For LEEMO, every aspect of life is reflected in art - subjective and constantly changing. Growing up near the Baltic Sea, the artist and graphic designer explored her dual German and Middle Eastern identities through art, taking classes in watercolours and portraiture. We spoke with her about growing up, her love for plants, and life somewhere between East and West.
Tell us a little bit about your childhood.
My parents are originally from Afghanistan. I was born in Germany and grew up by the Baltic Sea. As a kid I was a wild child. When I wasn't busy painting the walls and furniture in our home, I could always be found running around somewhere outdoors, never too far from the beach.
Growing up, one of my biggest challenges was that our family was unlike other people's families. We had a different belief system, rules, and values. When the war in Afghanistan broke out, everything that my parents had ever known, everything they had left behind, was buried in rubble. The members of our family that were still in Kabul had to flee. News of the deaths of friends or family members would reach us on a regular basis. Back then I already understood how lucky I was (and am) to be living in Germany.
At the time my family would take in refugee children on a regular basis. We sometimes housed wounded children who had only come to Germany for medical treatment. They were usually sent back once they’d been treated. These encounters had a strong impact on me and for years I refused to understand how life could be so unfair.
You have roots in both Europe and the Middle East. Describe your relationship to the two and how it is reflected in your art.
The concepts of identity and a sense of belonging have been recurrent themes throughout my entire life. I don’t feel affiliated with one nation in particular. This is probably because, unlike other young people with immigrant backgrounds in big cities, I was never really part of a specific community.
I simply feel human. And I feel connected to all people of the world, no matter where they are from. I guess this is just my attempt at understanding who I am.
As a teenager, finding a balance between the opposing cultures that I grew up exposed to, was a process. I understood that the roots to my more rebellious and angry side came from my emotionally charged Afghan heritage. This is the side of my personality that’s alive and full of energy.
My calmer Nordic nature, on the other hand, is responsible for my pragmatism and resilience. I think that my attempt to bring the two together is strongly reflected in my work. Both wild side with all its colours and movement and the more functional side with its order and grey-scales.
What is your favourite place in Hamburg?
I’ve been in love with the Steindamm (Hamburg’s most famous street) since childhood. It’s colourful, dirty, loud and multi-cultural. There’s always something going on and I can get everything there that my heart desires: Turkish hazelnuts, Afghan mulberries, Persian dates, yufka, amazing basmati rice, the most delicious döner, fresh fruit, seasonal vegetables...I always go completely crazy when I’m there, it’s great.
What is your favourite medium and why?
I have a weakness for pens and paper of all shapes and sizes. I’m usually a minimalist, but when it comes to stationery I just can’t help but be a little bit of a hoarder (okay, maybe a lot). Before going away on holiday I stock up on all kinds of sketchbooks, pens and pencils. Then I usually have to take out some of my clothes so that everything fits into my bag.
As a low-tech cyborg of the earliest hour I have an even more intense relationship with my iMac, my Eizo and my Wacom. I really value technology and I appreciate the opportunities it has provided us with. I think that that there’d be less arguments and frustration in the world if command-Z and command-S could be used in real life scenarios.
Some of your designs are very lively and colourful. Others are more minimalist or black and white. Where do these differences come from?
There’s always been a certain duality in my life: there is the world around me and the world that takes place within the walls of my home. While they can be quite opposing at times, both played a significant role in shaping my reality. It’s like the red line that draws itself through my life. I think that I’ll always be moving back and forth between the two, be it in life or in art.
How would you describe your relationship with patterns?
I have always been interested in decorations and patterns. When I was growing up our home was equipped with furniture from both the East and the West. I own a Kelim that’s been in every home I’ve lived in since I was a teenager. The colours are vibrant and positive, the patterns simple but edgy; they always gets me a in a good mood. Maybe I’m trying to reach something similar with my work.
What does the future have in store for you?
I don’t have any plans that are set in stone, but I’d like to go skydiving sometime soon. I’d also like to finally start planning the trip to Japan that I’ve been itching to do for a very long time. And I want to become more active in the social network sphere - I’ve been a bit anti-social there until now. Bright stuff on the horizon.