Sharing Truths with Karimah Hassan

I remember how timid I felt reaching out to Karimah Hassan to contribute to our Art Series conversation. We had invited Hassan back in 2021, for our International Women’s Day Symposium where she had been part of a panel called “The Future of Feminism.” I had first come across Hassan, by chance, stumbling upon one of her artworks in Maddox Gallery many moons ago. Transfixed by the colours, the silhouettes, the bold lines, I stood staring for a while and then as in a trance, I automatically took my phone and noted down Hassan’s name.

Karimah Hassan was born in Wales with Yemeni and Bangladeshi heritage. An Artist in Residence at Sarabande Foundation, which is Lee Alexander McQueen’s legacy, Hassan’s clients have included Wolf & Badger, the Barbican, Ted Baker, Arts Council England, the Highline New York, and Toronto Arts Council to name a few. She is a polymath – in so many ways, she defies categorization. A visual artist, a writer, Hassan has this aura of wanderlust about her; her mind moving seamlessly between subjects, jumping from art to talking about the universe, supernovas, to contemporary cultural shifts, to social media and the purpose of art.

“Jummah Drip” by Karimah Hassan (2022)

Prior to the meeting, I was a bit nervous. Hassan is in Tabanan, Bali and I am in sleepy Tunbridge Wells, Kent. When Hassan emailed me that she didn’t have access to Teams, I frantically started googling what was wrong with my computer. I thought I would exponentially combust. After a few technological hiccups, Hassan miraculously popped up on my screen. I could hear the distant chattering of birds, or perhaps it was rain, or perhaps people talking in the background. Hassan did a little dance upon our success, smiling brightly, as though she was meeting with a friend and I probably responded in the best way I knew how – mentally wagging my tail like an excitable Labrador. Perhaps I let out a little high-pitched squeal. As you do.

I asked Hassan how she had been, and whether life had changed much since 2021. “I remember that day because I was recording from Sarabande,” she said, looking away for a second. Perhaps she was trying to put herself back in her 2021 shoes. Maybe, she was trying to transport herself magically from sunny and warm Tabanan to cold and gloomy London. “You know,” she confided, “I feel more comfortable in what I want to say now. I think I was still scared to share my words in my voice and now the words are coming out in really interesting ways.”

“Poolside Lady” by Karimah Hassan (2022)

Hassan has been writing and sharing her thoughts with her community for almost a year now. Her first Medium article was uploaded on the 15th of March 2022, while her first newsletter (that she affectionately calls “newsletter for the Gremlins”) was published on the 12th of June 2022. On these platforms alongside social media, Karimah shares her truth: she spills her poetry onto the canvas of the world wide web, her deep contemplative thoughts, and musings about contemporary society, art, high fashion, and even life itself. Her writing at the same time encompasses the microcosm of everyday life and the all-engulfing magnitude of the cosmos. “It feels kind of fragile to say,” Hassan confessed, “we pretend to have it all together, all the time, but when I look back on 2021, I was so shy to actually just say: this is what I want.”

Writing and sharing so transparently represents a new chapter in Hassan’s creative life who used to create live paintings at performance events across London and New York. When the pandemic happened, Hassan would write to strangers on social media, asking them to send her a selfie and provide her with a little context about how they were feeling. This is how The Strangers Yearbook came into existence.

Writing as Cathartic (R)evolution
“Yay” by Karimah Hassan (2022)

For Hassan, writing is about honesty, a window to sharing a process – it is a bridge, and also an end in and of itself. “I can’t promise I’ll deliver anything, all I can promise is my honesty. It’s quite revolutionary, I realise. Because when you are honest, then you allow yourself to be sincere, and you are allowing things to change. And so me saying, you know, I look back to the 2021 version of me, and it kind of makes me cringe a little bit. This knowledge comes from the fact that I’ve evolved and I plan to continue evolving.”

