Director, editor, designer, curator, strategist, artist, businesswoman, developer, collaborator. No one word encompasses the work of Hawa Arsala and Tonia Beglari better than the one they gave themselves: Browntourage.
Hawa Arsala and Tonia Beglari met through an improv and sketch comedy team in college, but like many of the strongest cultural producers of our generation will be able to say: they bonded for real on Tumblr. After graduation, the two would go out partying together in San Fransisco. “We stood out as usually the only Middle Eastern girls in the underground club,” says Tonia. “After waking up from our club-nite-slumber-party fiending to not be orientalized, we decided to start a blog documenting cool brown people stuff.” The pair have been collaborators ever since, starting the magazine and media agency Browntourage, founded on the premise of “general wokeness and solidarity for minorities doin’ it well!”
I first heard about Browntourage around the time I interviewed my old friend Arianna Gil, over a year ago. Gil spoke infectiously, lovingly about Browntourage, this awesome brown girl squad in California, that she had met while she was touring as a bassist with SZA, and how down they were. “They changed my life.” I recognized the name from the story the group published on cultural appropriation v. appreciation in the Interrupt Magazine issue curated by modeling agency Lorde Inc. a few months earlier. Their work kept popping up on my screen, in conversations, and by the time the “Identity Crisis” mix by DJ Haram dropped on their website, me and my friends were hooked on their work.
Hawa, Tonia, and their collaborators across Los Angeles and the Bay Area are a whirlwind, a powerhouse team, bringing together corners of the punk scene, club culture, editorial fashion, web design and development, and video. They gracefully tackle the question ‘to brand or not to brand?’ that seems to have most people too paralyzed to even try to produce stuff. From their clientele to their photoshoots to the mixes they host on their site, everything they do is deeply-rooted in showing love, both professionally and personally, for creatives of color. Browntourage is always on the move, but between their packed-to-the-brim schedules, and because the two are now located in different cities, with Hawa in San Fransisco still, and Tonia “somehow in Los Angeles,” the two met up face-to-face for a photoshoot and had a weekend visit in LA.
Pulling in co-conspirators across disciplines, saying fuck you to normative notions of success, and sorting through the social war within the entertainment, fashion and media industries, the co-founders of Browntourage share their musings on desire and sexual politics, as well as what’s coming up for them.
Your origin story as Tonia describes it is pretty magical. What do you see as the progression and early idea behind the project?
Hawa: When everything we experienced in terms of academia sunk in, we were like “wait, let’s do something about how effed the world is in whatever low key digital way we can,” but then it became quite high key with Browntourage becoming a platform people actually turned to for information.