As a voice for the suppressed, Graphic designer Thaakierah Abdul serves an alluring display of the Cape Malaysian identity. She explores her cultural influence through color, collage, and experimental design.
Abdul attended the University of Stellenbosch – which essentially brought about the force behind a depiction of stories told through her designs. Incited by her experience of marginalisation at the institution, the artist has created visual works that are at the sole of her heritage.
“Being a Muslim brown girl in a predominantly white setting was a powerful tool for me. I subverted my “errors” combined it with my culture, instinct and childhood and boom something overly chaotic, colourful and playful came out of it,” she said.
Her work is more of a collaborative process that includes the many perspectives of the Cape Malaysian folk she interacts with – from family members to people in colored communities. As a Design Indaba 2018 Emerging Creative, Abdul continues to be prideful as she parades her ‘visual culture’.
You portray Cape Malaysian culture through your artwork. When did that begin?
It all started when I was a student at Stellenbosch University. My work/ style never matched the aesthetic that the institution required from me. I always struggled to adjust and conform to the generic design style that they expected from me. I was always told I had a heavy hand with complete disregard for ‘whitespace’ (a design principle which refers to unused spaces of an object).
In my third year, I realized that this ‘struggle to adjust’ was actually my aesthetic. Being a Muslim brown girl in a predominantly white setting was a powerful tool for me. I subverted my ‘errors’, combined it with my culture, instinct and childhood and boom! Something overly chaotic, colourful and playful came out of it. I then used ‘Whitespace’ as my brand name for my artwork which described me as a brown girl in a whitespace.
We’ve seen that you have a very distinct collage-like aesthetic to your work. Describe more of your aesthetic and design style.
Mixed media, definitely. It’s a combination of collage, cutting and pasting, typography, drawing, and photography all montaged into an image. The inspiration sparks from store signages specifically from informal market places and experimental design.
Take us through your creative/design process?
The only way I can actually create something is to work back to front and ignore the constraints. I usually do my layouts first and then conceptualise. Although I can brainstorm a concept first, I like to jump into the deep end with any brief I get and hope it looks good at the end.
Storytelling acts as a guide for my process. Combining my own stories & experiences with other Cape Malays/Coloureds stories has resulted in the artworks being more collaborative than my own work. Everything I do is purely referenced from a diverse range of voices combined to be amplified. That’s very deep I know but I was an ‘art major’.
Where or from what exactly do you draw inspiration for your designs?
Gatesville, an informal market-place in the heart of Rylands (southern suburbs, Cape Town) which is smothered in brown people culture. The hustle and bustle and the store signages all sparked the colour schemes and layout of my work.
I would also say I’m a lover of things. I am very drawn towards objects and things that existed in people’s homes and intimate spaces. All these things/objects described greater narratives and portrayed people’s personalities.
How do you feel your work has transitioned since emerging as a graphic designer?
I am definitely more confident in my style and my rates. I will no longer lower my rates for people because I’ve reached a point where I respect my self-worth, you know? I am learning to not compare yourself to others but rather to be inspired and aspire to be better.
How would you say you use design to make a positive social impact?
Everything I do is deeply rooted in collaborative work. The main goal is to promote and open platforms for inclusivity, acknowledgment, and respect toward all cultures, traditions, and religions. So through visual representations, new perspectives can be seen without any words being spoken. I always say that if someone enquires or asks about some of the artworks, it already opens up a conversation about topics that people tend to overlook.
Are there any role models/influencers you look up to or that you think are really doing a great job in the design scene?
So many! I’m obsessed with Thania Petersen, her colour schemes, as well as her take on culture and collage. Her work has truly inspired my route through research and design. Lady Skollie – I admire her representation, her activism and how she ever so brightly conveys her message through her work. Osbourne Macharia’s technique in Afro-futuristic photography. African Ginger’s amazing illustration and design skill completely blow my mind.
Any passion projects you’re currently working on?
Currently working on rebuilding my brand and getting back into the swing of creating more artwork. So it’s still a work in process.
See more of Thaakierah’s work @whitespace_____