Sharing doesn’t necessarily come instinctively for Hassan: “Part of me wants to hide in my cocoon,” she joked, but her voice was saturated with gentle poignancy. Her eyes, alert but thoughtful, squinted a little. When Hassan is thinking, you can almost glimpse the neurons firing up in her brain. For some time, Hassan shared on her terms, “When I’m ready and I feel good, I’ll share,” she said, thinking back to a life pre-Gremlins, before her newsletter and her platform on Medium. Hassan had previously expressed how as a child and teenager, she used to paint to make sense of her reality, her world, because she didn’t necessarily have the emotional vocabulary to relate or decode her multiform and complex experiences.

“When I was 14 or 15, I actually started writing poems which were so raw and emotional. I wouldn’t share them. I think people would have been scared. So, I left it because at the time I didn’t like writing, I didn’t like reading. But when I started journalling in 2018, it became a form of catharsis.”

With a smile on her face and her eyes widening in glee, Hassan recalled the period which, in so many ways, was her breakthrough year: 2018. “Writing and going into art were parallel,” she reflected. “It was in 2018 that I allowed myself to go into art. At the time I didn’t share the words, I thought they were too obvious. When it comes to painting, I feel like there is a little more of a wall or a veil. Whereas with words, for me, it’s straight to the point. I wasn’t confident in sharing the words for at least four or five years, because I guess I still carried a lot of shame and judgement. I thought the writing wasn’t good enough to be shared. I thought why should you share? What’s special about your voice, like everyone has this power. Still, I would always take notes on my phone. For instance, the titles of my painting would usually come to me before the painting existed.”

The Democracy of Sharing
“Culture Vultures” by Karimah Hassan (2022)

Hassan’s intention with creativity is to provide a gateway towards personal liberation, which may sound like a hefty purpose but ultimately entails living and thinking on one’s terms. By showing her thinking processes, Hassan focuses on the essence of humanity. In real-time, the process becomes a barometer of development where Hassan and her readers grow together. “If I don’t share the process of becoming and evolving, then I lie, because it’s just like sharing the butterfly and not sharing the cocoon or the ugly bits. It feels like a lie.”

By openly sharing her creative process and her work, Hassan powerfully breaks down traditional barriers and gives more people access to her work. In this way, sharing becomes a crucial instrument in increasing the accessibility of art, thus making it more inclusive and more democratic.

Hassan mentioned how some of her favourite painters such as Franz Kline and Mark Rothko had the benefit of seclusion, but for her, this approach feels inadequate in responding to the contemporary world. Hassan’s idea of an artist is one that is deeply ingrained and part of the stream of life. “You know, they [Kline and Rothko] were allowed decades to be with the Creator and have meditation time. Rothko really suffered.” Hassan smiled and looked down and then, up again. She was slightly breathless when she voiced that she used to go to Tate Britain and meditate in front of the Seagram Murals. I thought that maybe, mentally, for a fraction of a second she was there – among the reds, browns, and black, surrounded by their subdued, understated glow. “Sometimes I feel envious of that stage, these painters were allowed to spend years in seclusion.”

But to what extent is this kind of isolated, hermetic existence attainable in this world? For Hassan, sharing is part of the artist’s challenge, it is part of the getaway to liberation. “We don’t need artists to hide away, we need artists to be centre stage. Because there is so much of the other side already. Artists have a responsibility. We’ve been given this perfect time in history where there are fewer gatekeepers. Sharing in real time is part of the democratisation of art.”

“Blue Roses” by Karimah Hassan (2021)

Hassan is bringing the creative mind back-to-basics, stripping the ideology of artistic glorification where only the final product is seen and evaluated. I am thinking of Picasso and his towering presence, or even literary icons who tirelessly performed their personas (but one needs to ask, at what cost?). In one of her newsletters titled “The ‘40 Day Challenge Gremlin,’” Hassan writes how she wants to emphasise the process, not just the result: “the part of me that only wants to share a final ‘perfected’ end product is the controlling side that fears judgement or getting it wrong. And that’s the part that needs to die.” By sharing her day-to-day thoughts, her poems, and her writings, Hassan’s art becomes fiercely democratic.

