Did you like studying at Central Saint Martins?
I can understand why people critique it, and I did have my reservations. I never felt like I had a good crit in the three years I was there, but the friends I made there are friends for life. The course wasn't the best at facilitating me – I'd come to a crit with a really personal work about my relationship with my dad while he's away on pilgrimage, and the references I'd be given are, like, Arabic calligraphy. Or they'd say, have you seen Musmatch? I didn't mention anything about dating, but okay... So, it was always a bit limited. I liked the freedom the course offers and the opportunities – like showing at Tate and the artist lectures – but if I didn't make the connections I did… I understand how it could be quite an isolating experience.
I liked the freedom CSM offers and the opportunities – like showing at Tate and the artist lectures – but if I didn't make the connections I did… I understand how it could be quite an isolating experience.
Funnily enough, I'm now working there one day a week. I go in and gossip with the kids. I give them advice, like apply for the Associate Studio Programme – they offer a studio space for two years at cheaper rent. But coming back as a staff member, I can see the changes they're trying to make.
What kind of changes?
I think they're trying to employ staff from more diverse backgrounds. They get people in for guest lectures, for example. They had Paul Maheke – he was really good – but sometimes they were also really blind. They invited this New Zealand guy* who was nominated for the Turner Prize. He had filmed these artistic videos of the closest family members of a Black man who was shot by the police in America. That had loads of complaints. At the end of the lecture, people were asking questions, like do you think this was appropriate? What have you done for the families or the Black Lives Matter movement? You're profiting off their pain! And he was just fumbling. So, you still get moments like that.
How has your work evolved over the years?
That's the thing with Foundation. You do GCSE art because you can draw; you do A-level art because you're good at painting. Then, you do Foundation, and in Foundation, they deliberately try to break you, so that you’re not just making paintings. I made some sculptural game installation. I say game, but it was like a PowerPoint presentation. It was awful! But it made me realise, oh, okay, I can make something else.
When you meet new people – this is usually in Ubers – they're like, what do you study? So I say Fine Art. And they go, oh, painting! Painting is where the money's at – I want to get into painting so I can sell one for like four grand. But I like making the work that I do. Videos don't sell, but I like the content and the context. But if you see me doing paintings, keep your mouth shut – I've got bills to pay!
Painting is where the money's at. If you see me doing paintings, keep your mouth shut – I've got bills to pay!
I didn't enjoy my Foundation. I had a few friends, but nothing substantial. Then, because of that, I did know if art school was for me, so I took a year out and did random art stuff like working in a studio, being a workshop assistant, working at Whitechapel Gallery for a bit. Then, finally, I decided I’d just do it.
I think 3D was low-key the best pathway. In first year, they make you imagine your whole three years of the degree compressed into one term. At the end of ‘third year,’ we had a fake graduation, in first year. It was really cute. The tutors really got me thinking and unpacking – art doesn't have to be a painting. The artist references they give, that's what widens your scope. So, in first year, I made stuff like cotton candy. It was to do with sugar and the amount of weight I lost – I was like, this is what the uni is doing to me! It’s so far away and I’ve lost so much weight, so here's a candy. Or I made party poppers and, instead of confetti, it was someone else's artwork, because there was a lot of collaborative practice.
How did the collaborative practice at CSM influence the direction of your work?
Sara was also on my course, and she's also a Pakistani Muslim woman. Having someone relatable was good. We would bounce off each other's ideas. I didn't start out making work about identity, and neither did she, but then our identity was pushed onto us. She made this fabric hanging and someone said it looks like a woman praying. And, okay, I get it, but would you have said that if the context was slightly different? It reminds me of that Lubaina Himid quote where she says, yes, my paintings are about this, but you don't ever give me the space to talk about the style, or the colours, or – I don't paint, so I don't know, but – you don't ask me questions about composition. You go straight to the questions on race relations. So, that's what kind of happened, so we started making work about ourselves collaboratively.
We did Tate Exchange, and we had this thing called Talk to a Hijabi. Then, in second year, we were like, what the fuck was that? How did they allow us to do that? We put ourselves in such a vulnerable position. We thought people could ask us questions, and then it would show that we're actually human. But then it's like, wait a second, we are human! Why did we do that? And no tutor stopped us, no one gave us that critique. We had to realise that ourselves.
