Teakster offers a refreshing new take on Islamic art in the 21st century. His style is a fusion of Islamic artistic traditions and modern techniques, inspired by his British upbringing. One of the leading digital Muslim artists, and a brandalism activist, he is shaping our understanding of contemporary Islamic art today.
We talk to Teakster about nurturing creativity, how his faith influences his creative practice, art in public spaces and his journey to becoming a multi-award-winning artist.
You offer a refreshing new take on Islamic art in the 21st century. Your ultimate aim is to connect communities and cultures through the sincere universal language of art. Why is this important to you?
I found, over the years, that art is really an international language, which has this incredible ability to bring people together. I believe as an artist, you have a social responsibility to bring people together. The arts are a powerful communication tool for those who may otherwise struggle to engage. For the increasing number of people who identify as vulnerable or socially excluded, the arts and the venues that host them provide a crucially important gateway for conversation.
People living in disadvantaged areas are less likely to have opportunities to participate in arts-based learning, while also being less likely to visit or take part in activities in arts venues. Art has the power to bring people together, regardless of race, religion, gender, background, or profession. There is no doubt that art can make a far greater and positive contribution to building bridges than any amount of interfaith dialogue. Islamic art has the ability to open their hearts and help them lead back to the divine.
Through art we can learn about different cultures. Understanding and learning about different cultures can be beneficial because there is new knowledge to be gained and used for the progress of all people. Islamic art is just not something pretty to look at. It is not merely a valued sign of man’s creative power. They are expressions of faith, and they stand for man’s struggle to relate himself to his past and to his God.
How did your journey to becoming an artist begin and why is your faith and identity as a Muslim integral to your practice?
As with most artists from minority background, I was discouraged from art by my parents as it was viewed as a waste of time with no career potential. My parents saw the traditional subjects such as medicine, law and engineering as the only career and study options. Even though art was a subject that I excelled in at school, sadly, my parents were not impressed and wanted me to focus more on other subjects. It was not until my art was being recognised through me receiving awards that I got the respect from my family for the art that I was producing. Up until that point, it was a very secret hobby. It has been my observation that family and friends kill more dreams than anybody.
My art is an extension of who I am. It is a fusion of traditional Islamic art with the British environment that I grew up in. These experiences allowed me to experiment with different styles and I believe that my ‘cosmopolitan’ work bridges different and diverse cultures.
I was initially inspired by my faith as well as by Islam’s early art and calligraphy tradition. I then started experimenting with colours and patterns which I combined with my artistic skills to produce some intricate digital art and, whilst I haven’t had any formal training or education in art and design, I am a great believer in ‘learning-by-doing’ especially if one has a creative spark waiting to be ignited. We are all born with some creative potential, but we need to learn to nurture our artistic ability.
I'm really proud of my Islamic heritage, and I'm trying to be an ambassador of it through my artwork. I hope that I can break the negative stereotypes with the beauty of Islamic art.
Brandalism is a revolt against the corporate control of culture and space. You are a key part of this global movement. Can you tell us about how you Brandalism and how this art activism is transforming public spaces?
Brandalism is an old age campaign to replace outdoor advertising with beautiful artwork. Corporate advertising influences every aspect of our modern lives. Adverts make us hate ourselves, our bodies and our perceptions of others. Advertising doesn’t simply sell us products – it shapes our expectations of how meaning should be produced in life.
Outdoor advertising can be psychologically damaging. Body shaming adverts are the worst things about advertising, like a concentrated form of evil. Nobody needs to walk down the street berated by messages telling them that they need liposuction in order to fit in with society, especially when the next advert down the street advertises fast food with that same basic message of “do this, or else you’re not cool.”
When advertisers push demeaning content on us, we should fight back. Outdoor advertising does not deserve its omnipresence, especially when advertisers choose objectification as a tactic.
Art in advert spaces is about making environments where public space can be enjoyed, rather than endured. I want people to walk down the street and see something nice for once. Something beautiful and different that is not trying to sell you anything. We are often shaped by the messages that public spaces send us.
What has the reaction of people when they accidentally encounter your work?
The core ideas in my artwork are unity and peace. This ideal is deeply rooted in Islamic culture and tradition. When people look at my work, I want them to feel an emotion or move something inside them. Art has the power to overcome barriers of language, culture and creed and inspire or even reach people at a deep personal level.
A core influence in your work is Islamic heritage and the beauty in Islamic gardens and architecture. How does your modern take on street art aim to achieve the same principles of creating a harmonious and beautiful world?
Nature is filled with beauty. Ugliness is an invention by man. Being trapped in a concrete city, you miss out on the beauty the world has to offer. We have been conditioned to always find the ugly in everything even when there is something beautiful.
We are made to believe that beauty is a luxury and only for the elite and wealthy. Islam has never considered beauty to be a luxury.
In Islam, art and beauty are not a luxury, they are a necessity. Throughout the Islamic world, surrounding ourselves with beauty and art is integral to our religion. In the past, everywhere where Muslim went they built architecture and gardens. Muslims created places of beauty which reflected divine presence.