This is where Hassan draws a distinction between making art and making content. For Hassan, making content speaks to the commodification of culture. Content is, after all, often associated with promoting specific lifestyles, and creating material desires in consumers – whether it is travelling or buying pretty things. “We need more art in the world, we need less content, we need more art,” Hassan stressed. “This question lives in my brain a lot, because I feel it’s the responsibility of the conscious artist to share art, to have an awareness of what they are contributing to.”

Social media platforms, in the hands of an artist, can be transformed into virtual museums and galleries, promoting a more conscious and immersive approach to how we experience, engage with, and conceptualise creative works, thus shifting the balance from the individual to the collective. Anyone can find themselves in one’s virtual gallery as they are scrolling through. The user, should they decide not to scroll past, are given a moment of clarity, of deep and meaningful thought. A connection. To be encountered with bright, dancing colours, and intensely textured paint, they suddenly have this brief bond to a whole history of existing through art. They become part of the pixels and the paint and the subject.

When it comes to social media, writing, and sharing, Hassan advocates for balance: “We like our solo time though,” Hassan added. “We like to be alone, to meditate and reflect. We need that solo time. But we also have this duty to share.”

“This is also what I am asking for in the artists that I look up to.” Hassan remarked that seeing her favourite artists “share a process or the vulnerable bits or the sticky bits” was helpful. It provided a framework of inexhaustive variety, which helped her gain clarity, context, and perspective. “So, when I feel uncomfortable, or sad, or happy, I can share that and not identify with it.” The process of sharing, then, becomes a kind of active medium in realizing emotions as passing waves, as movements and motions, as opposed to static states.

The Commodification of Culture
“Rosy Cheeks” by Karimah Hassan (2021)

Social Media is a catalogue of dos and don’ts. Scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, one is faced with reels such as “How I Became a Better Entrepreneur,” “What Not to Eat,” “This Studying Hack that Will Change Your Life,” “10 Things to Do if You Want to Succeed in Marketing,” “7 Tips to Become Better at Networking.” Then, one stumbles across a reel of Hassan as she is walking through the city, hopping on a bus, chatting as if this recording is meant for a friend. Hassan tells the viewer how she doesn’t like networking, perhaps because people are suddenly viewed as objects to be used as opposed to actual people – potential friends, fellow creatures awaiting a deep and meaningful connection. In a world that has become so fixated on capitalising on every skill for commercial prosperity, Hassan admitting that she is not fond of networking is a bold move.

“Networking feels very business-y, right?” Hassan told me. “It’s the commodification of culture. It capitalises on human connection, which is crazy to think about. And that’s what we are doing by making these performative connections. It’s a dangerous game of what I can take from you and what you can give to me.”

I asked her, “Why do you think people seek, need such rigid structures in their lives? Why do you think we are looking for someone to give us all the answers, how to do things, something as simple as interacting with each other, instead of just… flowing?”  

“Power: Is it Power Over or Power With?” by Karimah Hassan (2023)

“I think that’s because freedom of thought is really dangerous to society,” Hassan said, without blinking an eyelid. Her razor-sharp response was an indication that this wasn’t the first time she had thought about this. “Thinking for yourself is so natural, but because humans are malleable and easy to manipulate, we don’t really remember our freedom of thought. And so, everything, every choice we have is a decision of how we want to act. When we give others permission to manipulate our behaviour it becomes easier. It is easier to have decisions made for you.”  

Hassan has been thinking deeply about the societal influences over collective consciousness and how one can regain control over exercising their critical and creative faculties. In “The ‘Power Hungry’ Gremlin,” the artist discusses at length the importance of regaining power. “In order for the Gremlins to be inspired and not crippled,” she writes, “we get to rewire our relationship to power and welcome it. When our creative actualising empowers us to feel more free, more generous, and more open to share who we are….True beauty is infinite. True creativity is infinite. This is our kind of power. Power with Another.”

