Modern MUSE 04 - Yasmin Bawa
What exactly inspires someone to leave their stable job with a well-known fashion brand to dive into the unknown? What drives someone to spend long hours hidden away in their room, attempting to perfect a creative process that has yet to be invented?
Immediately captivated by Yasmin Bawa's work, we consumed all that we could find of her online before finally getting a chance to sit down with her in person. In awe, we gawked at her Instagram account, filled with stunning images of her ever-growing collection of sensual hemp-based objects. Scroll all the way down and the story looks different: A few glimpses of life in the fashion world before the account goes quiet for a while, then a picture showing her in a new studio in 2015 followed by another long pause. But then, as if from a void, objects start emerging, cautiously at first, until suddenly momentum picks up and a clear and strong aesthetic comes full bloom.
Yasmin Wearing the Ade Velkon Moonwalker Dress
Looking at your story from the outside the word faith comes to mind. What helped you keep the guts and perseverance to follow through with this journey?
It was a combination of things. After I quit my job with Acne, I started experimenting with making objects from concrete. But due to pressure from society, I felt like I couldn't be creating furniture and objects without proper education, so I considered applying for a Masters's degree. Simultaneously, I realized that there was no way I'd get accepted without any current work to show in the first place.
"How do you do anything if no one is going to look at you until you've done something?" was the question I struggled with.
I decided that I needed to simply do it—so I did.
Part-time freelancing in the fashion world became increasingly taxing and I knew it was time to go all-in. From the start, I wanted to create objects with both purpose and applied use, as opposed to merely decorative art. So I focused on creating something that people could truly relate to.
Yasmin Wearing the Maria Morgana Clio Crop Top and Hera Pants, both in Raw Silk Natural
So, the intention behind the object was your motivator?
Yes! Intention shaped my approach to the material. Firstly, the weight of concrete didn't make sense to me, which started my quest for a lighter material. The toxicity of working with concrete also pushed me to look for alternatives. It was essential for me to work with a material that didn't put my health at risk.
During this time I came across someone who built homes and interiors using a mix of hemp and lime, called hempcrete. Research then led me to a hemp farm just outside Berlin where I purchased my first batch.
Only sold in fairly large quantities, the guy in the shop surely thought I was a bit crazy when I showed him what I wanted to make and left with a giant bag that barely fit in the car.
As if meant to be, I’d just moved into a new studio that same week—there would have been no way I could have worked with this amount of hemp in my bedroom.
Would you say you had a feel for the material?
The material and I clicked immediately and the first piece was conceived soon after. With a flexibility that doesn't force you to commit right away, but rather allows you to slowly build, working with hemp is more akin to sculpting. Thus my work shifted away from hard and angular, towards organic and soft forms.
Your objects have a human quality to them. How did this happen?
The more organic silhouettes were a result of how I responded to the material. This unexpected reference to the human form sparked the idea for the first photoshoot—of juxtaposing my objects next to actual naked bodies. While concrete is always cold, hemp objects adjust to their surrounding temperature and feel warm to the touch.
What else inspires your shapes?
I take most of my inspiration from books—from words rather than images. I read a lot around the poetics of space and how we use our bodies in relation to space and each other. I can't draw and I never sketch, instead I write concepts entirely with words and sculpt from that. The few times I tried to use a physical object as inspiration I was less inspired.
Is there a specific book or author that has inspired you?
Yes, Georges Perec's Species of Spaces. It's an almost nonsensical book and his work is abstract and entirely a play on words. The hashtag #spiecesofthespace, which I use for my social media posts, is inspired by him—A play of words on his play of words.
The book was given to me by a mentor, and it's also one of the reasons why I connected with my best friend Margaret, who is also my photographer and creative partner. I gave her the book and the next day she came to me and said, "We need to be best friends!"
I constantly take notes while reading, which I later come back to and extract from. In this process, I often find a red thread and a cohesiveness that was not premeditated.
You left a fast-paced, 'yang', fashion world and moved into this very intuitive, slow-paced, 'yin' way of working, creating incredibly sensual objects.
Looking back, a few have pointed out that I took 'slow' to the next level. In the beginning, it took me at least a month to make something. It felt like a subconscious rejection of speed and fast pace.
Yasmin Wearing the Ade Velkon Slit Crop Top
With all of this focus on connection to the human body, has your work in any way influenced how you feel in your own body?
In so many ways, yes!
Running a business is stressful and trying to make a sculpture business work is next-level-crazy however, I'm experiencing a trust in myself that I haven't had in a long time. I feel more relaxed and rooted in my body. I know and trust that things will keep unfolding and I have a general feeling of opportunity and growth.
I see trust as a red thread in your story; trusting your intuition while having the courage to ignore both your inner and your external critics.
Indeed. Though there were a few times when I felt like it was all too much. After quitting freelancing, I started working as a nanny to have enough to get by. At one point I nannied four kids and would spend the rest of the time working on projects in my room. Feeling crazy at times, having both Margaret and my boyfriend encouraging me to keep going, at moments when I felt like giving up, helped me stay on course. The two of them often believed in me and my work more than I did myself.
It was also Margaret who inspired and took the first photos of my objects. Knowing me and my project so intimately, there wasn’t anyone else who could have photographed them the way she did.
There's often this push to be self-reliant and do it all yourself. We forget about the importance of community and how beautiful it is when we allow ourselves to be supported.
This also relates well to the “natural building” community as a whole. Building natural houses, which is a dream of mine, is always a community effort. In the end, it's more labor-intensive than standard building processes, but as there is no standardized process, it relies on the coming together of community volunteers. It is common that most people volunteer on several building projects before attempting to start their own.
Working with hemp has opened me up to a large community. When I, somewhat hesitantly, signed up for the Hemp symposium in Brussels, I expected to find a room full of white male farmers or hippies with CBD oil. Instead what I found was a diverse community of people from all around the world, eager to share their experiences and knowledge over three days of enlightening talks.
Along with an architect and an engineer from Berlin, we've now founded a German Hemp Community and will start hosting our own symposiums. The community is another motivation for me to keep working with this material.
Yasmin Wearing the Ade Velkon Slit Crop Top and the Slouchy Pants
It all relates back to relationships—within communities and between people, as well as between objects and people. How do you and others relate to your objects?
I understand each object to have an underlying personality and quality. This comes from the idea of what objects 'do' when you're not around—as if they're coming alive. They have a life inside this room, independent of me and you.
Rather than being put in a corner, I wish for my objects to be something one can interact with and form relationships with, hence why I encourage my customers to frequently move them around and place them in unexpected places.
Objects allow us to change how we see and interact with our spaces.
Working with custom orders for clients I appreciate the interaction. Objects never spring from sketches, but from a conversation with the buyer about function and aesthetics. Most of the time I deliver the piece without having sent any updates throughout the process.
Has anyone ever rejected a piece?
No. And in the end I freely create the piece and the direction from the client enhances it, rather than the opposite. We meet in the middle.
This interview was conducted and edited by Berlin-based creative art director, storyteller and space alchemist Anette K Hansen. Founder of Akasa, she also runs her own creative consultancy.