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INTERVIEW: Isma Gul Hasan

Location: London UK

Instagram: @ismagulhasan

Can you describe your studio routine?

It varies almost every week, mostly because my studio is usually my bed and sometimes different parts of my home, so in that sense my routine revolves less around a space and more around my weekly goals, deadlines, projects etc. I work as a freelance illustrator/artist and that gives me freedom to make my own schedule. My creative routine almost always starts with reading; it's something that gets my mind going, and then I ease into writing, and when my mind feels stimulated enough I return to my drawings and projects. I find myself working in the early hours when nobody is awake, and then in the evenings and sometimes into the night- I find these times suit me most creatively.

Your illustration style is so unique! How did you develop your personal style?

I’ve consciously tried to avoid developing a particular style, because it’s so important to keep challenging oneself and try new things, but in doing so I think I’ve inadvertently developed a few specific styles that I use interchangeably for my work. I mostly combine graphite and charcoal with ink and digital drawing, which allows plenty of room to experiment and push the limits of my work. I think the themes I work within also help inform the style my work takes- since so much of it is about the complexity of our inner worlds I think I’ve always been drawn to incorporating many different layers that come together to form a whole.

Bold colours and greyscale are prominent in your work. Can you speak to how you use colour or lack of colour to convey a story?

I’m always occupied with evoking moods and emotions that I want the viewer to feel or I’ve felt myself while creating something deeply personal. Since the themes that I’m currently occupied with speak of hope, trauma, control and loss, I usually limit the use of colour to supplement the imagery, rather than distract from it- this results in monochromatic illustrations with deliberate focus on a certain colour. Another focus of mine is light- in a lot of my illustrations I treat colour as the absence or abundance of light: it falls on surfaces and objects, and manifests in the form of subtle highlights and shadows, or emanates from things or figures as a source of power or hope. The themes I work with also speak of a tussle between darkness and light, between chaos and calm- I think colour for me represents that. I do however see my work changing if I talk about themes that revolve around vibrance and abundance and celebration- I think it all comes down to what I’m trying to say.

Most of your illustrations feature a figure moving through a landscape or unique surrounding. What about these varying environments speak to themes of trauma, memory or hope?

There is always an aspect of loneliness that I try to highlight in my work, and a sense of being detached, of oblivescence. I imagine trauma being an under-worldly place inside us, where we roam searchingly in a state of disorientation. The landscapes are otherworldly, fleshly, sometimes uncomfortable- this for me is the absence or distortion of memory. These are the inner spaces of a traumatized and oppressed female mind- which means that all forms, objects, plants, and scenes are manifestations of this in one way or another. I use symbolism to talk about hope or the sense of a journey being taken inward. I’m fascinated with visual symbols like eggs, caves, water bodies- all of them signifying places of transformation or renewal. The environments and their different elements could be seen as metaphors for trauma, memory and hope, and as ways to read the narrative I try to bring forward.

Has there been a book, movie or video have you read/seen recently that has influenced your work?

Oh, loads. There’s a massive list of books that is behind each new project of mine. I’m inspired by writers like Clarice Lispector, Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges- writers whose fiction toys with time and psychology and mazes. Thinkers like Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, Henri Bergson, Adrienne Rich and Hélène Cixous have informed the conceptual/theoretical side of my work. At the moment I am absorbed in Gloria Anzaldúa's work, which deals with liminality and being in between places- something I've been interested in for quite some time now.

What's next for your artistic practice?

I really want to take all that I am talking about to the next level and turn it into a bigger conversation through different mediums. I want to delve deeper into inner spaces and how trauma changes us- with more nuance. I’m interested in disrupting harmful structures (patriarchy, capitalism) through writing and storytelling, particularly through speculative fiction. I want to let this guide the forms and mediums I work with, but at the same time I’m starting to gravitate more and more towards photography and animation- time based mediums- to deepen my practice.


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