Some say "you can't mess with the classics." I say sure you can. And Aisha Mohamed's art is the proof.
This London student took photos of black women and edited them over Vincent Van Gogh's famous florals, and her work made a splash in a pretty big way. I was fortunate enough to get into her head a little bit, and see what makes her garden grow.
I know a lot of digital creators have to deal with the misconception that their art isn't 'real art'. How do you address that particular level of medium hierarchy salt?
Mohamed: Recently, I've been gaining some visibility and I can't lie, it's been difficult. I'm not used to having hundreds of people tell me my art is uncreative etc. But at the end of the day, 'real art' exists as much as 'real music' does, and a lot of the time comments like this come from white people who want to somehow diminish your achievements. I make what I make, and some people will like it and some people won't, and it's that simple. Although, it does hurt when you're not used to it.
I read that you'd taken a break from art for a bit before this project. What caused your art hiatus, and what was the impetus to start up again—was it this project directly?
Mohamed: I think there was a lot of life circumstances, I started university and just didn't have the time and then when I eventually did have the time again - I lost that passion that I had for fanart, which is what I initially used to do. I think life circumstances was also the reason why I started again, mental health has been something I've been struggling with for a long time and I really needed a project or a hobby to invest my time and energy into. At first, I was just making art as a catharsis but it became something so much more.
As a quick aside to the interview, I wanted to add something close to my heart. The idea of the tortured artist, or the artist whose work is only 'good' when they're depressed or addicted to something is definitely a concept we could all stand to rid ourselves of. It's not fair of us to insist or assume that someone has to suffer in order to make something that speaks to people. Van Gogh himself was afflicted with serious mental illness compounded by poverty and ill health for years, and he wasn't celebrated for either his prolificness or his creativity until AFTER his suicide. If you're a creative yourself, or if you love artists' work, please continue to push towards encouraging wellness of the mind rather than its opposite as best as you're able.
What made you choose Van Gogh's work over other artists'?
Mohamed: I definitely have more of a connection with Van Gogh's pieces, he's an artist I've grown up admiring so for me there wasn't really another choice. I did think of Monet briefly but Van Gogh won out in the end.
How do you pick which woman goes with which floral piece? Do certain paintings scream 'SOLANGE' at you for instance, or is your process more practical with how the composition of each photo fits the composition of each painting?
Mohamed: This isn't going to sound really glamorous but a huge portion of my artwork is trial and error. Even though I make art, there's still so much I don't know especially about the practical side. So I guess, and sometimes it's great but a lot of other times it goes straight into the recycle bin!Well, who ever said art was a 100% romantic process? I don't know, but it was probably someone that's never actually made art once in their life. It's nice to see how the sausage gets made so to speak.
"Classic art," just like "classic cinema" and "classic literature" tends to be centered around how white men interpret the world. How would you redefine the phrase?
Mohamed: We've seen the greatness that black women can achieve when given a chance in ALL mediums. Classic art is also such a boring term, and very exclusive term, I want to make art that's for everyone and can be enjoyed by everyone. Even though my art is centered on black women, I feel like a lot of people can still enjoy it. When you think of classic art, you immediately rule it out as something that you will never gain proximity to. I want to change that dialogue.
There's a school of thought that says your identity as an artist should supersede your blackness, femininity, or any other identifier, both when exhibiting and from your own perspective. However, the world itself never lets you forget that you're black and a woman, and you've said yourself that the lack of representation informed your work. Have you found identity politics more or less useful when it comes to your work?
Mohamed: My identity and my work are very heavily interlinked with each other, and I love that because I feel like I can connect with black women - my audience - much more easily. But it can also get rather tedious, especially when you take black women and incorporate them into white spaces, there's a part of the world that wants black women to keep to their designated area.
Nice! To that end, who are some of your favorite black women artists, visual or otherwise? Who should we be checking out?
Mohamed: I'm still new to the game, but as a Somali woman I check out @somalicreatives a lot. They feature a lot of up and coming artists especially young black women. Which leads to another thing I want to say: support your local black artists.
Being across the pond from NC headquarters, I imagine your hair routine involves some products we might not have here. What do you like to use on your curls between classes and artwork?
Mohamed: I actually use Cantu mostly on my hair!
Just for fun, do you have a favorite flower yourself? Personally, I'm a sucker for peonies.
Mohamed: Is it super basic to say roses?
Not at all, not at all.