Good art is an experience for those who engage with it, and Haneefah Adam’s art is always that way. Her recent, and first solo, exhibition of wire sculptures at Angels and Muse in Lagos was no different. Whether she is painting, creating sculptures or food art, her work is unique and striking. “I work with mixed media. I paint with acrylic and watercolour, and also do photography, videography and sculpture,” Haneefah says about her forms of expression.
Haneefah became popular for her food art—you’ve probably seen one or more online, so I assumed she got into it by playing with her food as a child. She says, however, “I actually do not remember playing with my food as a kid. My earliest food art memory was moulding a ‘chocolate bar’ in clay. I thought it was so realistic that I kept it for a very long time.” Because she did not encounter any Nigerian food being used for food art, she started documenting Nigerian food art to celebrate the country’s rich culture and heritage. “There is so much potential and there are rich resources just waiting to be tapped into. Filling that void led me into my career as an artist,” she says.
On Mentorship & Choosing Art As A Career
Haneefah has an MSc in Pharmacology and Drug Discovery from Coventry University, UK. Her career path, however, was not as she had would have imagined. “I really thought I was going to finish my master’s degree, get married, become a lecturer at a university. You know… a safe, laid out expected route,” she says. “From the responses I got to my works, I decided to just go for art. In the break between my first and second degree, I explored blogging about food, my faith, fashion, arts and crafts and just general lifestyle. I built up on that from ‘failed’ clothing line launches and the likes.”
For about three years, she used social media to share her works and the concepts that she came up with, while she was still in university. Haneefah didn’t think her work would go past social media posts. “I entered into an Art competition by Rele Gallery, Lagos and won,” she says of her journey to choosing art as a career. “From there I decided to pursue it fully as a career, since it was sustainable. I got to collaborate and also worked with brands, exhibited in group art shows and I never looked back.”
In the beginning, she was overwhelmed by the attention and support her work got, but when that died down, she settled into crafting her identity and focusing on the type of art she wanted to create. Haneefah highlights the importance of mentorship and how it continues to help her to grow. She says, I have been blessed with some individuals I’ve had the privilege of meeting. They have helped with both short and long term mentorship.”
It’s important to go with your purpose. In Nigeria, it can be hard to choose an alternative career; however, one often finds that when you ‘prove’ to family and friends that you know what you’re doing, they come around to the idea. For Haneefah, her family did. “They finally came around to it when they saw the type of attention it was getting and saw that it is sustainable,” she explains. “We never discussed pursuing art as a career even though they knew I had a flair for creating.”
On Influence and Inspiration
Haneefah’s work often explores the subject of femininity, especially in the context of the Nigerian woman. It is a subject that is personal to her. “I am greatly inspired by my Mum, even though she doesn’t know that and I admire her for a lot of reasons,” she explains. “My parents provided me with material through the stories they told and what they let us experience culturally. It has always been fascinating being able to enjoy arts.”
Her work also draws heavily from her personal experiences and things she observes in self and immediate environment. “I love history and culture and celebrating and learning more about mine is something I thoroughly enjoy.”
While establishing an art career is not without its own challenges, Haneefah chooses to see them as a part of the process. This includes negative comments. Her approach to those is worth emulating. “I mostly ignore it or laugh about it. Once in a while, I try to explain myself,” she says. “I think It is just important that I believe strongly in what I am doing and not be distracted by too many negative influences and I just continue to do my thing. Talking about it with my support system also helps.”
On The Future and The Past
Haneefah wants her work to inspire and provide rich cultural experiences for those who engage with it, while remaining art that they can enjoy. “I really hope I am able to expand my reach. That is important to me,” she says of her future goals. “I want to be able to make a positive impact in any way that I can and be able to inspire with my stories.”
In spite of every good thing that has happened to her, she respects the journey it took to get there. When I ask what she would tell her 18-year-old self if she could, she says, “You know, I would tell her everything will be okay and she’s going to do amazing. I really do not know what might have happened if I had gone into the arts from the beginning. I respect my journey and I think most things happen as they are supposed to,” she says. “It is my 23-year old self I would have told to worry less.”
You can find Haneefah and more of her work at: