Artist Spotlight: Hafza Yusuf

Hafza Yusuf is currently one of 40 talented artists who has a studio with us located down by the historical docks at Royal Albert Wharf (RAW) – and was extremely excited to talk about her recent activities and upcoming plans which include: being featured on BBC for her workshops in the local community, being published in the Independent’s newspaper digital platform iPaper, part of Black History Month at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital Celebrating Somali Arts and Culture through Textiles and speaking at UCL on 23 October for the Somali Festival (18-26 October) discussing textiles for her talk: Disapora Youth and their Contribution to Somali culture & Somali women today: public, private and Political spaces.

Amongst all the activity, Hafza’s keen to share her story with other artists about how she reached recognition in such a short time span. Studio Coordinator Hannah who manages RAW Studios caught up with Hafza at our RAW Labs space to talk all about her journey.

Following from studying her BA Textiles Design course at The Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design, Hafza went straight into employment as an Art Technician to support her four years of textiles experiments from home and began working on her own portfolio regularly drawing flora from observation, inspired by textiles from her own culture and attended exhibitions noting her favourite being the East African Textiles display at the Victoria & Albert Museum. After realising that having her own studio as a necessity and somewhere that she could focus and have her item set up she decided to take a studio

“I finally built my confidence and was ready to take the next step, that leap of faith. I’d heard of Bow Arts before and was excited to see the studios – I instantly loved them!” said Hafza

In November 2018, Hafza moved into her studio and by May 2019 her first collection was ready, stating: “The Docklands are so iconic and I love watching the sunsets, there’s such a strong supportive community here and I have even worked collaboratively with illustrators and photographers. It’s been great being here and being able to take clients to the café after a studio visit.”

Hafza’s idea is to revitalize the weave for a modern audience, this idea has led her whole career.  In Somalia, there is one main weave called the Hido iyo Dhaqan, which is used for all cultural celebrations and events.  Hafza used the studio to create her first collection using the original weave as her inspiration and keeping its ethnic colours of green, red and gold but using digital printing and adding her own signature flora patterns for a modern twist. After posting the designs on social media, she was taken aback by the excited response she received. Everyone was extremely supportive, particularly Somalis who could instantly recognise the pattern – self-identify and take pride in their culture. Brides came forward as they wanted an alternative to the traditional and bought bespoke sizes for their traditional style wraps. All the fabric is designed in her studio, printed in London and shipped globally.

“Doing what I always dreamt of doing is the biggest milestone for this year. I love doing this, as it’s both my passion and work” said Hafza

Hafza was born in Somalia and left shortly after the civil war started, where she moved with her family to London when she was five years old.  As a result of this, her family and immediate networks growing up have inspired her to always give something back to the community.  Once she was settled in her studio, she sought a local community centre in Barking, the Excel Women’s Centre (a Barking initiate for women of all ages) and volunteered once a week for a two-month project teaching Bastak, a technique to draw with wax. Starting from scratch she taught 10-12 women per session how to make cushions, prints and mark making. The elderly were the most engaged and she began to look forward to her next workshops to hear their stories, many of whom had lived through both peace and war in Somalia. Hafza found that the elders were remembering their old skills, as Somalia had a thriving textile industry that declined following the civil war, and they were able to apply their skills once more.