“Boy with Flowers” by Karimah Hassan (2020)

Regaining power with another, fostering empathy, understanding, and rebuilding our connection to our creative selves requires restoring our relationship to nature. “When it comes to commodification of culture, we’ve done the exact same thing with our connections to nature. It should be the most freeing, accessible thing that any human can access. And yet, it has been commodified into a luxurious experience.”

A lot of conversational threads seemed to tie back to Hassan’s passion for democratization. It was an interesting concept: something that humans intrinsically have a connection to has been taken, packaged and marketed in a certain way that rewrites the very origins of human race and their inescapable connection to the natural habitat. “It should be accessible to all,” Hassan maintained. “Our interaction with nature should be a baseline thing.”

“Four Generations” by Karimah Hassan (2022)

Nature is everywhere in Hassan’s art and in her writings. In “Four Generations,” there are ornamental flowers, trees, stars, showered in the background of golden light or earthly greens.  A cat or a lion, or a hybrid feline, is seen peeking through, part of the greenery, next to a human, highlighting the relationship between man and nature. This inherent bond comes through subtly, implicitly, in articles such as “The Memory of Colour,” where Hassan discusses the different colours and how she experiences them. In “Hot to get paid to rest as an artist,” she explains the importance of connecting with nature and its correlation to creative pursuit. In “BRB Nothing Else matters,” a poem that Hassan dedicates to “the creative beast inside,” she writes about pressed flowers “from inside the book,” and “An hour a morning along with my colours / A pause at the margins / Magrib after sunset / BRB Nothing else matters.” Nature, prayer, colours, they all fuse together and become one in Hassan’s cosmic everyday.

Being Truthful: Hassan’s Key to Creating Powerful and Impactful Art
“Some Kind of Truth” by Karimah Hassan (2020)

In her quest for sharing and creating, one of Hassan’s most prized aims is truthfulness and not simplifying her core themes and principles. She seeks to represent life in a raw and naked manner. That means capturing both beauty and ugliness, the whole spectrum of living. Hassan used Donald Glover’s “This is America” as an example. “There was no dumbing down to the viewer. It was powerful. It was a sword to truth. I remember thinking how he doesn’t dumb the viewer down, and those who are meant to see it will understand. This was a road sign for me. This is how you do culture. I told myself: Karimah, this is how you need to operate.”

Honesty and authenticity for Hassan can take many forms. Truth is a multidisciplinary chameleon. Many different artistic mediums can be employed to explore it and express it. For Hassan, Glover’s “This is America” embodies her own artistic pursuits: it is intellectual, it is highly stylized, sculpted, powerful and rhythmic.

By sharing in an unfiltered way, Hassan tries to allow for that same level of sensitivity, depth, and intellect. I wasn’t surprised when Hassan shared her other musical inspirations. Similarly to Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings that are highly musical as they are visual or Helen Frankenthaler’s “Making Music”, Hassan’s paintings too have a rhythm and a pulse. Erykah Badu, Amp Fiddler, André 3000: they all are hidden in the membranes of the paint, the fibres of the canvas, awaiting to be unearthed, excavated from Hassan’s lyrical strokes. “Music is such a good model for packing a message and I use those artists as an inspiration – how do you make sure you don’t dumb down what you are trying to communicate to people? How can it resonate?”

The Gremlin Chronicles

Hassan cannot exactly remember how the idea for the Gremlins came about. What gave her the push, she told me, was her mentor, the creator and producer of the podcast “Make Art not content.” She had been thinking about a newsletter for quite some time, but “at that point, I didn’t know if it was going to be an enjoyable process.”

Hassan’s Gremlin Newsletter in so many ways embodies a search for truth, sharing candidly and honestly, while also acknowledging how exposing and threatening transparency can be. The idea of a Gremlin perfectly captures Hassan’s essence and probably, the essence of her readership, too. “I used to call people Gremlins on my Instagram posts. Then I realized, this could be a running theme where each week I write about different archetypes.” We were both chuckling now, thinking how Gremlins were simultaneously fluffy and adorable as well as menacing. “In my head, it was also perfect because I’ve always had this idea of culture being like a Trojan horse. Culture is the only ground that we have as humans, the thing that makes us realise we’re connected,” she added.

