Lift the Lid: 23 Voices was a 10-week podcasting and journalism course co-hosted by LEEDS 2023 and Creative Lives, providing participants with the skills and confidence to create their own media about the culture that matters to them. In this article, Abrar Oumadine interviews Rayyana Feisal, a Leeds Arts University graduate and founder of the D&I Collective.

Rayyana Feisal is a visual communication graduate from Leeds Arts University, and a co-founder of the D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) Collective. The young youth-led collective aims to build community in Leeds for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) individuals to champion their voices and art. "We realised making a community in Leeds arts is too difficult as it is never on our terms," Rayanna claims.

Rayyana’s decision to attend Leeds Art University was largely motivated by the vibrant multiculturalism that the city promised. But while she was excited to meet her peers and begin her studies, the Covid lockdowns of 2020 meant it was a while before she could fully embrace student life.

As the lockdown eased, Rayyana found herself surprised by the absence of other people of colour, particularly in spaces such as the student’s union. She spoke of expecting to see societies that celebrated diversity and multiculturalism but found that no such space existed.

A surprise, when 27.4% of people starting undergraduate study in the 2019 to 2020 academic year were from an ethnic minority background, the highest percentage on record.

Inspired to be a force for change and to create safe spaces for those from diverse backgrounds, Feisal began to network, not just within her own university but also with students from Leeds Beckett and Leeds University. Eventually, she joined the student executive team and took the title of a student governor through students votes, attending monthly board meeting to discuss issues with university administration and teaching staff.

Black and white portrait of Rayyana FeisalIt was here that she came up with the idea to create a collective. From a young age, Rayyana had a passion for art. Her parents had always encouraged this and supported her in her desire to turn her passion into a career. It was this gift from her family of support and confidence that sparked her idea for a group that supported BIPOC artists and gave them a space to share their perspectives with confidence. "I would not say that Art is a risk, but wearing hijab and being in the Art field is more challenging," Rayyana claims, she starts wearing the hijab at her second year of university where she notices a large shift in support academically and creatively.

After meeting Hamza Ashraf and Zainab Nadeem, Rayyana found partners in the project and the group began to make plans, eventually joined by other individuals who shared their goal. DNI was established, with its founders each taking voluntary responsibilities to help the collective run. Rayanna’s role was managing legal contracts, admin, marketing strategy while Hamza was responsible for the videography of the brand, finally Zainab managed photography and prop making.

D&I’s first exhibition titled 'The Personal, The Meta-fictional & Self-Referential' launched in November 2022 and encouraged attendees to think about the relationship between personal experience, storytelling, and self-awareness in the context of art. Eight artists showed their work, but even with the support from Headrow House, Rayyana felt there were lessons to be learned – they needed to think bigger.

"Bigger or Nothing," Rayyana said, know that this couldn’t be a self-funded project forever, and they needed assistance in making their vision come to life. They set up a Go Fund Me page, but ultimately came across problems with the timing and had to postpone the exhibition and find a new venue.

Rayyana’s position on the student government board gave her insight on the Union’s spending and the funding that was available. After applying for the Student and graduate Knowledge Exchange bursaries and going for an interview, the collective was approved and received a sum of £500 which they chose to spend on printing and advertising costs, as well as transportation. The group also put a large amount of effort into sustainability, using recycled paper.

The theme of the second exhibition was a collective thought between founders and then put into words, 'In Our Defence: Reframing postcolonial grounds & dilettantes'. The theme challenged twelve artists to question social standards, political viewpoints, and the challenges/injustices they’ve faced as individuals in the world in regard to their individual backgrounds. Before the exhibition, a social event was launched with the purpose that every artist would feel comfortable during the event.

Rayyana was involved in curating the visual of the exhibition set up and marketing strategy which increased the brands Instagram engagement by 73% in under a month. While she had great relationships with the artists involved but spoke of the challenges with giving feedback on the work and ensuring it met with the message the event was trying to convey. With 100 people attending the event, almost five times the number who attended their first exhibit, it was a success for the collective.

While Rayanna hopes the D&I Collective will continue long into the future and she hopes to continue remotely and physically for at least a further two years, whilst she embarks on the first steps in her career working as a creative director in Leeds as a freelancer. "I know most people say London is the city of dreams like New York however I think you can make it work where ever you are and moving to London right now is not anything urgent for me," Rayyana explains. 

Furthermore, she envisions a bright future for Leeds as a growing city of culture and diversity, aspiring to see more multicultural eateries and more art projects around the city to discover.

You can follow Rayyana’s journey on her Instagram and find out more about the DNI Collective here

I'm an international student, raised and born in Morocco. I moved to Leeds in September 2022 after a French high school diploma to pursue her education in the UK. This year has been only a foundation year to continue the business management major at the University of Leeds. In my free time, I love making and editing videos on a YouTube channel named 'Abrar Sunset' but also reading thriller and romance books. Moreover, doing sports helps me to stay healthy mentally and physically, from running to working out in the gym or stretching. Abrar Oumadine, Lift the Lid: 23 Voices participant

Editing by Helen Varley. Photo by Franco Royal.