Published: 17th September 2018
This 26-year-old Kerala artist uses a world of colours to express herself in a changing world
Fathima Hakkim speaks about finding herself in her art and dealing with a world that constantly judges your identity
The first snippet of my conversation with Fathima Hakkim that I'd like to recount is her misery over stolen food. Within minutes of our first meeting, she recounts a late evening when she discovered that her coveted leftover dinner of chicken tikka masala had been eaten by someone else. She remembers with an embarrassed laugh that she broke down crying. This 26-year-old artist is as human as they come and she has a treasure trove of highs and lows that made her who she is.
"Art is very necessary for my survival," she says. "I started painting when I was about 4 or 5. As humans, we need to express. A huge problem with our society is that they teach us to bottle up. People outside are so judgemental that we are so afraid to speak up, call out for help or talk about things that are important to us. For me, I had to do it. I couldn't bottle so much of myself up. Even today, there are moments when I know that I have to let the art out, it's urgent almost. It's the only way in which I can channel out all that is there inside me."
Strayed gaze: Fathima's work is a reflection of herself
When Fathima help her first exhibition in Cohin, fresh out of her hometown in Kollam, people did not respond positively to her work. "My work is not necessarily what people here generally come to expect. It's not landscapes of picturesque locations in Kerala," she explains. She collected herself and all her paintings and travelled to Calicut where she hosted another exhibition. She recollects, "This second time around, I didn't feel anything in particular. I was not afraid."
"I can imagine that if I didn't do it, I'd have been in a really bad position right now. I would not have survived it. I conveniently numbed myself at the time," she says. Since then, she has gone on to host a number of art exhibitions and art workshops in various parts of the country. She adds, "Today when I go out, people have started to recognise me. Frankly speaking, that kind of scares me. You are being watched from every corner. It sort of makes me alter myself when I know I'm being watched. When I started painting I had no clue about what it takes to be an artist. I had no idea that the world around me was going to change like this. We come from a time of landlines and Nintendos where everything was so much simpler."
Colour bound: She has organised workshops in various parts of the country
"I just want to be bare," she says, "To be honest, I used to want to be this very inspirational person and when people started seeing me that way, I realised that this is not what I really want. I realised that I don't want to pretend to be someone that I'm not. I just want to be another human and blend into the crowd." A few years ago, Fathima opened up about dealing with autism with a child and channelling herself through the medium of art. With the determination to not be reduced to anything but her art, she focused on visiting students and schools where she would share her journey with students, parents and teachers.
"When I started, I painted to please people. I would do these perfect strokes and brushlines that I never really understood or related to. This is what the world teaches you is 'good art'," she says, "Later, down the line, I was tired of pleasing people. So I started to paint all the things that meant something to me. These days, what I paint is a reflection of me. My art is not something that people can walk away from after one glance. I've kept surprise elements for you in it. I hope that every time you look at it you find something different." She believes that her art has transformed with her over the years, saying, "I don't want to make art in a certain medium, I want to make art in people's hearts." And this dreamer who has gone from painting small A4 sheets now paints huge walls that add a dose of love and colour to the world.