I think my work as an Indian Muslim woman has definitely made my work stand out more. Society has painted Muslim women as shy, oppressed, and demure women when that’s not always the case – and I believe my artwork conveys that.– Hanifa Abdul Hameed
In recent times, there has been a surge in the influence of creativity, so much that it has become a part of the fabric of our societies and cultures. We have all witnessed the inspirational power of artistic projects in not only carrying strong messages through a variety of media but also having the immense power of resonating with large audiences and changing outdated narratives. The intersection of arts and political activism is defined by the human passion to challenge the status quo, shift boundaries and establish new paradigms. Hanifa Abdul Hameed is one such artist whose activism reflects strongly in her work.
Born in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, then relocating to her native country, India, then moving to Canada and finally settling in the U.S.A, Hanifa discovered the world in just a few years. After becoming an adventurous gipsy, she decided to settle down and pursue a career in the arts. She started out as a UI/UX designer and has worked with brands like Yahoo and IBM. She’s also a digital illustrator and creative activist, fighting every obstacle that stands in the way of expressing what’s going on in her mind. With over 37 thousand Instagram followers, she’s able to use her art as an instrument for change. To understand the motivation behind her creative engagement, TMWT had a brief chat with Hanifa about the intersection of her art and activism as a Muslim woman of colour.
TMWT: We’re interested in your artistic journey, which seems to be so much a part of who you are and how you became an artist who is focused on activism. Can you talk a little bit about your early years and how you came to establish a bond with art?
Hanifa Abdul Hameed: As a child, I moved quite a lot the first few years of my life. I was born in Saudi Arabia, lived there for 5 years, moved to India for another year, then Canada for 5 more years, and then finally to New Jersey, where I’m currently based. I always wanted to be a fashion designer as a child. I loved drawing as a kid, but in 5th grade when I saw Valentino (a famous Italian designer) on Oprah, I was left in awe, and since then I have loved fashion and wanted to be a designer. I didn’t end up studying fashion in school, instead, I decided to pursue graphic design. I studied graphic design at Rutgers University and then immediately got a job as a UI UX Designer at IBM. I’m still currently working here. In my spare time, I like to create illustrations. I only started creating digital illustrations a year and a half back when the pandemic started. I just had a lot of spare time so I decided to use that time and create something for myself. Initially, I was apprehensive about putting my work out for everyone to see, especially around certain topics I feel strongly about but after getting positive feedback it only motivated me more.
TMWT: What is it like being at the forefront of a growing artistic movement, particularly being a woman in a time when women artists are receiving more attention?
Hanifa Abdul Hameed: It’s probably one of the best times to be an artist who’s also a woman of colour because of all the attention we are receiving. Because of all the activism, institutions, companies, and people all around want to hear our voices. It’s exciting to know that people want to hear my story and experience.
TMWT: Do you ever receive any backlash for what you’re trying to accomplish?
Hanifa Abdul Hameed: Social media has its good and its bad. If you put your artwork out in the world for people to view, you’re going to get good and bad feedback. The positive definitely outweighed the negative but it’s never easy to receive criticism.
TMWT: Would you say that your identity as a Muslim woman has made your work stand out?
Hanifa Abdul Hameed: Yes definitely. I think my work as an Indian Muslim woman has definitely made my work stand out more. Society has painted Muslim women as shy, oppressed, and demure women when that’s not always the case – and I believe my artwork conveys that.
TMWT: Do you think more artists should be activist-driven? What are the challenges of being an artist who is focused on activism?
Hanifa Abdul Hameed: I think art is powerful – but I’m not sure if there needs to be more. I think artists should create what they feel passionate about. Sometimes I don’t feel like creating artwork around activism – sometimes I just want to draw a pretty picture. People reach out to me about creating artwork around other topics – that don’t quite relate to the experiences I’ve gone through or seen, sometimes I’m happy to create it, but they don’t always turn out to be as powerful as the work that I can directly relate to. Artwork is really powerful when it comes from within rather than forced.
TMWT: It may be difficult to pick just one but if you could pick the first one that comes to mind, which achievement in your career or personal endeavours holds the most sentimental value to you and why?
Hanifa Abdul Hameed: It was the moment I decided during the pandemic that I wanted to do something else. When the pandemic started I was not being productive with my time. I did this for a couple of weeks and then realized I wanted to do something constructive, and so I decided to illustrate and put it out for people to see, and from there it grew.
TMWT: You’re a perfect example of a woman who is combining her talent and skills with social activism. What is your advice for any young woman who wants to follow your path?
Hanifa Abdul Hameed: It’s always scary to start something new or to put your voice out there, but you’ll be surprised by the power you have.
TMWT is an online media platform spotlighting the stories of Muslim women of the past and present. We aim to be one of the most authoritative and informative guides to what is happening in the world of Muslim women. We hope to cover key issues, spark debates, progressive ideas and provocative topics to get the Muslim world talking. We want to set agendas and explore ideas to improve the lives and wellbeing of Muslim Women.