Multi-disciplinary creative Furmaan Ahmed chats about the compelling pull of the futuristic and balancing the world as it is and the world as they imagine it in their art.
Furmaan Ahmed creates “emotional knowledge exchanges”. It’s a broad term, but it summarises the scope of their artistic interests. Unconstrained by medium, the Glaswegian multihyphenate has created installations, set designs and photography that exist across the entire spectrum of what art can be.
Guided by their interest in both the ancient and the futuristic – surreal alternatives to the present reality in which we live that shine a light on universal human experiences from a trans perspective – they have worked with the likes of Shygirl and the late artist SOPHIE.
Above all, they’re a world-builder, informed by their unique perspective on the world. It’s that perspective that has lead them to become a part of the new Instagram campaign “This is Me: Gen Queer”, which serves to spotlight emerging LGBTQ+ creatives from across the UK.
We sat down with Ahmed to chat about their creative ethos, the philosophy behind their reality-bending art and much more.
Why have you chosen to traverse so many different mediums in your art?
I didn’t ever plan to create art through one particular medium or create art even – I think I’ve used to many mediums naturally because of my urge to speak clearly. Living between so many intersections, creation has always been a way of survival and building family for me, it was never a binary choice because I wanted to work in X industry or X career. In my head all the different art that I make whether it be a stage design at a festival, a film set, an album artwork or a gallery show, it’s all building upon the same thing and part of the same conversation I’m trying to have. I’ve always been a bit against following the rules of how things are meant to be done. People say I’m a professional photographer yet for the past 10 years I’ve shot on the same crappy Nikon camera you buy for family holidays. I create my work as an extension of my history and I don’t think you can define that emotion into a medium, my craft is my experience.
Why do sci-fi and futuristic aesthetics resonate so much with you?
There’s something incredibly exciting about the future and sci fi worlds because we know so much about history. We have studied it, we learn so much about it and we fill museums with it – these histories are so woven with so much trauma. I think there is this resonating feeling between sci-fi lovers of dreaming of something that could be, or is to come – I guess it’s about hope? Thinking about being a queer aesthetics that have developed over the years on Instagram, so many people have transformed themselves into elf like furry tech hybrids. This is so interesting – the changes in the beauty industry too – there’s something sooo sci-fi about that. Maybe it’s it’s an escapism of this painful world that is not now and a world that hasn’t come.
And how does that mesh with your focus on ancient places?
Again it comes back to the feeling of hope. If we split the history of the planet into 3 parts – ancient vibes, present vibes and the future lol. In my head there’s there’s the introduction of monotheistic belief systems – that’s the present for me. When dreaming of ancient sites, these were usually places that venerated the land and sky. I feel like in the future there will be more of a planetary return to these belief systems. We’re living through such a destruction of the world and these ancient sites almost seem like such futuristic ideas again.
Your work includes many ‘glitches in reality’ – how do you navigate the paradox of creating full worlds with that designed incompleteness?
There are weeks of conversations, making and planning and a lot of people that go into the creation of my work however mistakes do happen, things do change in the moment. The moment the house lights of a film studio go off or a crowd begins to form outside a stage, those are the moments that feel like those glitches. The glitch isn’t a physical thing – its more of an emotional state of experiencing something sublime.
How do you balance the world as it is and the world as you imagine it in your art?
I think it’s the people who inhabit the world, that’s the bridge between total fantasy and what’s really happening. I love when I’m able to create these works in gallery or live settings – watching kids and adults being able to completely lose themselves in environments that take you out of your everyday – that’s a really magical experience. It’s kind of like going to a cathedral. It’s that step between something that we can’t fathom – like how can these stones be carved by human hands 700 years ago, or watching a live stream hologram of Doja Cat as a hologram being projected onto the moon. It’s that honest human experience of something that is incomprehensible that keeps the balance.
You’ve worked with some incredible collaborators – what do you find most valuable about the collaborative experience?
Every single time I begin working on a new project with new collaborators, I am genuinely so surprised by how strong the collective unconscious is. I love those psychic moments when everything just falls into place and makes so much sense.
What do you want people to take away from your art? Do you want them to feel hopeful, provoked, or something else entirely?
It is hope. I want my work to take people out of their everyday and think larger than what we have been handed and taught, it’s a pure escapism and a kind of protest – I think people often look at my work and think whimsical and fantastical but for me its about aggression and fight. It comes from a place of pain and the urge to protect and survive. I want to create spaces we have never experienced before. I think there’s some kind battling hope in there, the belief in something new.
How do you approach the idea of universality in art given the specificity of your world building?
What excites me about the world building that my community and I create and facilitate is how applicable it is. Like if you create these worlds and put them in a Primark advert with a cast of trans POC – the impact this could have on culture would be extraordinary. It reaches those who aren’t the 1% who are going to galleries or taking part in niche pockets of culture on the internet – its something that my family would be able to have access and that’s so important to me, why else are we doing all of this? This has been quite an important goal of mine and slowly I think we are seeing more of this!
Why is it important for platforms like Instagram to create an inclusive and supportive platform for LGBTQ+ creators?
I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for instagram, I have a lot of faith in the platform. Coming from a conservative migrant background and being working class, I wasn’t ever allowed to have access to the arts or most western media and pop culture. If it wasn’t for my need to escape and my urge to share it with the world, I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in at the moment. I know there are thousands out there who also have the same experience but never “got lucky” which is why we need to see more support. I’ve really been noticing the importance of instagram and how many doors it’s opened to me more recently. I keep finding myself working on projects and everyone in the room has gotten there through a family relative, or some kind of nepotism, maybe it’s years of unpaid internships and assisting work. I never had any of this and sometimes I do think it’s a miracle that I’m able to sit at the same table as these people and also be a leading creative on these teams. It’s really exciting to be able to be in this position but it can leave a sour taste at times. I don’t see many people like me who have come through the path I have – purely based on the work I have made with my friends and posted online. I see a total different approach to creativity between myself and the middle class nepotism babies. With more inclusive support for LGBTQ+ creators I believe there could be so much more radical changes in the ethics and the messaging going out into the world in the creative industries. The talent is definitely out there – the doors just have not been opened yet and creating more support for disadvantaged and queer people in this sphere can do exactly that.
Why is a spotlight series like This Is Me: Gen Queer relevant to the LGBTQ+ community?
We have such unique visions of the world because of the way we have been treated and I believe that pain gives us the power to create great change. I think highlighting artists who have found their voice though using Instagram as a platform is super inspiring for others because its so accessible – this doesn’t rely on being the god daughter of some big director or a family friend of an arts council commissioner – it’s purely based on us and our stories that we can feed back straight into the digital portal of our communities. Like the rest of my work, it is about hope and I think seeing other who look like you doing well on this platform is truly the most warming thing ever.