We met with the designer, artist, and friend of Youswim Nadine Mosallam soon after she arrived back in London having spent lockdown in Canada. We spoke about this crazy year, her heritage, her work, and her recent collaboration with Youswim.
Tell us about yourself and what you do
My name is Nadine Mosallam, I am a womenswear designer, artist and sculptor currently based in London. I am Egyptian of origin but have a multicultural heritage because I was born in Kuwait in the Middle East, then moved to Dubai when I was seven years old, where I lived for ten years until I was seventeen before moving to Canada. Heritage-wise I’m Egyptian - a proud one! Very very proud. It’s influenced a lot of my work especially recently. I try to bring my Egyptian heritage into my work on a regular basis as a form of education and as an exploration of the nuanced identity of the Muslim woman.
We'd love to know more about your trip to Egypt
At the beginning of last year, I had to go to Egypt to take care of my grandmother. This trip to Egypt was incredibly inspiring culturally and heritage-wise and also brought me closer to myself. I discovered a large collection of old photographs of my grandfather and was struck by the fact that we looked incredibly similar. In my family, I was always seen as much darker, too visible, my features were too strong, I should straighten my hair. The only person I really looked like in my family was my grandfather. It was very special for me to come across that. It was also comforting more generally to be somewhere where people looked like me. I cannot explain how protective that feels. Egypt has comforted me and taught me so much.
Whilst I was in Egypt I visited the Egyptian Museum in Cairo - my favourite museum on the planet. It’s amazing and I encourage everyone to see it! It’s full of incredible Ancient Egyptian ceramics which I just became obsessed with. I wanted to learn more about Egyptian ceramics and so I travelled to a small village two hours from Cairo where the people are either farmers or potters. That’s all they do. I was taught a really high level of Egyptian art and a standard of work that sadly remains hidden because of these people’s circumstances. I really want to share this work in my capacity as an artist.
Talk to us about how you began making your own ceramics
When the pandemic hit, I had to leave Egypt immediately. I travelled to Canada in mid-March, and before I could get back to London, the world went into lockdown. My brand Nadine Mos was still running from London, and my partner, too, was there. Everything in life that makes me happy and gives me purpose was over there and I was stuck... my life was in meltdown.
So I turned to my therapy - painting and drawing - to help me through. I started thinking about how much Egypt had influenced me...I had never done sculpture before but I thought - why the hell not?! I did some research into working with papier mache and experimented with base shapes inspired by my culture and my heritage. I discovered that most ceramics made in ancient Egypt were entirely functional which is fascinating because they’re also so beautiful. This really resonated with me, because I prioritise functionality in my fashion designs too.
Your ceramics evoke a real sense of femininity — is this intentional?
I can’t hide behind my body. It is such a part of who I am and everything I make reflects this...whether I’m designing garments or sculptures, I draw inspiration from the Ancient Egyptian idea of divine femininity...Women had power and were equal to, if not more powerful than men. I want to convey that notion.
Tell us about your visual collaboration with Youswim and what inspired the idea
I feel Youswim really values women in a way that’s very special and very respectful, and in a way that glorifies each woman’s experience regardless of where and how she acquired it. Through Youswim, women can see themselves represented in a way that is more honest and more vulnerable.
For this collaboration, I wanted to create a really beautiful combination of shapes. The idea was to create a utopian environment, which for me is linked to my heritage - my source of happiness. I wanted to bring the desert and nature to us, whilst also emulating women’s bodies in the organic shapes of my ceramics.
Finally, what are your thoughts on being a woman and a woman of colour especially in the world as it is right now?
As a woman of colour, I didn’t actually acknowledge I was different until I left the Middle East and moved to the West and realised - this is not ok. We really are othered. I still am othered and exotified and I think this is still the experience of many women of colour, even in spaces that we think we’re accepted in. But at the same time, there is a lot of educating going on at the moment. I see this as my time to flourish and to speak up for women of my heritage, women of my culture. I want to take this opportunity to protect women just like me.
Text: Rosie Cohen
Images: Nadine Mosallam