Coffee with Y meets the expat artist behind one of the most intricately-creative tributes to His Majesty – a life-like portrait made from string art.
Dentist by day, artist by soul; Dr. Hafsa Banu Abid’s unique brand of string art is quickly going viral. An Indian expat who has called Oman home for more than 30 years, she’s honed her passion into what’s become more than just a hobby. Hafsa is the only known artist to have created a true-to-life, representational portrait of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said made from string art. Coffee with Y sat down with her to find out what it takes to create a 5,000-nail, 900 yards of string masterpiece.
Y: String art is an uncommon medium – and a rather unique one at that. Tell us how you came into it?
HBA: Art has always been in me since I was a child…the colours and mediums – everything about art used to mesmerise me. As a child, more than reading novels I used to follow works of famous artists through the school library. I would try out new techniques to make different forms of art and I still continue to do so. Even as a professional dentist I’ve always been an artist by soul and haven’t left my passion. String art is a different medium of art altogether. The process is quite tedious but the outcome is overwhelming. String art is an art-form that dates back to the 1960s and since then has been ever -evolving. Mostly string art is geometrical or patterned designs but I like to do things differently and not confine or limit myself.
Initially, I came across this form through my son Eishaan who had an art project of geometrical design made of pins and strings at school. I really loved the concept and tried to take it to a different level with wood, different types of nails, and strings.
I tried incorporating string art into shapes of animals, letters, Arabic calligraphy, portraits and monuments; and not limiting the background to a single colour but instead using different variants.
My first successful attempt was of Arabic calligraphy saying ‘Allahu akbar’. I got a lot of appreciation for it from my family and friends, and this made me take it to another level each time.
Y: Tell us about the intricacies of string art as a medium, and the finesse it takes to get the detail of the shading when doing portraits with string.
HBA: String art is an explicit art-form; the process of which requires a lot of patience yet gives a sense of peace and contentment once completed. From the initial sketching and outline of the pattern to the placement of nails and strings, all have to be very well-planned and administered.
A string art portrait is even more difficult as it represents a person and it should be completely justified. While making it, I have to be extra cautious on the fine details of the features; just the outline of facial features feels incomplete unless more shading is added, which I attempt by using different gradients and thickness of strings. Each feature such as the pupil of the eye, the teeth, a lip outline or the folds of the nose can be made with finesse – and only with the use of varying thicknesses of string.
Y: What prompted you to make a piece in tribute to His Majesty – and do you know if he’s aware of it?
HBA: Having lived most of my life in this beautiful country, I really wanted to express my love for it. His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said is the epitome of peace, compassion and justice. We, the people of Oman – either expatriates or nationals – are blessed to have such a great ruler. The string art portrait of His Majesty is a humble way of saying thank you to him. This has been my first attempt at portraiture – and who better than His Majesty himself, whom I respect so much. It took me three months, almost 5,000 nails, and 900 yards (820m) of string of different gradients to make the portrait – which gave me a lot of satisfaction when I completed it.
I don’t know if His Majesty is aware it exists but I really hope and pray that this portrait could reach him. It would give me a great sense of happiness if he would accept my efforts for him.
Y: Do you think Oman can be doing more on a national level to foster and provide a platform for Omani artistic talent?
HBA: Oman has so many talented artists – be they nationals or expats. Add to this the country’s beauty and scenic nature, its people and their traditions. Artists have always been fascinated to capture what they see through many different mediums. I’ve seen a lot of displays of art and exhibitions, the latest being the 2018 Oman Affordable Art Show in Qurum. I’m sure Oman can foster and provide a bigger platform for all artists at a national level. There are many art galleries displaying the talents and efforts of artists, and the Sultanate should take a step ahead to include them all and help them display internationally too, to represent Oman.
Y: What words of encouragement do you have for young artists who are trying to find their creative voice?
HBA: Every human being is special, and everybody has a hidden talent in them that they have to just unravel. If you have an artistic soul, you’re already aware of it; your passion speaks through your work and your creativity knows no bounds. Just listen and try with determination to foster your passion. It doesn’t matter if you fall, you just have to rise up again. Follow your dreams, and the way will unfold on its own.
Y: Is string art your primary medium as an artist – or do you also use other materials too?
HBA: Art is so diverse. I’ve never confined myself to one medium and love trying new and different art-forms. I’ve done painting using water, acrylics, oils, resins on canvas, ceramics, glass and fabrics, pencil and charcoal sketching, sand painting, shell painting, casting hand impressions using plaster and wax, and mirror-works on boards and canvas. I also like to find new, innovative mediums of expression.
String art is by far my signature and gives me the utmost satisfaction in doing it. Most of my works have been gifted to my family and close friends, while others have been donated to the Oman Cancer Association for their recent Breast Cancer Awareness event.
Y: What do you hope to pass on to the next generation of young artists through your work?
HBA: I hope I can encourage more up-and-coming artists to see and pursue their passion. I intend to grow more and do more for society in the creative arena. Art is an ever-evolving talent. I want to show the next generation a different step towards unfolding their creative minds through my work.