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Craft With Conscience: Humayrah Bint Altaf

Craft With Conscience

'Craft With Conscience' began in early 2016 as a weekly Instagram series dedicated to sharing the work of other creatives and as a platform to openly discuss certain aspects of ethical art-making and consuming in the age of the internet and social media.  

This series arose out of my own frustrations related to seeing my work constantly copied stitch-for-stitch, sold without permission, and credited to other people.  Rather than wallowing in unproductive negative emotions, I wanted to find a way to bring this common issue to light in a positive way.  My solution was to share the work of artists, crafters, designers, and makers who I greatly admire for their originality and dedication. Initially, I shared work similar in materials or subject matter to my own, having heard the argument, "There are only so many ways to stitch plants, I'm not copying you..." one too many times.  The truth is, no matter what the medium or subject, every artist from hobby crafter to professional painter has their own perspective and voice. It takes effort to develop one's visual vocabulary and it can be disheartening when your's is taken and misused by other individuals and sometimes larger companies.

All that being said, now is an incredible time for working artists because of the vast resources of the internet including sources of inspiration, the ability to reach a large and global audience, and as a community building tool. As you may know, I love sharing my work on Instagram and following other makers. It's a wonderful way to connect with other artists, be inspired, and feel supported, but we all need to be aware of how we use these resources and what effect it may have on others.

Since the start of 2016, 'Craft With Conscience' has grown and evolved just like any other creative pursuit and has recently expanded to include short interviews with featured artists. I've asked participating artists a series of questions about their studio process, sources of inspiration, and how image-sharing sites like Instagram and Pinterest influence and affect them. I hope you read on to see what they have to say!

Craft With Conscience: Humayrah Bint Altaf

Sarah Benning

Humayrah Bint Altaf  //  Embroidery Artist // England

In her two years at The Royal School of Needlework, Humayrah developed her skills in traditional hand embroidery techniques like Goldwork and Silk Shading and it was here that her love and appreciation for exquisite craftsmanship blossomed. Since graduating, Humayrah proceeded to create an Etsy store (The Olde Sewing Room) displaying age old techniques amalgamated with her growing penchant for Entomology and the natural world.

Check out more of her amazing work on Instagram and Etsy.

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1. I began my #CraftWithConscience series as a way to simultaneously promote the work of other makers and to discuss the complicated issues surrounding creative inspiration and developing ones’ own visual vocabulary. The internet is an ever growing fixture in many artist’s lives and businesses, could you talk about the role the internet plays in your artistic and professional life?

The internet can be both powerful and pointless. For me, it is not an essential part of finding inspiration, however the internet is the main medium I utilise to promote my work. The world of Instagram is perfect for marketing your business whilst meeting like minded creatives. I think of all the incredibly skillful makers that I'm blessed to know through Instagram and how they pour their soul into creating.  The plethora of cat pictures on instagram are also exceedingly inspirational!

I do believe that the internet should be used wisely or it can turn into an addiction. As artists, we aim for our work to be accepted and praised through likes and followers. This can inconspicuously turn into a viscous cycle so I like to have digital detox days where I refrain from using social media. I'm yet to understand the modern phenomena of wanting to record and take pictures of everything for the world to see. I love that my art can be known through the internet whilst keeping my personal life unknown and hidden, allowing the audience to focus on my craft. An air of mystery about the artist enhances their art in my opinion. Banksy being an apt example of this. How cool is Banksy?!

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2. Where do you find inspiration for your work?  In what ways has the internet and/or social media impacted your design process?

The influence of the natural creation is something that is woven through a lot of my work. I've always loved discovering beautiful things and enjoy wandering through the woods near my home where I gather leaves, twigs, feathers and other ephemera I can find to bring back home and preserve. I like to incorporate the treasures I find into my embroideries and with each piece I feel that a part of me has been embedded into my work.

I strive to create pieces that speak figuratively and literally of the colours and textures of trees, plants, beetles, bees, roots, twigs and other creatures that frequent my world. Light is an integral element of my craft hence the materials I use reflect this. Soft gold leathers, vintage silks, antique gold cords, iridescent metal wires all call out to me. Photography, good lighting and creating a harmonious visual composition is almost as important to me as the embroidery itself. I believe in storytelling through imagery, the comforting effect cloth, fibre or photograph may have on people.

I am a 'word collector'. Unusual words with wondrous meanings fascinate me. My favourite word is Sonder (n.) The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk. - The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig.

Often, the correlation between embroidery and words is not apparent to anyone but me. I feel there is a spiritual mystery hidden in the folds of language and it's important to hem these extraordinary blessings with thankfulness

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3. How have you, as an artist, found your creative voice?

Like the best things in my life, my creative voice flourished unexpectedly. For years I was struggling to find what I was good at. Then I shifted my focus to what I loved to create and thereafter my own artistic expression was born. As a maker, I still have a long road ahead and am excited to encounter many more bursts of unanticipated inspirations

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4. Sites like Pinterest and Instagram are popular places for artists’ to share their own work. They also act as public visual archives, often leading to creative work by others that walks the line between ‘inspiration’ and ‘infringement.’ Have you encountered copies of your work online and how does it affect you? What are your strategies for dealing with it?

I have encountered copies of my work online. Although they were pretty poor attempts at recreating my embroidery, the artist shamelessly denied copying it and said his boss told him to make them. Upon further investigation (stalking) I noticed he was a poor factory worker in a remote village in India where workers are exploited and work in inhumane conditions for very little pay. I felt sorry for him so let him off.

My approach is quite placid and I am happy if people want  to recreate my designs. Every artist has a unique style and the way I compose my stitches will be different from the way another person creates. It is common courtesy to credit the artist who you are taking inspiration from but this doesn't always happen. I do get tempted to name and shame online just for a laugh but haven't succumbed to my sinister inclinations just yet.

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5. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or creative business people?

Stop procrastinating and over-analysing. Begin what you love to do now and enjoy the process. I regret not opening an etsy shop earlier and it was unnecessary anxiety that was holding me back. If anyone asks you to work for free, be flexible and say no.

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6. Do you have any favorite blogs, artists, or Instagram accounts that you’d like to share?

Banksy, Nigel Slater and Cats of Instagram!

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All images provided by the artist.