ASHA MOHAMED resides in London and is an illustrator and aspiring writer studying for a Masters degree in Psychology. She co-produces Literary Natives, an organisation dedicated to promoting Writers of Colour. See more of Asha’s beautiful work at her website, and check out her contributions to the Xagaa 2018 issue, Du’a (Prayer) and Diinkii Dhaanshey.
This seems to change from year to year. Nowadays, as long as my stomach is full, my sleep cycle is healthy, my work brings me satisfaction and I’m useful to my mum and the world in some way, shape, or form I would say that’s basically perfect happiness.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“In sha Allah” and “It’s not that deep”
What is your favorite childhood memory?
Up until I was seven or eight my siblings and I would sit in a circle and play pretend games. No movement was necessary. It was this “imaginary people game.” It was basically story-telling and everyone had their own characters! We would go on for hours…
At what point in your life did you find yourself exploring your talent?
When I think about why I got into art I have the “chicken or the egg” debate in my head. Most children, if not all, draw. I will never know if I continued to draw because I liked it and thought I could be good or because my family basically decided I was an artist from a very young age. My mum always tells me the story of how my late uncle (may Allah have mercy on him) saw my random doodle one day (I think I was three at the time) and said “Anta rassaama” (you’re an artist). Anyway from that point I was “the one who draws.”
In what mood do you usually create your work?
I draw in most moods! The outcome depends on what mood I’m in or what I’m thinking about. I would have to say though if I have a lot of excess energy where it’s difficult to sit still, I probably won’t draw. I struggle with this in freelance when there is a specific deadline and my brain wants to wait until it’s ‘in the right mood’ for the theme of what I’m illustrating.
What or who inspires you as an artist/author?
Usually, in terms of “what,” it is something I see in my dreams or something I’m going through or want people to understand. As for ‘who’ I would say anyone who has gone on to do things in an unconventional way. Generally older people (middle age or Old Age Pensioners!) who have decided to just drop everything and do something new.
Does your work usually carry a message?
These days, maybe because I’m studying psychology, I focus a lot on mental health. Aside from reference studies or random doodles in my notebook margins, I haven’t got a piece of work that has no message- I don’t even know what that would look like as they all start from [the message]. Sometimes I’m not aware of what the message is and create the work based around a mood and then realise in retrospect what I’m trying to say.
What is your spirit animal? Why?
If you asked me this last year I would have said an elephant or a horse as they are my favourite animals. However, this year I seem to have gone on this bear obsession where all my illustrations are depictions of bears doing human things. After the 30th person asked me why I do this I realised it’s much more than ‘it’s therapeutic to draw the fur texture’. I like the fact that bears are very contradictory creatures and my thoughts and actions are often at polar opposites if that makes sense. Also bears love to hibernate and they love their solitude; that’s something I understand very deeply!
What is your greatest fear?
This also changes depending on how I’m feeling when I’m asked the question. I think today, my greatest fear is being useless to the world and to die ignorant.
What’s the best piece of advice someone has given you?
This is actually something my mum said at a time I was overwhelmed with deadlines and wasn’t looking after my health. Usually when you’re going through something people like to remind you that Allah does not burden a soul more than it can handle. Whilst this is very true, my mum reminded me that though Allah may not overburden us with things, it doesn’t mean we do not burden ourselves with things. Sometimes we put things upon ourselves and it’s usually much later that we realise just how unnecessary the stresses or worries were. So ever since then if I feel myself falling into that place again I try to sift out what is within my control to change or remove.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be fluent in many languages. It’s so fascinating how a language shows the way a people think and how different languages show different ways of seeing the world. I really believe the more languages we know, the more we can learn about ourselves and the world around us.
What does home mean to you?
Wherever my mum is!
Which living person do you admire?
I’m going to go with the cliche Somali response here and say my mother. It’s not even something I have to think about to be honest. I have never met anyone like her and if I become even a tenth of the person she is, Alhamdullilah.
What is your proudest achievement?
This year in March, I took part in an art exhibition organised by Elays Network (if you guys don’t know who they are go check out their Twitter, they do amazing community work). It was the first time anybody outside my family (and a handful of friends) saw my work.