By Komal Samrow
Designer Hanifa Abdul Hameed’s body of work strikes on all cylinders– fantastical, honest, evocative, empowering, and of course, colourful. From her childhood love of fashion to her endeavours in digital design, this 27-year-old designer is unafraid to tackle the real, the raw, and everything in between in her powerful renditions of the South Asian experience.
Tell us a bit about you, the person behind the work we see (eg how old are you, where are you based).
I am 27 years old. During the day I work a full-time job as a UI UX Designer at IBM. I was born in Saudi Arabia (lived there for 5 years), moved to India for a year, then moved to Canada for 5 more years, and then finally came to the US when I was 11 years old. I'm currently based in New Jersey. I always loved illustrating, especially clothes. I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was 10 years old, but I ended up studying graphic design instead.
What made you decide to start sharing your work on social media?
Usually, for work, I used to travel quite a lot, so really once the pandemic started, I began illustrating for myself and began sharing it on social media.
There’s often a sadness in your work, yet also a resounding strength or humour in the characters you portray. How do you strike a balance between your serious subject matter and bright, humorous, colourful art style?
The emotion of the artwork just depends on the topic and how I'm feeling at the moment. Certain topics trigger me at a certain time and therefore I decide to illustrate/share it at a certain time.
You’ve been a vocal supporter of women’s empowerment, LGTBQ rights, anti-colourism, mental health awareness, and other recent movements. In your opinion, do artists on social media have a responsibility to start conversations surrounding pressing global issues?
I don't necessarily think that artists have the responsibility to start these conversations. I think artists are good allies for these conversations but artists should not be solely responsible for having these conversations. The artwork I put out has either directly impacted me or my family members, and that's why I'm usually passionate about creating it and sharing it on social media. But creating artwork takes time and effort and holding artists responsible for all the movements that occur does not make sense. People don't realize how much time and effort that goes into creating a single artwork.
If you could change one aspect of South Asian culture, which would it be and why?
I would change the view on feminism. Feminism in South Asian culture, especially in conservative families is looked down upon. But intersectional feminism affects everyone and aims to better everyone's lives.
While most of your work is very “South-Asian centric” in terms of themes and subject matter, on occasion your work shifts to discuss topics and events outside the South Asian community. When do you choose to make that shift?
I think again this has to do with what I'm feeling at the moment. Certain global issues arise at certain times and consume my days, so I end up illustrating about it.
Has the online community and social media impacted your work?
Definitely. I would like to say it hasn't but it definitely has. In the back of my mind, I'm always thinking about what part of my work is going to trigger people or what part will draw them in.
In between working on commissions and custom piece requests, are you able to find time to draw for pleasure?
At the moment not really. I was able to create work in the beginning for myself, but it's slowly getting less and less. It's hard to say no to people, so when someone asks for commissioned work, I find it hard to say no to them.
What’s next for you?
I want to go back to creating work for myself, and start saying no to commissioned work. This is my immediate next step. For further in the future, I eventually want to combine my love for fashion and illustration.
Follow Hanifa on Instagram @colorofhoney. All artwork featured in the piece belongs to the artist.
Artist Spotlight is a series where we highlight upcoming South- Asian artists in the creative space.