We had the pleasure to speak with a truly remarkable human being and extremely talented revolutionary artist, Hamza, whose art genuinely captivated us. We immediately set up an interview to shine light on our fellow lover of Ahlul Bayt, we're glad you can take the time to read our very first interview as part of our Blog Series: Conversations. Thank you Hamza for allowing us to have this opportunity. Please share and follow Hamza on all social media channels noted below the interview. Let's jump right into it.
Talk to me about your early days, growing up in middle England in '77. What was the political, cultural and social atmosphere that you grew up in and how does it play a role in your art? What moments in specific inspired your initiative?
Salam to the real, sham to the fake. That is the modus operandi I abide by and like anyone we are the sum of our experience. For me it was no different. I grew up in Yorkshire, in a industrial city called Bradford which sits at the heart of the County. Bradford, was one of the popular locations for the Muslim community to settle in. Especially, migrants from the Sub- Continent. My grandfather came here in mid 50's in the hope of finding a means to support his family in Pakistan. As with many people who took that leap it was solely for economic reasons and for the fact they were invited to the UK to do untrained labour work in the textile mills that were scattered throughout the city. Of course that did not stop racist attacks and I grew up in an atmosphere of knowing full well how these prejudices were prevalent in the society.
Politics has always played a huge part in my life. From my earliest memory I remember seeing my father crying as he watched on a black & white TV the unfolding events of Sabra & Shatila in the '82 Israeli war on Lebanon. I guess subconsciously it left a mark on me even then at the age of five. As the years passed I would see my father be disturbed on many occasions by such injustice so naturally the affiliation inside of me grew for such causes.
So it's as if the seeds were sowed very early in my life and as I got older I always felt I was going to do something, to change the status quo. Even if at the time I did not know exactly what that was.
Culturally, as family we were working class starting at the bottom of the ladder in the social fabric that surrounded us. I knew I was a welfare child from the very fact I had to wait in a queue for my lunch token. No place was it more apparent than in school when Margaret Thatcher "the Milk-Snatcher" put an abrupt end to free milk in schools. Therefore, it was in this backdrop that I was to gain much of my early education of the world around me.
So I always knew very early that I was for the have nots, the wretched of the earth as Frantz Fanon once put.
My initiative to use art to express my indignation against injustice started much later in my life almost by accident.
Expanding on that initiative, why revolutionary based art or art in general? How did you find this creative expression?
In the fall of 2010 I lost my longterm job of ten years after returning from Gaza four weeks later than the intended time I was allowed. I found myself out of work for over thirteen months. That's a lot of time to try and make sense of the madness that I saw so it's almost by accident Intifada Street was born.
I have always been artistically minded. In many ways it was why I pursued academia for having graduated in a BA (hons) in Architecture, in the class of 2000.
The unspoken word and poetic anecdotes were always my first love. However, at some point I realized if I wanted to reach as many people as I wanted too then the visual expression had to take precedent. The medium of visual art had inspired me growing up. The likes of my artistic heroes Naji Al- Ali & Emory Douglas had almost an instant effect on me. And it is then I realized I wanted to do the same for a new generation. Hence, Intifada Street was born.
Interestingly, the name Intifada Street I had thought of almost a decade earlier even though it's actual realization was now being realized.
Can you walk us through your process?
The process itself of visual art is actually quiet painstaking and time consuming. It takes the same form as sketching but instead of a paper you have a screen and instead of the pen you have a mouse. The greatest advantage of doing graphics based art is that it's easier to correct an error or misjudgement of colour that you wouldn't have putting pen to paper without starting all over again.
How did your art mature as you matured in age? Did it relatively stay the same?
I have never formally been trained in graphics and though it has not been easy to pick up on certain things it has allowed me to develop my very own style. If you saw examples of my earliest pieces from 2011 and those today you would see a sea change. The added bonus being i have not compromised my style for substance it's all gone hand in hand.
The subject matters and topics I tackle using art have increased ten fold. As the artistic expression grew simultaneously I was expanding my own horizons politically and socially from the core areas that were my original inspiration of Palestine & Kashmir.
