i-D feature Karimah Hassan
Until 2018, painting “was like a silent childhood best friend,” to Karimah Hassan; one that “drifted in and out” of her life. “I knew it was a part of me,” she says, “it just took time to understand where it fitted.” For the past three years, however, it’s become her complete and total focus. She now works full-time in a studio and on the streets of London, creating large painted murals wrought with emotion and texture. She’s also currently Artist in Residence at the Sarabande, the foundation set up by the late Alexander McQueen offering artists offering support and mentorship, something that’s pushing her art into “bigger spaces”, she says.
Karimah grew up in Newport, South Wales, in a Yemeni, Bangladeshi and Welsh family. She moved to London about seven years ago to study and, in 2018, she graduated with an MA in architecture from the Royal College of Art. Unsurprisingly, given this background, Karimah thinks carefully about the consumption of her art and the value of multidisciplinary design. You’ll often find her paintings exhibited as part of curated, multimedia presentations, such as community nights that involve open mic and live music. “Once I saw the magic of how enlivening an exhibition can be, the end goal wasn’t just about the paintings, but the atmosphere that we can create.”
Her latest project is no exception. Opening up her practice to anyone in the world, The Strangers Yearbook is a series of portraits she paints from submissions into her DMs. It started a year ago, at the beginning of lockdown, with an Instagram call-out for selfies from her friends and family. Looking deep into these faces and rendering them in her frenetic brushwork, Karimah unwittingly began creating an abstract archive of the different emotions people carried in their faces over the pandemic.
It’s since snowballed — “I had strangers send in personal stories from all walks of life such as NHS workers, refugees on the run and couples breaking up” — becoming more expansive and international than she ever could have anticipated. “The Instagram page now reads like an ongoing archive of the crazy year that we had, from banana bread sagas to mental breakdowns.” Now, Karimah is inviting anyone anywhere to respond to her question: ‘How are you feeling?’ by sending her a photo and their response to @StrangersYearbook, some of which she will then paint.