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Meet: Raafaye Ali Sheikh

Photo Portrait of Raafaye Ali Sheikh
Photo Portrait of Raafaye Ali Sheikh
Photo courtesy of Victoria Monari
Written by
Giada Maestra
Published date
09 June 2023

Raafaye Ali Sheikh studied BA (Hons) Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts and is a committee member of the UAL Alumni of Colour Association.

Raafaye currently works as an illustrator and creative at Mother London and in his spare time he focuses on projects related to social justice, equality, and accessibility.

He was selected as a D&AD judge in 2022 for the illustration category. D&AD is an organization that recognizes and celebrates creative excellence across design and advertising.

About D&AD.

How would you define your creative practice?

I imagine my creative practice comes down two paths, one of which is where I tend to have to constantly adapt and push myself into the unknown and unexpected world of an advertising agency.

The other path is the pro bono support I offer to causes in which I resonate with, or touch on social justice. It’s important for me to be able to balance things out - for me to feel comfortable working in advertising - this helps offset the internal moral compass.

Tell us a bit more about your career so far

My first role was for a creative educational start-up, where I was unfortunately mistreated by my team. I was refused the Christmas holiday because I was, according to them, ‘Muslim, so it was deemed by my colleagues that I wouldn’t need to celebrate it. I was not able to take time off when I was sick and micromanaged while my two white colleagues were paid twice as much for doing the same job. Given unrealistic deadlines that truly put my health at risk. After two months of having my wage withheld, once I had created all the assets they needed, I had my notice handed to me. I knew at that moment they were very likely to do this to someone else, and despite being dyslexic, and never truly seeing myself as an academic or someone capable of taking someone to an employment tribunal, I set about making it happen.

It took me 7 months to chase two months of wage, and they settled one day before the employment tribunal. During that period, I started taking evening classes in advertising,  which really helped me build up a portfolio of work, which then led to an opportunity where I was invited in for an interview at Mother London.

I was fortunate to have been given this chance, at one of the most renowned advertising agencies in the world; but it wasn’t just fortune. I really had to graft and carve out a path for myself. The role had never existed in an advertising agency since the era of madmen. Illustrators are usually freelanced per project and tend to have distinctive styles. I was good at adapting and always poured my all into projects - constantly pushing to get the best outcomes and adapting to meet deadlines no matter when it was. I was thrown into a vast array of projects and really had to prove my worth. I had reviews every 2-3 months, expecting to be cut every time - it was only after two years I was finally given a full-time role. It was the first moment where I didn’t have to worry about the floor falling beneath me. We often wonder why there are not enough people of colour in the creative industry, and I strongly feel that it comes down to the fact there aren’t routes that make it feasible to retain jobs when people do enter the industry.

One big highlight of my career so far is being selected as a judge for D&AD, illustration category in 2022. They also asked me to come back again in 2023. This really is a position in which many aspire, and which I never imagined would happen to me.

Why do you want to be part of the Alumni of Colour Association?

I guess what makes me interesting, is that I failed my last year at UAL, but have still ended up getting so far. My best friend passed away, and I was unable to continue - my heart really just wasn’t in the course at the time. It took me a few years, but once I got back into a healthy headspace, I threw myself into the pursuit of getting a creative role. I strongly believe we need to have people from a vast array of paths in positions of influence, to be reflective of society and the experience of students. We require people to understand that failure happens, and that it shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your aspirations. I want to empower people of colour, which is why I mentor, despite never having had a mentor myself. It's why I gave up so much of my time to support the AoCa exhibition: ‘Diaspora and Belonging’ at Mother because I knew it would help raise the profile of UAL alumni of colour within the creative industries.

Is there anything, in particular, you’d like to bring to the AoCA?

I’m also on the committee board for an organisation called 'Design Can' where the manifesto is something that I truly resonate with: Design can Represent us all. Disrupt the status quo. Celebrate new voices. Tell untold stories. Confront prejudices. Be inclusive. Change. I aspire to pull the learnings I have and pour them back into the AoCA, to make it something fruitful for people to be part of.

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