Talk to me about being Muslim and how that influences your craft. Have you experienced any challenges being a Muslim artist?
What better words than that of Imam Ali(as): "Either you are my brother in faith, or my equal in humanity."
This statement defines my interaction with the world. As a follower of the Ahlulbayt(as) it's in my theological belief as a Shia Muslim to hold these truths to the highest standards that they deserve. So it's not like I am Muslim centric in my fight against injustice. If the cause is just I devote my time to it equally as much. That said you learn very quickly in the activist circle that there almost as many just causes as they are activists - it's an upside down world.
I have convinced myself over the years that the life of an artist if by definition is to struggle. So that is on the whole the same across the board. The only difference is it is not that I am Muslim that I face challenges but despite because it is double the dose for anyone who challenges the system and is willing to work outside it if needs be. That is what a revolutionary person is meant to do. And as an artist I really don't seek plaudits or need a pat of approval for what I do. I do it because there is a need in me to vent. And a need is something you cannot do without.
Your art is very provoking for the mind. If I were to ask you what the core message is that you try to deliver from the artwork to the viewer, I'm curious to what your answer would be, if one.
In one word - RESIST. Thank you for the kind words and for it to be art it has to be able to generate that very thought - to provoke. I see my art as a means for open dissent. The contempt for the vices of oppression, suppression & subjugation that roam the world over. Whether that be racism or imperialism, empire or sectarianism.
History is not dead science it is very alive and it is happening all around us. So it important, profoundly important I suggest that we in our time, in this space, keep to the fore our global struggles whether that be for liberations movements, indigenous peoples rights, social class struggles, global south unity & anti imperialist resistance, & there are many others. Our challenges are great but so should be our willingness to rise to the occasion. The concept of justice can be never be lost by the lovers of Hussain.
For the audience mostly I am very specific in my messaging I don't leave the possibility of confusion. It is very easy to ascertain my position on so many subjects only by viewing my art. I don't leave anything to chance or misinterpretation. I worked too hard to not be clear in the lexicon i have developed in the medium of visual communication.
You've completed a BA in Architecture, do elements of architecture play a role in your art or influence?
I do not believe it does because architecture at least at the end of the last millennium when I was studying it required technical drawings to scale by a draught-person. These were the days before CAD. So in many ways that is antithetical to the expression I do now. The only thing that remains similar for me is that it takes just as much time if not more to think up an idea, to help manifest that imagined thought into a concept u can sketch on paper before you can then create it into something visual. Of course all that side of it is the background work one has to do that is never known by the audience of the art.
You've founded INTIFADA STREET. Tell me about what that is, your mission and goals and the name you chose.
"Intifada" means to resist, to uprise, and since I wanted my art to reach the masses the "street" defines that.
The whole of my adult life I've been involved in activism. So whether that is working with grassroots organizations or offering support to campaigns for social justice I have always felt the need to show conviction in my belief. But during the time I was out of work I realized I had to use whatever talent I had to convey a message to raise awareness. And doing so to retain the hope that it would help people to be informed and act. Initially, I pursued this through poetry. To offer poetic justice to subjects that were devoid of justice. But I came to conclusion as discussed earlier that I had to widen my scope. This is how visual art took prominence.
At some point I want to be in the position I hope to set up a fraternity that involves like minded people to work as a collective in offering support and mediums to children in war torn regions to be able to express their reality. Whether that be through artists like me, musicians, photographers, teaching professionals or support workers.
It something I am very passionate about. I have always felt a sense of guilt portraying a reality like that of Gaza which I can escape from to the safety & comforts of my own home here in England. But as the bombs rain down by Israeli jets there is no such safe haven for the children in Palestine.
So from the infancy of setting up Intifada Street it has always been a case of what can I give back and contribute to the lives of these children. So if it was a child that liked photography I would want to be in a position we could support that child through the medium of a camera as well as the tuition and support from some one in the fraternity who was a professional photographer. I want these child to be able to express his/her self through these mediums of art, or writing. So they can tell their own story to the world.