She then looked up, playfully. “But I’m always thinking like a Gremlin! Gremlins – they are super cute and friendly, but then they turn into these little monsters under the right conditions. And I remember thinking all the people I know and love, we’re super soulful and friendly and creative, but at the same time, we’ve got this burning fire that is about creating a better world. Creating a better world is a threat to a bigger system, which is what gremlins do. They threaten humanity. And so that’s where it came from.”

In her latest newsletter, “The ‘Daily Practice’ Gremlin,” Hassan fleshes out the vision of her Gremlins, where creativity and service work mould together: “If you are a Gremlin, the creative work makes you into the strong, vibrant person you need to be to do the service work. If you’re a Gremlin, you can’t choose between service or personal creation. It’s both. WE HAVE to do both. There is no other way.”

From "The 'Daily Practice' Gremlin" by Karimah Hassan (April 2023)
From "The 'Daily Practice' Gremlin" by Karimah Hassan (April 2023)
Being (in the) Present
“Fragile Times” by Karimah Hassan (2022)

In a recent Elle feature, when Hassan was asked what does a painted portrait evoke, Hassan replied: “It’s about the feeling – the feeling it leaves in your gut. My work captures how it is to be in the moment.” In “Attain Galatic Brain,” Hassan writes: “I am tired of the colonial mindset of future progress.” While Hassan looks to the past for inspiration, knowledge, for context, she is anchored neither in the past nor the future but in the present. In “Fragile Times,” that becomes evident from the corporeality of the body, its firm dark lines being the most grounding aspect of the charcoal sketch. Words, letters, whispers float around the silhouette.

In “Attain Galatic Brain,” Hassan talks about time, conceptualizing it as a cloud, as a cyclical, intertwined phenomenon with no beginning or end. She theorizes about NASA’s continuous discoveries relating to “the infinite potential of our universe.” She remarks how “as our tools become more accurate at measuring the invisible, I learn to deepen my trust in the invisible thought forms inside my organic body.”

When asked about how she channels and digests the present, Hassan turned to meditation: “It helps a lot. I’ve been learning different forms of meditation, such as mindful meditation, where you just kind of sit, but you are very conscious, and try to stay in the moment with the sensations in the body. It is a very clean, concentrated effort. Then, walks in nature is a form of meditation. Painting is a form of meditation, too.”

Besides meditation, Hassan also highlighted the importance of mental and emotional cleanses, of a mental reset. “I remember with the Strangers Yearbook exhibition, I had 200 people coming in every day and I was painting them one on one. I got to know their stories. Taking a shower or going for a walk in nature helps me ground myself, which no one ever taught me. It isn’t really a thing someone says to you – no one tells you this is how you need to operate.”

One of Hassan’s principles, living out loud, is directly connected to the idea of not just experiencing the lust for life, but sharing it. “You can tell people to stop and take a moment and be present. But it will just kind of wash over them. Because most people have heard it all before. Most people know the importance of being present. So, why aren’t we present? Which is why you try to embody it. How can you embody full presence? It goes back to the role of the artists, which I think in some ways is a divine right. We can be a bit wacky and kooky and be ourselves. We can wear the hat of the artist and embody full presence.”

Art as an Anchor
“The Pause Between Breaths” by Karimah Hassan (2019)

Throughout the call, Hassan’s gaze would sometimes divert into space. When reflective, Hassan would rest her chin in her hand, reminiscent of Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Thinker.” But then, like the rush of a sudden downpour, Hassan would capture a moment of pure vulnerability and introspection. Her words flowed like watercolours. She would paint a picture about her day and walk you through it with her. And in those moments, it was clear that for Hassan, painting was not just a form of self-expression – it was a lifeline, a way to stay connected to herself and to the world around her.  