I didn't start out making work about identity, and neither did Sara, but our identity was pushed onto us.
Then, in second year, we were like, fuck that, if people want to educate themselves, they can educate themselves. We're going to house our own library in the Tate Exchange. In third year, we just wanted to celebrate all our work. We did a conga line and used green screen to transport people to different spaces.
You learn a lot. You really do progress. The stuff I did in first year was shambolic. Looking back, it's been a learning experience. In two years, I'll be looking back at what I’m doing now and be like, that was shambolic, too!
What’s next for you?
I’ve been looking at Islamic Futurism. I saw a tweet that said manifestations are gentrified duas – ‘duas’ meaning ‘prayers’ in Islam. Like, ask the universe. I still have that faith attachment in my life so I look at it from the perspective of a Muslim. It's just prayer. Then, I was considering this Islamic Futurism. What does it mean to take a religion, not necessarily just a culture, in a futuristic setting? Obviously, religion comes from years ago, but the texts, when you unpack them, they're supposed to last the whole of history. It's just a fundamental way of living, so what does it mean to take elements of that, to create a safe space for myself and other people? Not just other Muslims, but everyone. Even when it comes to women's rights, I know that some Daily Mail commenters would say that the Quran says women can't leave the house. But if you actually read the Quran and the texts – it's not a back to front kind of thing, it's like an exploration of texts – you'd realise the Quran was way more feminist than any of the texts that anyone else was reading at the time. That being said, I'm not necessarily well-versed in the Quran, but it's a part of my identity that I want to explore.
I saw a tweet that said manifestations are gentrified duas – ‘duas’ meaning ‘prayers’ in Islam.
Also, collaborating with Hugo. I want to develop a firm practice with him. We are working on it – we're going to have a studio together. There are a few projects we're working on together, but I can't tell you. It's top secret.
Have you explored NFTs at all?
It sounds so complicated! I see so many posts saying that it's bad for the environment. But someone told me that one of Cristiano Ronaldo's Instagram posts got so many likes that the time we spent scrolling to it and liking it used up as much energy as it would take to power a small country. People don't think about that, but they get in a hoo-ha about NFTs.
Someone told me that one of Cristiano Ronaldo's Instagram posts got so many likes that it used up as much energy as it would take to power a small country.
I do like the ownership aspect, so if I made a work and it sold on, I would always get 10% or something like that. That's really nice as an artist. I have a painter friend and when she sells a work, it’s not in her collection anymore, so she can't exhibit it, whereas if I do a video work, I can show it here, show it there. 30 Questions, bang it out! That work will be the death of me.
My friend told me that I should take screenshots of 30 Questions and sell them as NFTs. Firstly, I wouldn't know where to begin. Secondly, that file is probably six megapixels and the worst quality imaginable. I don't think anyone would want to buy it. It’s pixelated – not in a deliberate way, just because I couldn't export on Final Cut Pro.
Do you want to namedrop any other digital artists?
There are other artists that I like. They're not necessarily digital. Abbas Zahedi – mark my words, he's going to win a Turner Prize. He studied MA Contemporary Photography while I was at CSM doing my BA Fine Art, and he graduated the same time I graduated. His degree show was amazing! I can't explain it – you see such a development, such a critique and it’s so theoretical and conceptual, but he brings it home and makes it relatable and accessible through his texts. And another artist, Zeinab Saleh. Beautiful paintings – the only painter I like, to be honest. She went to Slade but we know each other from primary school. She's my inspo to get into painting. And Sara Gulamali, my collaborator. She's quite big herself. Sara and Zeinab and another girl, Larissa, run this project called Muslim Sisterhood.
Do you have any tips for people starting out?
I'm just going to project – it will be tips for me. Look after yourself, first and foremost. Make rich friends. Make friends that you actually like. If you need to quit, quit. Don't fake it. It's not going to go to plan. I had no plans, but then I got a studio, then something else, then something else – so, just roll with it. Be nice. Some people aren't nice. My main advice is to act like you're a main character. Yeah, I'm gonna be that bitch. But don't be a bitch of a main character hogging the limelight. Be the nice one.
*Luke Willis Thompson