same time that she got interested in makeup.
"When I went shopping with my sister, I ended up at the cosmetics section at a department store. Since I was already there, I took the opportunity to have them put makeup on me at the counter. Looking at myself in the mirror, I was shocked at the difference. I thought to myself, "So this is why women wear makeup!" For the first time, I was able to understand the fuss. Up until that moment, I had thought that makeup was pointless."
She saw a brand-new self through the reflection of the mirror. At the same time, she made another discovery.
"I've always been interested in design, and ever since I was little, I wanted to be a designer. However, I didn't know what kind of designer I wanted to be. In college, I chose a design department without thinking too much about it.
When I discovered makeup for the first time in college, I fell in love with it. I was able to use myself as a canvas, and have fun trying out different things to play with my strengths and weaknesses, perfecting my look."
"After that, I decided to specialize in fashion and makeup," Rahmalia tells us.
At the same time, she started to think of how she could "use the 'tools' of fashion and makeup to send a message to society." This provided the motivation for her to start using Instagram.
She is currently thinking of how she can use her skills and the environment she was born into "to contribute to 'society.'"With every new post she makes in Instagram, Rahmalia is hoping to help more people "understand Islamic culture."
"Whenever Islam is mentioned by the media, it's usually in the context of terrorism. Islam is always portrayed in a bad light in the news," Rahmalia says.
"I get the sense that Japanese people aren't very familiar with 'religion.' When it comes to Islam, they think of 'a patriarchal society,' as well as 'strict precepts' and 'fundamentalism.' There are all these stereotypes. There are relatively few people that know what actual Muslims are like. Few people know what our actual beliefs are and what kind of lifestyle we live. I think that this 'lack of knowledge' is what gives rise to these stereotypes."
"I wanted people to enjoy learning about Islam in a more causal way." Rahmalia was mulling this over when she came across "fashion and art."
"There are many ways of getting your message across. But I don't think it's that simple when it comes to spreading Islamic culture. That's why I used 'fashion and art,' which everyone can relate to, in order to connect to other people and society as a whole. Just by being able to attach a face to a religion, they'll be less afraid."
Rahmalia was able to make a full-time career out of posting on Instagram, and still, she continues to hope to trigger more people's interest in Islamic culture. At the same time, her current mission is to leverage her skills and the environment she was born into "in contribution to the 'society'" as an artist. She reveals to us her experience facing "discrimination" as a minority living in Japan.
"I often get judged based on my appearances before I can express who I really am. For example, I've been unable to get interviewed for part-time positions because I look like a foreigner. It's really frustrating when people assume I have nothing to do with Japan just because 'I'm an Indonesian national and my religion is Islam.'"
Rahmalia tells us that "The conclusion that I've reached is that I am who I am, regardless of nationality."
"Entering my 20s, dealing with education and work, meeting all sorts of people, encountering successes and setbacks, I've had a lot of opportunities to think about my life. Meeting with people from different backgrounds has also helped me realize how small my problems are in comparison with what some people have to deal with."
"Knowing this, what kind of person should I aspire to be and what should I do?" This awareness ignited her current desire to "contribute to society through her work."
"In my opinion, Japan still isn't fully accepting of people who are different or come from a different culture. In this day and age, we live in society together with mixed-race people, but still, people have a 'wall' of prejudice keeping them from accepting these individual 'differences.'
That's why I want to break down the 'wall' of prejudice using approachable design and art to create a more diverse Japan in a way only I can do. Right now, people pay a lot of attention to foreigners and Muslims just because they are 'different,' and I want to blur the border separating Japanese people from foreigners so that those differences are no longer considered important."
Ever since she was young, Rahmalia says that she "loved finding new things and polishing them." Going forward, she wants to keep defying the boxes people try to put her in and continue pursuing new avenues of expression.
"Right now, I'm connecting with people and society through makeup and fashion. But it's not like I'll be doing this forever. I'll continue building up my experience so that I can express more profound things and discover new possibilities. I find life like this to be fun. Everything is still ongoing."
Rahmalia's eyes light up as she talks about her path forward.
Rahmalia Aufa Yazid
Rahmalia was born in 1994. Raised in Tokyo by Indonesian parents, she is currently working as an artist. She promotes a type of modest fashion incorporating a hijab. She makes makeup and fashion posts primarily on Instagram that reflect Tokyo's trends. She is also currently providing her services as a style advisor.