Chclt had the honour to sit down with designer Faatimah Mohamed-Luke, creator of the Lego art pieces we’ve been seeing everywhere lately and wanted to find out exactly how she got to the point of creating art out of toys we played with as children.
The first thing you pick up when meeting Faatimah is that she has an authentic nature, poised stature and has years of experience. The 35-year-old Capetonian grew up in a design home with a mother who is a pattern maker, making her own designs and sewing from the age of 12. She is the co-founder and partner of clothing label Adam & Eve and now an artist.
She is married to Al Luke, a graphic designer and owner of creative agency Blacksheep Design Studios in Woodstock; the two love working together on projects as seen by their choice of sharing a website called Mrs & Mr Luke that showcases their individual artwork.
Faatimah did a year of Access Design at Cape Technikon when she decided to study fashion design as she grew up with fashion and believed that the path was already set out. She states that during her lifetime as a designer, she will get to do all types of design and her determination is inspiring.
Among her accolades, interior and industrial design can also be added to her growing list of talents and she plans to dabble in textiles as well.
What do you think of the fashion industry in South Africa?
I never want to stop doing clothing. I love fashion but I find the industry very problematic with the rise of fast fashion. I don’t ever want to contribute to someone not having a good life. Fashion is not an easy industry, especially in South Africa. Majority of South Africans can’t afford South African designer garments and ideally as a designer, you want your garments to be in everyone’s closet. We sell all our samples because we want everyone to be able to afford Adam & Eve and wear local.
“I choose to buy things that are made ethically, made well and made in countries that I know have good labour laws so that whatever I buy, someone was paid fairly to do it.”
When asked about manufacturing, she feels like it’s a dying skill and that we are going to run into trouble in the future because there aren’t as many younger people that are going into garment manufacturing. As far as production goes, she believes that in 10 or 15 years we’re going to have big problems as the older women in trade that are skilled will be in retirement and production will take longer as new individuals need to hone their skill sets first.
How and when did you decide to leave the fashion industry?
It’s been 11 years since we established Adam & Eve and when we reached our 10 year anniversary, I told myself that’s my cue; you should be able to establish a brand, customer base and make good product within that timeframe.
You have a really long life and I don’t think you want to stick to one thing – Faatimah
She left in August and had her first show in September 2016. If you start out as an artist and you are really young, you have a lot to learn. But having been in the design industry so long has given me a leg up because I know a lot of people and I have a lot of experience that doesn’t necessarily have to do with art but it helps you be more productive and professional.
Being a member of a few creative organisations has been beneficial in networking and creating more opportunities for yourself as an artist; Creative Nestlings is one of them. She has also featured in the right places like at A New Wave – Southern Guild, Visi magazine and House & Leisure.
What sparked the interest in plastic building blocks?
My 4-year-old daughter Sanaa and her school has different toys. She is really demanding and when you build a puppy out of Lego, it needs to look like an actual puppy and not a cat. As we were building, it became more intricate and more detailed and I loved the way they looked so I started making things for around the house like little vases and pot plant holders. Then I wanted to make art and now I make art for other people!
It was very organic and exciting to find something that you’ve created that other people want. As a designer, you are supposed to fill a need and as an artist, you are supposed to create a feeling. It brought back childhood memories and nostalgia.
“The thing about art is that it makes you feel something”
How do you plan out your pieces and actually go about starting?
I first do a design on paper, sketch it out and then digitise it so that I can get every block exactly where it’s supposed to be within it’s dimensions. I then start building but I always make changes while I’m busy with it. I try and plan ahead as much as I can to prevent time wastage.
All design concepts are her own and she finds the blocks an amazing medium as they come in certain dimensions which limit her creativity and that makes her push with regards to trying different things like abstracts and eventually landscapes and portraits.
“I want to do every medium you can imagine art in and use the blocks to do it just because I like that it’s not clay, paint or something considered a traditional art medium. I like that it’s not something that I could’ve been taught somewhere. It opens up the art industry a little.”
So what are your thoughts on art in South Africa?
Cape Town is a little backwards in terms of art inclusion and getting a nice, well-rounded exhibition with lots of different kinds of artists. A lot of artists of colour still feel alienated and still find it difficult to get into good exhibitions, be part of amazing projects and I like that I’m opening the door for the other people. I think that’s very important for us to help each other.
Her latest project that she had just finished was for the Puncture Points exhibition that was paid for by a company in Amsterdam. She says the team consists of the most varied artists with performance art, photography, visual art, sculptures and films. Most of the artists are very young and dynamic and her piece took an entire month to finish.
“In fashion things have a very short turn around time so I’ve never been able to take a month and design something and perfect the design and start building it and change the way that it works. I never want it to get to the overly logical point where this makes the most sense or this will definitely sell. I always want to have fun and I always want to make the pieces that I think are difficult to sell and interesting. If they don’t sell and they end up being at my home or at my studio, cool, I have very cool pieces at my studio!”
The sister brand to Faatimah’s bigger pieces fall under the name Make Happy. This collection features smaller, more affordable pieces that have a nostalgic appeal like Star Wars and things that are close to her heart, less out there and what she believes is beautiful trinkets that should be bought for the home. These pieces are available on Superbalist and Present Space in Kloof Street.
Who would you love to work with?
I’m a major fan of Maria McCloy, the sneaker queen of Jozi. I mean I love international sneaker brands, but I want to wear local too and her work is amazing. She is starting to produce ladies sneakers and we’re planning to do a colab sometime this year 🙂
I can’t be telling people to support local when I don’t do it myself. I really want to work with people that inspire me so if I get the opportunity to meet them and I tell them I like your stuff and if they happen to like my stuff then I’m going to definitely take the opportunity.
There is a strong link between your pieces and African design.
Most coloured people that I know, don’t know exactly where they came from. My only reference is African; my grandparents were raised here, my parents were born here. Africa is me. I am African; this is where I’m from, these are my roots and that’s probably influenced all my design.
Who or what attributes to your success?
I think everybody needs that time to figure out exactly who they are, which they do over the course of their life. When you are born, you are probably most yourself but then we pick up societal cues and weird gender norms and things that we take on, then when we get to our 20s, we question those things and let go of those things and take on new things. We slowly become more of what we originally are and I think when you get to that point, you are really genuine and honest and when you design from there, you come up with good stuff, because its you. You are not trying to copy anything, you are not trying to do something thats super trendy, you are creating from nothing and I think that people find that honesty and very genuine design appealing.
What you want is someone to really look at your stuff and want to own it and want to have it and want to touch it. Well, that’s what I want and that’s my appeal. To me, when I started making the latest pieces, they looked like a muslim prayer mat and when I showed someone else, they saw stained glass from a church window. I used Islamic, Christian and Jewish influences, put them all together with colours associated with these religions. Even though the patterns I’ve created are very loose and fluid, I’ll always try to simplify and modernise them. And when other people see things that I have no reference to, It’s pretty amazing.
You can find Faatimah’s latest work at the 99 Loop exhibition happening on April 5 from 18:00, titled Morphogenesis on her collaboration with Richard Mason.