Street art is now a recognised art form, which has been credited with tackling antisocial behaviour and potentially providing a low-cost tool for urban regeneration. Street art, especially murals, can change people’s perception of a space by painting. People care about public places they use when they are emotionally connected to them.
One of the most important aspects of a mural is its connection to community history and values. This provides community attachment to the mural, making people more likely to want to preserve the mural while also attracting tourists looking for art that reflects local culture. Community art-based mural paintings can give opportunities for people, who aren’t artists, to be involved in street art. Murals offer accessibility to art without barriers associated with education or finance.
The issue with many galleries is that you are simply looking at a trophy cabinet of a few elite collectors. These galleries decide the success of art. It is home for the over privileged and the pretentious. The art inside these galleries are made by only a select few. The high arts only represent a subculture of the art elite that is bought and displayed as a representation of high social status.
Street art should be absolutely everywhere. Where you live shouldn’t make a difference. Everyone should have access to art. It should be normalised for children, especially in places where there are anti-social behaviour issues, street art can help reduce that.
What achievements are you most proud of?
During my career in art, I have featured in publications and exhibited in prestigious institutions across the globe. I have also exhibited my work to a diverse range of audience’s, including various eminent world leaders and Middle Eastern royalty. I have also received many awards, including the Alhambra Award for Excellence in Arts, which recognises the best of Muslim contributions to British society. It is always rewarding for my work to receive acclaim and receive awards, but what I value above all is all the friendships that I have made through my art. Fellow artists and members of the public who have fortuitously entered into my life because of the work that I do makes me want to produce amazing artwork that displays the rich tapestry of Muslim and Islamic art and culture. The most important thing is the magical moment of human interaction.
Which is your most favourite work you have created to date and why?
Now this is a hard question. Could any mother pick out a favourite child from her offspring's? Wait a second, mine could and it sure as hell wasn't me!
One of the most important things, when I make a piece of artwork, is that I make art that I want to see. I don’t make art because it is the latest trend or what I think other people will like. My art is an extension of my heritage and myself. Otherwise, if it is anything less, I won’t be pleased with the work that I produce.
Some of my most enjoyable assignments have been collaborations with other artists to create stunning original pieces of artwork. I believe that this is a great way to develop the growing movement in Islamic art by working alongside other artists.
What is your dream creative project, goals and aspirations as an artist?
The loss of Islamic beauty around us is one of the greatest modern tragedies to happen to our culture. Islamic art is dying because of a lack of appreciation and respect for the arts.
One of my missions is to bring Islamic art to the younger generation. We have to educate our youth and get them excited about the arts. I want to inspire them to innovate and create Islamic art for the modern world. Art has the power to engage and inspire our community by giving them a deeper connection to their identity. I want to see Islamic art be normalised in the public domain. You can wipe out a generation of people, you can burn their homes to the ground, and somehow they'll still come back. But if you destroy their achievements and their culture, then it's like they never existed.
One of my dream projects is to help design a masjid. I'm tired of seeing the same concrete buildings that pop up everywhere. A Masjid should be beautiful that lifts the spirit of the believer and makes them want to stay inside the blessed walls. Another project that I want to do is work with a fashion house to create a line of modest clothing.
My ultimate aim is to connect communities and cultures, and challenge the negative images and narrow perceptions of Muslims, through the serene universal language of art
What are your thoughts on the future of Arabic calligraphy and Islamic art, do you think it has a place in mainstream spaces?
Islamic art is more important than ever. Art reflects the culture of the nations, their history, and civilization. Islamic culture is no exception.
From beautiful calligraphy of the earliest handcrafted editions of the Quran to the intricate geometric patterns and motifs of traditional design and architecture, the rich heritage of Islamic art and culture has always been associated with creativity.
However, our precious traditions are faced with oblivion. We live in troubled times, in which the beauty of Islamic culture is often obscured from view by those who wish to misrepresent both the faith and those who follow its teachings of peace and tolerance. The role of art in promoting a culture cannot be underestimated.
Sacred art is to do with beauty and beauty is a universal language. Beautiful art can break down barriers better than any interfaith dialogue. The importance of the revival of traditional Islamic art has been the best messenger and the best barrier breaker between Islam and the west because people come and say this is beautiful. It's not beautiful because it's Islamic, it's beautiful, it's universal and so people come away from traditional Islamic art with a positive image of Islamic culture and civilisation.
We always look at the history of Islamic art in a nostalgic way. I believe that we should look at the past in a critic way, to get the best from the past and bring them into the future. Using this concept, I like to evolve classic design techniques from the Islamic world and given them a contemporary spin. When I create artwork, I don’t believe in limitations, you are free to imagine, to dream, and to transfer emotion. We must not ignore the masters of the past, because without them we are leaderless, but use them as a foundation. At the end of the day when you are creating artwork, you are expressing yourself and your experiences.
I know what I do is different, but you can’t be revolutionary if you’re a strict traditionalist. Often people keep holding on to the past but Islamic art is about the future. Art has an important ambassadorial role to play, promoting a positive, progressive image of Islamic culture. It can also strengthen the future position of Islamic culture. We have only ourselves to blame for the lack and destruction of Islamic art around today.
For more information about Teakster check out www.teakster.co.uk
The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.