In 2010, you took a journey to Gaza which you speak highly about. How did that experience partake in your expression and who you are as a person today? What was the trip for and what in specific did you take back with you?
Palestine has always been close to my heart. For me it represents more than an idea, it is a big idea. So in 2010, I ventured out to Gaza to show my solidarity with the people there. It comes as a shock to the human psyche that here now in the 21st century we have a blockade of a mass of people supported by foreign powers, assisted by a Muslim country (Egypt) & for the benefit of a European settler state (Israel). But then again is it really? We know Cuba has faced this ever since the revolution. We are always reminded that for every era there will be a tyrant like Yazeed (la) and to resist his unjust rule will rise a Hussain (as).
The epitome of this struggle as the poets write, is eternal. I spent half a dozen weeks in my travel and the whole experience was spiritual as well as the testing of ones endurance. It was draining to say the least. I joined a hundred other internationalists in a convoy to bring much needed medical supply to Gaza. In the end what should have taken two weeks took six and of the hundred who joined only thirty three made it to the missions end. The rest had to go back because of work/family commitments or they were refused entry by the Egyptian Authorities in El-Arīsh.
I came to Gaza for the love of humanity, freedom and justice. My heart that oozes love for the message of Imam Hussain(as) and all he sacrificed for, led me there. I came back without it.
I gained from the resilience of the people, their human stories touched my soul. It taught me strength is not what you can inflict but what you can endure. So ever since my return those who know me well will vouch for they have never seen me work harder for the pursuit of truth. It was the most profound experience of my life and I carry that inspiration for a free Palestine every day.
You've made some great achievements including working with several activist campaigns. Can you name a few? Which would you say you're most proud of?
I have had the great pleasure of working for/collaborating with a number of reputable organisations and individuals. I take distinct pride in my work & blessed to have had the opportunity to work with the Existence is Resistance team in NY, the Free Mumia Campaign who do relentless work to facilitate the release of Political
Prisoner, Mumia Abu Jamal. Then there is Interpal, a prominent Palestinian charity here in the UK. The Malcolm X Movement for which I have done countless artistic expressions for.
I had the great pleasure of working with a number of musicians M1 from Dead Prez, being the most prominent of these. Along with Marcel Cartier & Madd Cold. My art has featured in a number of additions of iamhiphopmag which is an urban music quarterly print. Who have supported exposure of my art.
I have had my work feature in a number of exhibitions at the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) in Wembley, England.
I take immense pride and blessing for all the people I have worked with & for.
Finally, many of your artwork I see gathers inspiration from Imam Hussain (as), if you may, can you speak more about your personal relationship with Imam Hussain (as) and your faith?
YA HUSSAIN! I always carry my heart on my sleeve. And it is this very pursuit that led to me to the path of the Ahlulbayt (as) in my teens. I just could not fathom how the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) found himself on the scorching desert heat of Karbala littered with wounds surrounded by so-called Muslims quenching for his blood. It troubled me this notion to my core. It would be true also to say it is that very message of Imam Hussain (as) that has led me to do the good things I have with my life. A guiding influence to protect the poor, to defend the weak, to stand up for justice, to defend love, to sacrifice for honor, to speak truth to power.
All these traits are reinforced by the love of Imam Hussain(as).
Those who mourn know. I have recently been commissioned by IHRC to do a special exhibition devoted to Muharram in the fall of 2017.
I have started to do a series of art expressions in the historical reference to Karbala and the massacre of the Prophet Muhammad (saws) family in 632AD by so-called Muslims. The same sort that dwell in their obscurantism in Syria & Iraq calling out Gods name "ALLAH-O-AKBAR." Yet they could be no more devoid of God. So in my humble attempt I aim to shed light for the reverence to the Ahlulbayt (as) and the steadfastness & courage of Imam Hussain (as). I do this because what Hussain gave me was much more.
Where can we find more of your work and follow you!?
Thank you first of all for reaching out to me like this and giving me this platform. I truly appreciate it. And I sincerely wish you and the whole NOUR team every success in your endevour.
You can find Intifada Street on:
FB Page: Intifada street
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