“This morning I was feeling hazy. I don’t like starting my day like that,” Hassan admitted. “I like to be really rooted in myself before I respond to anyone else. I was in the coffee shop and it just started raining. Something in me was like ‘go and get your sketchbook.’ I never take my sketchbook to a coffee shop because it’s heavy, but today I went through the rain and brought it back. And then, basically, what happened was like torrential rain for four hours and I couldn’t leave.”

“It was perfect,” Hassan said gently, the memory being too precious and raw still, “I basically sat for four hours in this coffee shop painting. I was doing my morning paintings just for longer, and I gave myself the licence to just melt into it. I just felt so happy again and I felt so at peace and then, the clarity started coming back.”

There was a slight pause, as if a mental cloud hovered about Hassan’s eyes, “when I don’t have this I feel really untethered, I feel really frantic and I feel like I need to make all these things. Without it, I just feel a bit all over the place. But painting brings me back to me. And I had this realisation that when I am painting, I am painting for me. When I write the newsletter, when I create reels, when I do anything on social media, all of a sudden it becomes for someone else, but this moment here, this is for me.”

“Painting makes me feel safe. It’s my happy place in a way that nothing else can give you.” When talking about art and painting, Hassan transforms. She is at once a child and a grown-up, transcending temporal and spatial boundaries. “It doesn’t make sense how much it brings me back to me. Fifteen minutes to half an hour of that brings me back to me in a way that meditation doesn’t do. Painting makes me me. When I’m painting I will get all these thoughts and I can observe them. Painting makes me feel rooted. It’s not about seeing my face, my identity. It’s just about colour. I just become colour literally. Colour is my happy place.”

Coming to Terms
Goldprint on Fabric by Karimah Hassan (2022)

Even though Hassan has always been driven by her creativity, what she calls that fire in her belly, she is also a trained architect with a Bachelor’s degree from Cardiff University and a Master’s from the Royal College of Art, London. When one thinks of architecture, the mind imagines straight lines, complex mathematical equations. We conceptualise architecture as a discipline that requires practical, logistical, analytical thinking. And yet, architecture is a kind of art, only highly formalized, so it doesn’t feel miles away from Hassan’s current pursuits.

Undeniably, however, the arts as well as the humanities are often frowned upon and children, students, thinkers-to-be are dissuaded from following down creative paths. Hassan seemed to me acutely aware of what it means to be an artist in this context: the privilege, the responsibility, and the joy that comes with it. “Embodying full presence is not necessarily accepted in other industries and other professions,” she admitted. Hassan has lived through a time where she has experienced first-hand the marginalisation of the arts and humanities, especially in Britain. Back in 2021, the UK government, for instance, approved 50% funding cut for arts and design courses.

I asked Hassan whether she had experienced this pull before to remain in the industry as a graphic designer, especially prior to embracing art full-time. “There is a pull, there is such a pull, half of my body is back there sometimes,” Hassan confided. “And I’ve got to pull it back here. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is such a real and beautiful metaphor in this context. You don’t know what you don’t know. And you don’t know freedom until you allow yourself to taste it. But in order to taste it, you have to give it to yourself. No one else is going to give it to you.”

Through art, Hassan learned the importance of relying on one’s own agency; trusting in the self and following her intuition, despite the societal pressures that she has inevitably faced. “For so long, I spent so many of my decisions waiting for the permission of people around me. Like, family or university friends, work friends, exhibition curators, gallerists, designers. Every moment, there was always a person whose permission I sought. But now I realise that sometimes I won’t know or have the answers, but I will give myself that permission.”

Hassan also talked about how she devoted many years to trying to find a middle ground between herself and people’s expectations: “I felt it [the pressure of people’s expectations] in high school, and I felt it when I chose to move from architecture to art. While I was freelancing the people that cared for me were scared because they just didn’t know if I could make a viable career off of art. They didn’t know how I could keep my integrity as a person of faith, or just a person of love in the cultural world.”

