Exclusive interview with artist Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq


In August, artist Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq will create a site-specific wall drawing at Modern Art Oxford to mark the fourth in a series of exhibitions that celebrate our 50th anniversary. Visitors to the gallery will be able to watch Mohammed as he applies polished graphite directly to the wall for this exciting new commission. In addition, Mohammed has generously offered to host a tour of his London studio for ten supporters of the campaign.

Don’t miss your chance to get this limited-edition £200 reward today.

Can you tell us about the work you’ll be creating for KALEIDOSCOPE: It’s Me to the World and what it means to work with a gallery like Modern Art Oxford?

I'll be making a wall work, which continues on from the BLACK HOLE drawings I have been working on in the studio. What I'm going for is a disc of polished graphite, which holds a geometry breaking up the expanse of space. On the one hand, when you're working away on something in the studio and you're thinking about things on a scale of permanence, it's pencil on paper which will be framed, it's a permanent object which will be on the floor or on a plinth and both of these modes of working are going to be relatively restricted in terms of their accessibility.

What working with Modern Art Oxford allows is the possibility of creating something that is representative and completely free of constraints which surround these modes of fabrication, making, and exhibiting. It's going to be something which is site-specific, a completely new way of utilising an old material such as graphite, which will ultimately be painted over once the exhibition closes. It's all really exciting.

What can guests expect to see at your studio if they pick the reward?

It's quite domestic yet very simple. There's a couple of desks, a drawing board, a collection of Wagner's operas and a couple of reject drawings. The reject drawings – the ones that I have ruined while working on them – are probably the pièce de résistance. Actually just the other day I wrecked a drawing, you stand in front of it and you're basically hoping that it's going to be okay, but it's definitely not, there's no salvation. You can see two things in them, how much it takes to get to that stage and how quickly it turns into an absolutely catastrophic event. Which is funny because it's only paper and pencil.

I don't really feel that leaving a space to travel somewhere in order to create is going to make my day any more productive. For that matter, everything is 'in-house'. I'm working on some drawings at the moment and I've just begun a series of triangular-form drawings. It's fairly slow-paced in terms of making, so there's never more than a single drawing being worked on at any given time. I have things around me, like early generation maquettes, but it's relatively bare.

Where do you seek inspiration from?

About a month ago, I had the honour of visiting Factum Arte in Madrid – it's an absolutely mind-blowing experience. Adam Lowe, Miqui Guillén and the team are an inspiration. If there was anywhere in the world, for me, that represents the possibilities of what is creatively possible then this is it. When you're a kid learning about art movements, such as the Bauhaus, you fall in love with aesthetics, making and thinking, and the marriage of those very beliefs. When you experience the world, you realise that it's not as romantic and awe-inspiring as it is when you're experiencing it as a 14-year-old on VHS at high school. Then you go to Factum Arte, and there's something really incredible while you're walking through the various workshops and rooms. It has that same feeling, there's too much to talk about but the range and level of making and looking is absolutely staggering.

Also, in the 21st century we speak about the Jobsian ethos, his focus on the intersection of arts and humanities with technology, and it's practically impossible to not think of that while there, that this is the best example of what the greater picture is. Where history and art through to technology can be documented, created and restored. It's a playground for the artist.

Do you see your works as sculptures or installations?

I think I've been seeing things in an individual space, which is completely wrong. However, this vision is framed by the probability that by the time there are enough works completed to formalise this vision, about a decade would have passed. So in that time frame, it's highly unlikely that things will be shown together at the scale that I believe best defines an installation. It's primarily driven by the fact that there's no real substitute for any of the works, they will take as long as they do to make, and that's simply the way that they come together. They are elements essentially reflecting each other, and they are all awaiting that moment.

Does your ethnic or religious background have any influence over your work or practice?

There's one thing I realised on a recent trip: I was standing in the Nasrid Palaces, there's this small private mosque, along one wall there are windows and the walls are just covered with the most incredible plaster carved panels. I've never been anywhere like it, it's absolutely incredible that we as humans can create such immaculately crafted walls, rooms and palaces such as these. However, right now we're in a gap. It's as if we've forgotten this beauty.

I’ve noticed that the word ‘perfection’ is used often when others write about your work? Do you know what it is and if you’ll ever achieve it?

Perfection is the simultaneous action of getting rid of everything which doesn't belong to something and the journey in which you try and close the distance between you and 'it'. The journey, however, is going to take a long time, it's going to be massively disappointing and it's going to be depressing. A couple of people may understand what you're talking about, but on that given day everything aligns perfectly; click, it's right there. Then you look at it and it's as if it has always existed, that this has always been there and all we were doing was bringing it into view.

Donate to Modern Art Oxford's project for the chance to visit Mohammed's studio.

Back to top
One moment please