Q&A: Soofiya – Interrogating identity in art

Soofiya, guest artist for The Author's Autumn 2020 issue, talks about handling adversity and interrogating identity

Tell us about the process behind creating this piece. What was your thinking behind it, and how did you go about creating it?

The theme of this issue was ‘writing and creating in the face of adversity’. My usual process will start off with sketching, not overthinking it, just finding different ways to express the idea, normally one speaks to me over the other. After getting distracted and bingeing Masterchef for a bit, I’ll start refining the chosen sketch, play with colours, and accidentally have a nap during the day which I’ll regret in the evening. 

Colour is super important to me and my work, it’s like eating with your eyes, so I’ll play about with different colour combos a bit more. I might send it to the client and get things signed off. I also like to leave the whole thing for a day or so and not touch it all. When I get stuck on something, I let it stew, let all the flavours develop and try not to think about it or overwork it, just let it cook. When I come back to it with fresh eyes, I can normally work through that stuck feeling. Finalise, little changes, email it off. 

How do you handle adversity, personally and professionally?

Oh, this is a great question, and something I think about a lot. I think it’s about fostering a culture of resilience. That doesn’t mean being so tough that I can withstand any impact. For me it’s the opposite, it’s about being so soft and elastic I stretch around unseen obstacles, and changes and challenges without breaking. For example: I didn’t get a job I pitched for, my book got rejected again, or I’m truly unable to manage my unruly mental health. In these instances, it isn’t about toughening up and not thinking or feeling anything. Try the opposite. Next time, try softening up, let yourself feel sad, disappointed, sulky and grumpy, eat some chocolate, think about what you might be taking away, or want to explore next time. Let yourself feel everything, let yourself learn. That’s elastic, that’s soft, that’s resilience and, for me, that’s handling adversity.

Having said that, 99% of the time I’m terrible at everything here, and it’s okay to not know how to deal with things, and give yourself a break some days. 

Above: Soofiya's initial sketches

Your artwork tackles gender, race, politics and bodies. Why is that important to you as an artist?

These are all things that deeply affect me on a daily basis, so it makes sense they crop up naturally in my work time and time again. It allows me to provide a richer and more nuanced narrative. For example, my body is different, I am visibly gender non-conforming, that comes with an exhausting struggle, harassment and violence from society. With that backdrop, I come to illustration and art. Suddenly it becomes a space to imagine, dream, change, express – so much more than what I’m experiencing.

Soofiya is a visual artist, designer and design educator. Their art and design practice centres around illustration, visual identity and book design as mediums and dissemination. Soofiya is currently a lecturer at Ravensbourne. Find more at Soofiya.com and on Twitter @soofiyac and Instagram @soofiya.