I could imagine Hassan as a child, as a teenager, trying to navigate these very narrow alleyways and I thought of all the other young children who are dissuaded from pursuing their love for art professionally. “I had to do a lot of work to rewrite those limiting beliefs, rewriting those Gremlins,” she divulged.

The Power of Contradiction 

A repeating theme throughout “Expansion” is the idea of contradiction. Hassan considers: “When the grey zones of our lives take on new hues, we owe it to ourselves and each other, to notice the subtle shades of contradiction and make from that space.” Likewise, in “Cosmic Glue,” “I am quantum complete in my paradoxes. I am bones and I am brilliance. I am contradiction.”

I told Hassan that I am not quite sure how many people are comfortable in admitting their contradictions – to admit that you are contradictory could undermine one’s supposed values. I was specifically thinking of platforms such as Twitter, where contradiction is hardly accounted for, or allowed.

“Social media is a constant record. Which makes it harder to drop an old identity and as human have such a problem with dropping and shutting identities, we don’t allow other people to change their beliefs and to become. There should be a space where we can say ‘I used to believe this and now I believe this.’ The game of not allowing for contradiction is really dangerous because that seed gets stronger underneath like dark, fertile ground until it comes back up. As humans, we contradict ourselves on a daily basis and that’s okay. I am a Muslim and I believe in Islam, but I also believe in other directions of faith. I also believe in freedom of expression. I believe in full contradictions. And I have to embody that.”

Like a Dervish, Hassan’s mind always floats between the heavens and the earth. Turning the mind upwards, toward the sky, towards the universe seems to provide Hassan with context and perspective: “I’m obsessed with the stars, I am obsessed with the creator and how it’s all so perfectly planned: the placement of the stars and an oxygen molecule and the hydrogen molecules and the melanin codons in my skin, it’s all a reflection of everything else. If the universe is held within every human, then every human is held within the universe. I was never told how powerful we really are, in the grand scheme of life, every human is like a thread.”

Creating Revolution through Art
“The Girl in the Woman” by Karimah Hassan (2019)

“I’m making a book,” Hassan’s face lit up as she told me. “It’s set up like a meditation – so you would have Dervish (a poem by Hassan), and then you would have this thumbnail, this cobalt blue.”

On her Instagram, Hassan often shares snapshots of her paintings, zoomed in. Where textures swirl together and waltz through the canvas. Bright blues, greens, or yellows. It’s a bacchanalian manifestation of life, with its variety, its rough edges, or its smoothness – it’s wild but sculpted.

In “Dervish”, Hassan quotes “the role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.” When I asked her how she put that poem together, she explained that the poem came to her when she was on her bike, cycling through London. “It came to me when I had one hand to the tarmac, the other to my handlebar. I was listening to a Stormzy track or something!” At this point, Hassan was replicating the movement: motioning one hand to the heavens, one hand to the floor. She did a little dance laughing, which made me laugh.

“As I was dancing, balancing on my bike, I had this big smile on my face. And I could see that it was contagious. Someone passed me by and they smiled, and then the smile lit someone else’s smile – it was like a domino effect. I thought this is the role of the artist. The role of the artist is to make revolution. That’s my role. That’s my purpose. And so, the quote just came to me. I forgot I heard the quote, and then it came back to me in that moment and found its way into the poem.”

Whatever her next moves may be, Hassan is driven by her lust to create: “I have such a drive to be healthy just so that I can create for as long as I live. I want to create all my life. I remind myself that if I was given shelter, access to education and a healthy body, I’m privileged enough to choose how to think for myself.”

Hassan’s art, ultimately, highlights interconnectedness, a theme that she wants to keep exploring: “No matter who you are, we are held in by the same things – like supernovas, and black holes and white holes – your eyeballs are made of stardust. When I read Carlo Rovelli, or Neil deGrasse Tyson or Carl Sagan, it gives me this paradoxical reverence for life. It makes me realise how nothing we are, but in our ability to understand our nothingness, we are infinite. It melts my brain.”

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