WHEN IT COMES TO THE WORLD OF ARTS, WE REALLY THOUGHT THAT WE’D SEEN IT ALL – VIBRANT POP ART, DIGITAL RECREATIONS, TRADITIONAL ABSTRACT, COOL ANIMATIONS AND EVEN VECTORS DEPICTING ARCHITECTURAL WONDERS – ALAS, OUR PURSUIT OF FINDING ORIGINAL ARTWORK LED US TO A SHAPE THAT USUALLY EVADES US IN DAILY LIFE. ENTER, SQUARE PEOPLE; THE BRAINCHILD OF 28-YEAR-OLD FATEMA ALHASHIMI. FACT’S SHABANA ADAM CAUGHT UP WITH THE QUIRKY CREATIVE TO TALK TOOLS, TECHNIQUES AND ALL THINGS SQUARE…

From drawing square versions of prominent public figures to remaking Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night in just 10 minutes – Fatema has a way with art – and it was her imagination and belief in personalisation that led to the birth of Square People, around five years ago. “I was thinking of making my mother a birthday card,” Fatema recalls. “I’ve always loved the idea of creating personalised cards and gifts ever since I was young. I decided that I would draw myself, my sister and my brother but I wasn’t really sure how at first, so I started with a draft where I drew three squares representing the three of us,” she continues.

I knew that I wanted to draw in cartoon since I’m more familiar with that type of art and after a little brainstorming session, I chose The Three Musketeers as the theme of the card. I drew the same face for all three characters: button-like eyes, a small nose and a smile on the side as the mouth. Then I started personalising each character,” Fatema says. This included adding small details to reflect each of the siblings’ style and personality and resulted in a card that her mother absolutely adored. This was Fatema’s drive; she would then find herself drawing square faces on spare paper and even napkins at cafés, hence the formation of Square People.

What started off as a personalised gift, turned into a project of passion which spawned a number of more cards for other family members on occasions such as birthdays, weddings, baby showers and even when someone got a promotion. “I found myself drawing them [square people] for no reason at all and it felt like this is what I’m meant to do,” Fatema explains. “Square people is a colourful world with endless possibilities and it has allowed me to express myself in a creative way while putting a smile on the faces of many.”

Though her self-talent discovery of Square People happened by chance, Fatema has in fact been drawn to the art world from a young age. She always preferred drawing books and colouring over toys. “As a kid, my ultimate joy was going stationery shopping and getting lost within the aisles of pens, papers, paint and brushes,” she reminisces. “I grew up watching my mom doodle on notebooks and magazines and anything she could get her hands on. She inspired my love for doodling to the very last detail.

“At the same time, I was inspired by landscapes and scenery painting as I’d watch my uncle spend hours painting and bringing a memory or a picture to life,” she adds. “That sense of pride when he’d hang his finished painting made me love art even more. Apart from that, my love for cartoons inspired my work with Square People.”

Talking of cartoons, Fatema leans more towards drawing with a comic approach due to the clean black lines. Occasionally, she reverts to traditional pencil sketches because they help her to practice, especially when she’s hung up on a drawing – akin to writer’s block. When Fatema envisions an idea or a drawing, she always imagines it sketched and outlined with her 0.3 or 0.5 pen and that sets the tone for the drawing. “When I attempt to imitate a real-life image, I always end up adding a touch of cartoon to it and that’s when I accepted and embraced the fact 42 fact magazine that I’ll always want to draw in this comic way,” Fatema shares. “Cartoon has been a major part of our lives and has brought joy to the lives of many which is why everyone wants to see a cartoon version of themselves. It’s exciting and it makes sense to me and I love drawing and bringing joy through my art.”

When it comes to describing her artistic style for someone who isn’t familiar with her work, Fatema refers to her favourite description, given by a friend who said: “After a first look at your work, a person would be able to recognise any of your drawings at first glance because it carries your essence; simple yet whimsical.” This has left a smile on Fatema’s face ever since. Infusing cartoon with mixed media, and different colours and textures – all outlined with semi-clean black lines, Fatema has created her very own niche on a very loud arts scene. Occasionally, she adds her signature henna/ arabesque doodles for an extra touch of something endearing.

Square People’s charm also lies in the fact that Fatema is an advocate for shedding light on the importance of recycling and how little decisions can go a long way. Fatema started off using recycled items like cardboard boxes and menus, adding depth and dimension to her artwork. She would use them as props to dress up her square people which were mostly girls at first. She even used flowers, leaves, fruits, nuts and candy wrappers – anything that fit. By using a recycled item for her art, she manages to change its trajectory to something that will stay on our planet for a long time without causing any harm. “Ever since we were kids, my father taught my sisters and I the importance of recycling and preserving the environment, and I guess that value was subconsciously reflected into my art, especially with Square People” Fatema tells us. “I feel like there’s so much that can be done with recycled items; you just need to give them that second chance.” Now that’s a creative message that we can definitely support!

Fatema’s art is centred on a contemporary concept through its use of uncommon, modern-day materials and themes. One of the greatest impacts on her work and how she navigates this saturated landscape is with social media. “The fact that I’m exposed to an endless sea of art and talented artists online has had a rather positive impact in motivating me to be more productive with my art,” she says. “I find that the artistic trends and initiatives that were introduced on social media such as “Inktober” have motivated so many to think outside the box and has exposed artists to people within the same community and beyond, bringing them together through their interests and passion for art,” she adds. “It’s humbling, and it’s refreshing but it can sometimes be a struggle to stay true to your own style without any influences from the outside.”

Picasso is amongst one of Fatema’s biggest artistic influences. She also counts comic books from her childhood, including Majid and Archie comics, as well as nature and stories of strength, struggles, determination and fearlessness as a huge inspiration to strive on with her art and lead a life of gratitude. One of her most humble pieces of advice for young budding artists is to “never throw away something you consider an ‘unsuccessful’ or ‘failed’ attempt,” but instead to use everything you create to track your progress and second, you can always go back and fix or complete it another time. “We change and our perspectives change, so it’s always a good idea to give it another chance,” Fatema says.

To our surprise, Fatema has never participated in an exhibition – and that is something she hopes to conquer in 2020. “I have so many ideas that I can’t wait to share with the world and I plan to continue sharing my message of love and happiness through Square People,” she smiles. “I also plan on shedding some light on recycling and how we can take better care of the planet we live in by being more responsible and making conscious decisions every day.”

A conscientious artist, a loving daughter and a soon-to-be 30-year-old who believes in thriving to be a better version of yourself every day; the future’s bright, and the future’s definitely a whole lot of Square People! ✤

GO: FOLLOW @SQUAREPEOPLE ON INSTAGRAM TO KEEP UP WITH ALL THE LATEST ART FROM FATEMA.