Artist in Focus with Sifa Mustafa

Posted by East End Prints on 5th Feb 2020

Artist in Focus with Sifa Mustafa

We chatted to the very cool, South East London based illustrator Sifa Mustafa. There has been much excitement in the East End Prints office over Sifa's work and particularly her latest arrivals which are part of our Find Your Calm campaign. 

Let’s start off with a little bit about your background. Where are you from originally?

I was born in South East London where I have lived most of my life. I lived briefly in West London but it just didn’t have the same energy as South East so managed to make my boyfriend (now husband) see what I loved so much and moved us to Brockley where we now reside. My parents are from North Cyprus so I have a close affinity with the Mediterranean, it is very much part of who I am and how I live.

When and how did you become interested in illustration and design?

It probably sounds really cliché, but I’ve always been interested in illustration and design. I have quite a creative family so I was very much encouraged to work on my passions. Though I have a lot of other interests there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to try and pursue a creative career. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been making or creating something.

What are some of the thoughts that fuel the direction of your current work?

Nature has always played an important part in my work and our relationship with it. With a lot of current debates focused on climate change I am keen to focus more on this for future pieces. Within both illustration and graphic design, I am led by the need to communicate and connect outwards, whether that be connecting with others or to a discourse. I still feel that I am very much at the early stages of my creative career and feel that there is so much that hasn’t been said yet, I’m excited for the future.

Give us a sense of what a typical day in the studio looks like for you?

I would say that since reaching my 30s, I’ve tried to become less chaotic and more structured so as boring as it may sound, a day in the studio starts with a to do list. As I balance my days in the studio with a part time job at Goldsmiths University as a designer, I often have to work to tighter deadlines so giving myself structure helps a lot with striking a healthy balance and not burning out. For me, productivity is more fruitful when being more organised, it doesn’t always work but it does help. The next step will be selecting the correct music (sometimes this can just be silence or white noise) to fit my mood or project I am working on. There is a fine line between procrastination and still being in the research phase, a line which is often blurred in my studio.

What are your passions outside of the studio?

I’m quite passionate about sustainability and try to live ethically as possible. I’ve always had green fingers and transfer a lot of my negative/anxious energy to my garden and veg patch (which fuels my passion for cooking). If I am ever having a bad day in my studio, the office or a bad day in life, you are likely to find me in my garden. Music is also a great passion of mine, I used to play a lot of instruments but these days leave it to the record player to fill our home with music. I would say that there are less times in the day where music cannot be heard in our house as music is a big passion for both me and my husband. Control over the speaker is probably what we fight over the most.

What's your earliest memory related to art? First museum visit or first artwork/artist that really caused an impact on you?

My first real impacting memory related to art is when I was possibly around 14 years old and my dad bought me a Salvador Dali calendar. Each of those 12 pages were full of imagination and it really spoke to me, it was the moment I really realised that my imagination also had the ability to stretch beyond.

Did you go to art school or have you studied in further education? If so, where and what did you study?

Yes, I did a foundation at Camberwell College of Arts, BA in History of Art at Goldsmiths University of London and a Masters in Contemporary Art Theory. Most recently I decided to study again (part time while working) at Shillington completing a Graphic Design course in July 2018. I am a bit studied out but do love learning, quite possibly why after so many years of leaving Goldsmiths I found my way back there to work.

Do you have any funny anecdotes about your work from being a young artist or student that you wouldn’t mind sharing with us?

When I was in my third year at uni, I was writing about the notion of modern shamanism within contemporary art practice. My dissertation tutor, who is also a performance artist (who I am still in touch with, still very sorry Simon!), asked if I wanted to perform in one of his pieces. I was so psyched and beyond excited about this but being the disorganised person I once used to be, I wasn’t very good at listening, I went to the wrong gallery and missed the performance. To this day, I am still sad I didn’t get to walk around the gallery wearing a mask and holding incense sticks.

What should we expect from you in the near future?

I have quite a few ideas that I would like to explore but I need to sit down with myself and decide what I will focus on first and how am I going to get it done.I am always playing around with the bridge between graphic design and illustration and I expect you will be seeing more of this in the future.

Which magazines can we find on your coffee table?

Creative Review, Tate magazine (mainly because I have a Tate membership), Art Review and every so often I’ll pick up a Frankie.

What’s you in your glass or mug in the studio?

It is always a cup of Earl Grey or Bengal Spice tea that keeps me company in the studio. In the summer, I’ll pick fresh mint from the garden and will make a pot of mint tea.

What kind of music do you have on your playlist to get you in the creative swing?

Oh gosh this is a big question as it varies massively, I’m not really bound to one genre. My playlist can vary from Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, Michael Kiwanuka, Beach House, Kamasi Washington, Beirut, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Girl Ray, Cat Power, Angel Olsen, Jamie XX to Coltrane. Sometimes I’ll have Radio 6 or 3 on in the background. My gym playlist is a different matter, it invokes my teenage self and features a lot of indie/rock.

And finally, what’s the last book you read?

The last book I finished was Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Testaments’. I’ve temporarily put down Lisa Taddeo’s ‘Three Women’ as my husband got me for Christmas ‘Find Me’ by Andre Aciman. Being a massive fan of ‘Call Me By Your Name’ the temptation to read it straight away was too high.