During Ramadan, Zubair attempts to connect with his culture through food content on social media ... he ultimately ends up getting schooled by his grandmother on how to prepare a traditional dish.
FannBoy Friday with Shahjehan Khan: Illustrator Hanifa Abdul Hameed
Hanifa Abdul Hameed is a designer and full-time daydreamer, according to her TikTok. Her designs can be seen on Disney’s “Ms. Marvel,” are worn by celebrities like Padma Lakshmi and Mindy Kaling, and have even helped the South Asian Digital Archives’ “Arrival: First Days” project.
This interview was our first meeting.
(Hanifa’s interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Shahjehan: Give us a little background about yourself.
Hanifa: I’m not just an illustrator … I’m a UI/UX designer, so I design websites, applications, all of that. So that’s my full-time job. And then I took on illustration specifically during the pandemic because I had that time. I used to travel a lot for work and I just had so much free time and I also just wasn’t going out. … The reason I went into art is because I loved illustrating and I loved fashion. … It was kind of like going back to my roots and I hadn’t done digital illustrations before so I wanted to try something out and just put it out there so that people could also see it, and it was like a way for me to grow a specific skill. So that’s how it started .
Shahjehan: What is one of the first things that sparked the creative impulse in you? I know for me with music for example, hearing a specific song definitely made me want to recreate those sounds and make my own.
Hanifa: I wouldn’t say [I] come from a creative background. My dad’s an engineer. My mom is in the medical field. … They’re both very much science [and] math related although my mom did like to draw when she was younger, so I guess that part was there.
But I actually do remember the specific time and specific moment where I was sparked. I was in fifth grade and I was watching Oprah. My mom had it on and this Italian designer, his name is Valentino, came on and I just fell in love with all his designs. It was basically like wearable art, essentially. So then from there on every single day — and I did this for I think like 10 years straight — I started illustrating clothes and I got better and better. And then when it was time to pick a major in college, they didn’t have fashion design, so I was like, okay, let me just pick something close to it, like graphic design, and then I’ll somehow get into fashion.
I never really got back into fashion after that. I’m actually glad because [although] I learned how to sew … I never liked sewing. I didn’t like that aspect of constructing it. I just liked the aspect of drawing [and] designing. I ended up doing graphic design. … I first started illustrating clothes, and then got more into topics that I was super passionate about, but I still try to incorporate textile colors, patterns, etc. … [and] my love for fashion is still there [in my illustrations].
Shahjehan: What would you say are some of those things that you are passionate about that show up in your work, for folks that aren’t familiar with it?
Hanifa: Definitely my love for fashion, my culture. I come from India and specifically from Hyderabad. So like lots of textiles, jewelry, all of that — I love all of that. I used to just adore when we used to go shopping in India, my mom used to tell me like, “Don’t talk!” So then I would just look at all the clothes because the shopkeeper could tell “Oh, she’s American, let’s hike up the price.” … I used to come up with these creations, sew with the different cloths in my head.
Another part of it is specific topics. … I’m very passionate about women empowerment. A lot of the artwork is based on different experiences that I’ve gone through, like sexism that I’ve faced. … Even if it’s not about me, it’s something that I can empathize with in some way. I watched this Pakistani drama [with my cousin] about this woman who had been raped and the society around her was just putting her down and not so much the [perpetrator]. My cousin was like, “You have to draw something around this. Please draw something around this.” She knew how passionate I was about these topics. I would talk to people about them, so I decided to illustrate it and I decided to put it out there and people related to my thoughts. That helped validate some of the things I was feeling. And so then I started doing some more personal things, and people really resonated with that, which felt really good because it was like, “Okay, I feel like I’m not alone in the way that I think and I’m glad other people are also finding out they’re also not alone [in the] way that they think.”
Shahjehan: What are some of the first pieces of art you made (either commissioned or otherwise) that you were really proud of, that made you feel like doing this sort of work was a real possibility for you?
Hanifa: I think [first] it was somewhere around middle school. I didn’t do any digital illustrations before then. It was primarily just pencil and paper, or charcoal sometimes. I did a sketch of part of my house and I got some really good feedback from my teachers in class. [I’m also really proud of] all the documentation of the work that I’ve done.
The first one [that I’m really proud of] that had a personal aspect to it was a self portrait. I had my hand in front of me and it said “LarkiyoN ki badnaami hoti hai.” That basically means, “a woman’s reputation is more fragile than a man’s.” I heard this like a couple of times said to me, and it really annoyed the heck out of me. It was said years before I created this artwork, but it stuck with me, obviously. And so then I created this artwork and I was so scared to put it out there because I was like, “Okay, what are people gonna say?” It wasn’t just like I was throwing this out there and it would just be peers my age, it would be people who are older than me and aunties, uncles, all of these people. And so I was a little scared to put it out there.
A lot of people resonated with me … When someone brings up a specific topic, I’m not one to confront them [or] argue whatever thoughts I have. So this was just a better way of putting all my thoughts [out there]. … When [people] read it, they really understood where I was coming from, why this was just a terrible thing to say to women. So I think that was one of the first impactful [pieces of] digital artwork that I created that I felt really proud of.
Shahjehan: Lastly, who are some American Muslim or Muslim-ish creatives that inspire you?
Hanifa: Manal Mirza is an amazing illustrator. I love her work and I get inspired by her use of patterns a lot. I like the textures, the strokes that she uses. She talks about different topics altogether, so I think she’s really inspirational.