The Nigerian artist behind the viral Hijarbie speaks on how spaces like Instagram are a limitless source of inspiration and opportunity.
Haneefah Adam is the Nigerian multimedia visual artist who is taking the world by storm. She proves representation matters with her subtle, yet poignant hat tippings to her faith and daily experiences as a Muslim woman.
Dabbling in painting, photography, digital and food art, Adam has worked with big brands including Maggi, Etisalat Nigeria, Dangote Salt, Dominos and Coldstone. She's garnered quite the following making portraits out of food and launching an Instagram page centered around a version of Barbie dolls donning the hijab and modest fashions of the modern Muslim woman.
Her unconventional mediums paint vivid stories. She's created series using currency as well as numbers and letters. At January's end, she debuted a sculpture installation celebrating femininity at the Lagos creative hub, Angels & Muses.
Read our conversation with her below as we learn about her creative process and what inspires her.
Audrey Lang for OkayAfrica: You started taking the world by storm by posting Barbie with hijab in 2015. Tell me about this and what inspired it.
Haneefah Adam: I was basically scrolling through the Barbie Style page on Instagram. It occurred to me that there is an alternate identity, with a hijab wearing stylish female, as well. Noticing that gap, I got a doll, dressed her up and made her don a hijab and started documenting it. I wanted to provide a positive narrative for the Muslim girl and provide inspiration as there is a lot of that in the Muslim world.
In addition to being a multidimensional creative, you are also a medical scientist?
Ah, yes. I have a masters degree in pharmacology and drug discovery from the Coventry University, U.K. So, by formal training, I was studying in the field of medical science.
How do you balance your workload?
What workload (laughs)? I am a full time artist now, so what I do is create art and develop the stories I have to tell. I can be quite spontaneous in the execution of ideas that occur to me, so If I've already planned to do something else in regards to art and another idea occurs to me, I just focus on the one I feel like doing, it still comes down to what really matters still, creating. I mean, it's just like how everybody's got to do what they've got to do.
How many mediums do you work in? What is your favorite?
I work in mixed media, painting, digital art, sculpting, photography and even food. I do not have a favorite, as I believe I shouldn't be limited to using only one kind of material to tell my stories. The more the merrier.
Your food art is incredible, by the way. It is what drew me to you. How did art in this medium come to you?
I think a lot of process just stems from social media; there is such a sea of information on the internet. I might have started looking into food art when a food artist was featured on an Instagram page, and in my usual fashion of using my own interpretation of art, I started documenting Nigerian food art to celebrate our own rich culture and heritage. There is so much potential and rich resources just waiting to be tapped into.
Walk me through one of your food pieces and what it means.
Let me talk about the one that won me a food art competition by Relle Gallery in 2016, I made a female portrait out of the ingredients of Ogbono soup and it was to celebrate the strength and beauty of the African woman. Choosing to use a 'draw' soup was to use the metaphor of how it stretches and basically doesn't 'break off' during the eating process.
Your work focuses on identity, culture, and representation. Can you touch on how and why?
For as long as I can remember, I've always been in tune with the way I look. As a Muslim woman, I've had to use my hijab since when I was a little girl. My experiences with what people think of the veil range from interesting to flabbergasting. I, also, grew up in a small town that is rich in culture from food to its practices, experiencing all that has shaped the way I think and affects my output.
What's a woman's place in Nigeria, in Islam and in art?
We can say all we want about a woman's place or role in any given society but I really just wish it was something that can be implemented. In Islam, the true place of women comes from a place of strength, respect and a higher status, as I am sure it is for Nigeria and in the arts too—we have so many examples to support this but it is still upsetting when we conveniently forget all these because we do not want to "shake the table."
What is your creative process?
This is usually difficult to describe as I feel I have so many. A lot of times I draw inspiration to create from past or present experiences, even stretching to my immediate environment and happenings. So, it is mostly the birth of an idea, a ruminating stage which varies with each artwork, sometimes it can take months and then when I am ready, I birth it.
What have you been working on lately?
I am sculpting currently and exploring more aspects of various mediums. I recently showed at Angels and Muse, a residency hub in Lagos, with installation of figurative pieces captured in dance movements. I used the basic rules and importance of lines in the process of creating art so they'd be one line minimal sculptures in some way.
What is some work you are most excited about?
I think I am usually excited about all of them, except when I am not. So, there is no way I can pinpoint one, all my creations are special to me in their own way and they have their own different personalities, so I am just appreciative of all the process.
Where do you draw inspiration?
From stories that abound around us. Anything can be material basically.
Can you tell me about an experience that has shaped your career?
I've been making art since I was in primary school; so it has always been part of me and I think contributed to what I am or do today. Usually, when people pursue a career, it is because it can be sustainable. And if it involves something they're very passionate about, it is usually great. My venturing into the arts has a lot to do with the internet and social media and because we are in the very digital age, the attention my works got, which created good freelance opportunities, made it very easy for me to pursue it as a career.
How are people responding to your work?
I'd like to think they respond to it very well. It is different and it is very interesting to note that some people still assume I play with food when they see me use it to make art. A lot of people have their own opinions.