Words by Éloïse Armary
The artist we will meet in this edition reflects our beloved queer and colourful Brighton. Soofiya is a visual artist and design educator. Their art has a punk 80’s/90’s style. Their latest book is a love letter to their cat, ‘Aloo I love you’, which was quickly followed by the release of clothes and stickers. Aloo is so important in Soofiya’s life and work that really, we can say the artist is Soof & Aloo. Let us meet them.
How does your identity factor in your art?
It’s something that I started doing in hindsight, as well as actively. I like to use my work as a space to figure something out, something I don’t understand, that I’m obsessed with, that is important to me, that makes me sad, whatever that is. Once my response to crying a lot was to make a zine about crying, and all the things that make me cry; serious things but also like toilet roll and having a really good shower. For me, it was a way of processing something that is happening. A lot of my work connects around bodies, race, gender not fitting in, and it has a therapeutic approach. When you think of identity, it’s something that we always process, it’s a sort of ongoing thing.
You say making art is therapeutic for you, do you have an aim for other people too?
I like my work to provide spaces for self-reflection, for myself or for others. It could be something like when I’m running a workshop and introducing an idea, or when I’m putting a project out into the world. It’s a space for me to self-reflect and for other people to process questions for themselves. There’s one project I did, called ‘Soof in Private’. An organisation called Free Word in London did an exhibition. The theme was around privacy, in both public and private spheres, for example, surveillance culture. They got in touch with me, and at the time I was obsessed with my internet search history. There is such a narrative there. The words are all very decontextualised, and they’re so many of them. I took all my Google history search for a year and put it on the walls. Every time I looked at the board, I saw something different, a different word or a different thing, none of them really made sense. When they’re together, it changes the whole narrative of them. Part of that was giving a space for people to reflect and think about what things they are sharing with the search engine, what kind of private fears are they sharing.
When someone does something that inspires you and you want to do the same thing, it’s called modelling behaviour. I think, that’s some of the work we can do, we can model behaviour and model questions.
Do you have other mediums than zines?
I have a lot. I would say visual communication is the medium. Zines might be a format. They’re quick and easy, but sometimes it’s just an Instagram post, sometimes it’s visual identity. I use illustration, drawings, typography. I tend to listen to my research, my process and it gives me answer if it’s best in a zine, or textile or fabric. Zines have a special place in my heart.
Tell me more about your book ‘Aloo I love you’.
As I said, I do things that I’m obsessed with. Right now, it’s mostly her. I’ve also really wanted to do a picture book. I wrote and drew it in a weekend. Then it went to print. I’m trying to do a personal project that I sell once a year. In the past, I did a poetry zine, the one before was a zine about menstruation. This one was really amazing; it was the first time that I put something out in the world. I had submissions, I had some money through a Crowdfunder, it got lots of press, lots of attraction. I enjoy that energy, when you share something, you get lots of feedback. But I don’t want to do that every day because it’s very draining and it’s a lot of work. The last one I made was two years ago, so it felt time.
I noticed that on Instagram you share your days with Aloo. Do you think your love for Aloo and your life with her challenges the heteropatriarchal conceptions of love and who to live with?
I really believe in the power and connection we have with pets and animals, their presence in our families. I love the idea of challenging ways of living, whether that’s in what bodies like, or in how you can live a life. That can be part of that. I find that society in that capitalism structured itself makes it very hard for individuals, particularly marginalised individuals to have normative forms of stability. If you buy as a couple or a partnership, a lot more things are possible. I believe in challenging ways in living and assumed living, whether that’s having a family and the stability that comes from that. Having Aloo in my life, it made me think of what I want my family to look like, what do I want my home to look like.
I live in a housing co-op, it’s democratic, there is no landlord, we are all members of this co-operative. Housing is such an issue, something that is community-led and community focus feels like such an answer. When I moved here, we spoke about having a cat as a house and we found her in a cat rescue centre. I feel very found and seen. That sort of routine that we have together, we wake up in the morning, I feed her, I brush my teeth, we play string, then I get on my work, she might join me, she might not. Our lives are finding a rhythm together. She taught me so much about myself. She is teaching me how to share, because she isn’t just my cat, she is the house’s cat, and that is definitely a learning curve because I love her a lot.
Throughout the interview, Soofiya kept asking me back the questions I was asking them. Although I focused this article on their work, I would like to honour the spirit of the interview by inviting you to self-reflect on what Soof’s art inspires you, in your own creation or in your own life. Soofiya is also making a series on Instagram to help you make your own zines!
This illustration is by Cotte Benites, a fellow student, on what Soofiya’s art and this interview inspired her.
Self-reflection box to make art:
What am I interested in lately? What is on my mind?
What medium do I want to use for this piece?
What do I want to say with this artwork?
Where to find Soofiya’s artwork: