Get to know Jaffar Aly in 13 Questions.

What is your background?

I come from Zanzibar. So I was born in Zanzibar, Off the coast of Tanzania. And yeah man, I came to the UK when I was about five years of age.

So the majority of your life was here in the UK?

Yeah. UK specifically just in the Southeast, I’ve just always been around Southeast.

Where are you currently based?

Lewisham. So I’ve been based in Lewisham like the past, like all my life really.

What type of art do you create?

What kind of art I create? Okay. That one question I’m still trying to understand myself, what I say just to kind of like get by is, it’s just abstract faces. Okay. Abstract portraits, quirky portraits. Yeah, that’s what I describe my art as.

Visit Jaffar’s website to check out his art.

Did you study art anywhere or are you mainly self-taught?

I didn’t study art. No. I have a BA in anthropology, social sciences. Then I did art & politics, but that was also just theory. It wasn’t really anything practical. So I would say I’m definitely self-taught when it comes to painting.

How did you get into making art?

I taught myself how to do a bit of graphic designing when I was doing my BA in the anthropology department. Then I started making album art covers for a lot of musicians. Then through that I managed to just like, you know, slowly kind of edge my way into painting. Cause I was like, I wanted it to be physical rather than digital. Yeah, it was a shift from making it digital to a physical one.

How would you say the culture that you’ve experienced growing up has influenced your work and also experiences that you’ve had from learning anthropology and studying art and politics. How would you say that influences your work at the moment? If it does at all?

Yeah. definitely. No, you know what? Actually I was just speaking about this the other day. My little brother, just got married the other day and I was around my family, like extended family as well. It made me realise there’s not a lot of artists from Zanzibar that are kind of well known, if that makes sense. Like, yes, you have like big artists like Lubaina Himid. But you know, not a lot of people know she’s from Zanzibar. So I kind of wanna just like not place Zanzibar on the map, but obviously indirectly place Zanzibar on the map.

Lubaina Himid, a prominent artist originating from Zanzibar.

But the culture and just that kind of invisibility of, you know, the fact that Zanzibar is a very invisible place. So a lot of people know, a lot of people know it. I feel like there’s definitely that aspect of trying to place Zanzibar on the map directly and indirectly. And yeah, that’s one motivating fact. And obviously family dynamics, kind of like pushing boundaries, knowing that even though in a Muslim household painting faces is haram. Yeah. And like, kind of pushing those boundaries even though I shouldn’t, I’m told I shouldn’t do what I do, but it’s it’s nice to just push those.

Okay. I know you’ve touched on it quite a bit talking about your little brother and your family. What would you say specifically inspires you? Are there any times or places that you’d say you feel more inspired? Any people who make you want to create art?

Yeah, like with family it’s a darker reason why I want to make art. You know what I mean? It’s not like a positive influence. But the more positive influences, you know, literally being around like-minded people, good friends of mine. Also like other, other trades. Cause you know, when you’re around them supporting their work, they also come to support your work tenfold. You know what I mean?

So far what would you say is your favorite piece of art that you’ve created?

My favourite piece of artwork, I have two, one I sold because you need the money sometimes, isn’t it? It’s called CLR Violet, wanted to call it clr. So CLR* just means colour. It’s like s it’s a c l r with an asterisk, so it means colour violet or I prefer to call it colour Lola. And it was inspired by Big Mouth. I was watching Big Mouth and there’s this character on big Mouth called Lola. But anyways, that’s besides the point. That was my favourite because it was one of a prototype that I made for the colour scenes I made and it just looks so beautiful. There’s another one called a simulation that I’ve made and that, that, that that’s just chilling in my studio. I don’t think I’d ever sell that one.

Could you briefly describe what your creative process is like? When you sit down and decide you want to make something, how do you go about it?

You know what, funny enough right now actually, like going through whole phase of sitting back away from not making art, but like, I’m learning about creating processes right now. But usually, the way it goes is kind of like paying attention to conversations that are being had, seeing if they relate to topics that I want to discuss. But a lot of it does come from watching a lot of cartoons, a lot of anime, anything animated I like to draw inspiration from. Right now I’m reading a book called Dandadan and so far from that from the first chapter of that book, I’ve already been inspired to like kind of go and not recreate, but kind of interpret different ways of drawing kinds of scary faces. The new series that I want to try and do is all about how can I draw out scary emotions or scary thoughts and stuff into visual images and yeah. But  for the previous series that I’ve done, the way I play inspiration was through interviewing people sitting down with people and capturing moments of emotions that they let out. Yeah, like offstage emotions, I would call that. But yeah, that’s, how I do it.

Alright, so you’ve spoken about you how you got into art by working with different artists. Musicians, you were making album covers for. In that same sort of theme what type of artists have you collaborated with and if so, how do you go about the collaboration process?

So in the beginning it was artists that reached out to me because they liked what they saw with a previous artist. So I, I don’t really know how. So okay. This is how it began. I was doing a lot of videography and you know, a little bit small graphic design for a collective called, which I am a part of right now. I guess through word of mouth? Yeah, that’s the word for it. Through word of mouth people started seeing the work and they wanted to have a bit of as people call it, a bit of spaghetti. Yeah, so usually it’s usually arts reaching out, you know. Hey, can I have a bit of, that certain type of style.

I’ve been trying to branch out though. I’ve been trying to work with artists that I usually don’t work with. Cause a lot of the people that I work with, like usually within the underground scene, usually punk or rap or R&B or new songs. But like right now I’m kind of going into the in pop kind of crowd. I’ve been working with some more mainstream artists, I’d say. Which is nice. So they do give you a bit of a challenge.

What was that collective that you just named And how did that come about? Just, a bunch of misfits chilling around East London and South East London, just making music and kind gallivanting and going to different shows and networking. Just a bunch of misfits, and kind of connected through making music and just being creative in general. Yeah, so we’ve been around a while now, I’m the newest member.

Finally I’m just curious and I’m sure people would wanna know also, are there any projects that you are currently working on at the moment?

You know what, all the projects that I’ve wanted to do, the big projects I’ve done and I’ve accomplished this year. But next year though, there is a very, like, intimate project I would be working with is it’ll be a group show with one of the best curators in London right now called Pacheanne. Pacheanne Anderson. Right now working on a group show where they gather at least three to four or five black artists to talk about depression. So whole thing’s gonna be about mental awareness and mental illness. I’m excited for that one because I feel like me and Pacheanne have definitely had a few conversation about what it’s like to navigate, the world of art. It is a very tough world to navigate mentally sometimes.

This is gonna be very intimate. That’s why I’ve taken a step back from just creating artwork for the sake of creating by actually sitting down and kind of like, you know, even kind of just be more introspective with the way I make things, if that makes sense.

But that one should hopefully happen around April. It’s still in the works. But yeah, next year and also next year I’d just definitely love to aim to, to have more of an international kind of base as well. Like I’d definitely love my artwork to go across the waters.

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