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Artist Spotlight: Asma Istwana

Asma Istwani is an artist working in London whose work combines found images, magazine editorials and personal photography and explores the larger narrative surrounding beauty standards and identity

Asma Istwani is an early career artist working in London whose work combines found images, magazine editorials and personal photography. Asma is most interested in adding to the larger narrative surrounding beauty standards and identity and aims to make relatable statements in her work about the racial and sexual depiction, representation and experience of women with special interest to “othered” women like herself, make up the SWANA diaspora.

How has your lived experience shaped your practice?
Well I actually came to my practice a bit later in life, which is quite notable for me. Like many children of immigrants I was expected to take on a career and interests that would provide stability in my life, with a traditional path being encouraged over a more creative one. It took me a while to rebel against that, but I did, and that small personal revolution led to many others in my life including my pursuing a career in the arts and forming the beloved RIOT SOUP (art collective).

What are some of your biggest influences and motivations in your work? 
I’m motivated by my desire to understand beauty, what it is, what it’s not, if it can truly be decolonised, or not – and what that all means. Also I’m motivated by fun and collaging is fun to me! It might not always be visible in my work but anything could have affected my process and influenced me, from having the flat (where I work) to myself, to spending time in nature, to lively conversations with friends. Also, Betty Davis, always Betty Davis (this one).

What issues are you passionate about working on?
I am very keen about incorporating more heritage and storytelling into my work but I am just.so.PRECIOUS about it that I often hold myself back.. I’m working it out though!

How does a focus on collage feed into your work?
Collage is so underrated and I think can sometimes be seen as a bit juvenile, but the nature of it is rebellious to me and I don’t think I would get on as well with any other medium. I mean you get to cut, tear and rip things apart and very literally reject or reimagine whatever it is that’s in front of you. Also, manipulating and physically deconstructing these images from fashion magazines, which have for so long dictated such a narrow, Eurocentric version of beauty, to recreate my own version feels like a tiny form of justice. I just love it, and I also love bringing these ideas to my workshops too and watching people get stuck in!

Where are you based and what excites you about the creative community around you?
I’m based in London and the first thing that comes to mind is the way so many artists in our city deal with the lack of studio or creative space, not to mention lack of funds (!) and still manage to create such impressive and important work

See more of Asma’s work HERE

TopSoil: gardening as radical queer resistance Stammering in the intersections Beyond the pole: cultivating community and destigmatising sex work What is Abolition? What is Settler Colonialism? The Revolution is in 808 What is Green Colonialism? The Black women in my life who bring me joy Exploring mixed musical heritage in collective healing and solidarity What occupying a University building taught me about life