ft.wa: the creative relentlessness of pakistani youth

Updated: Apr 9, 2020

FT.WA is a “multidisciplinary creative design collective. Its mission is to celebrate the youth’s creative movement for cultural liberation, expose and shatter the concept of minorities, and open a contemporary conversation on diasporic culture.”

The Meaning behind the name

The name is a subversive, tongue in cheek take on the “controversial” word FATWA; a religious term used in Islamic law describing advice offered regarding religious rituals and everyday life. The word fatwa comes from the Arabic root f-t-y, whose meanings include 'youth, newness, clarification, explanation.

“During European colonialism, fatwas played an integral part in resisting foreign domination. These days fatwas have gained a notoriously (negative) rep, where it’s sort of fallen into the wrong hands and become a way to socially control and restrict people”

For that reason, FT.WA are determined to “reinterpret the phrase” in order to “take on what the word might mean to people of colour in the contemporary world.” This is with the intention to “move away and identify ourselves without the lens of post colonial perspectives” - those both inherited and forced upon us through politics, religion and society. “Our spin on the word means [F]ORWARD. [T]HINKING. [W]OVEN. [A]TTITUDE...we want to take back control through statement pieces of street wear [made] with a conscience. ”

The Influence of heritage

Cultural and historical heritage are the driving force of FT.WA’s work.

Saboor (Film & Photography Lead) comes from Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, which he describes as having “never been easy on anyone”. In recent times, the city and its people have experienced revolutions “both bloody and cyber” this “has filtered into how we reflect our city through the unfiltered lens of FT.WA.”

Shams (Creative Director and Founder) identifies with her mixed heritage, being brought up a “born and bred” Londoner. However, the current political climate in Britain often leaves her feeling “very fragmented [and] displaced” - and like she doesn’t belong to “this current space and time”. She explains that her cultural identity and heritage is “heavily influenced by the physical and psychological impacts” that her family has experienced post partition.

For Abdullah (Film and Sound Lead), “context is everything”. Using clothes as a form of expression is a “powerful medium”, it is heavily related to their culture and identity — for them, clothes “are the fabric of our history” and “the stories which are the thread which stitch it all up”

Pakistan's creative scene

The whole team sees the creative scene in Pakistan “as an organism  which was, for a long time, in a hiatus” but one that “is slowly but steadily maturing Itself, primarily due to the stubborn and resilient nature of the youth.” Currently, although the youth “makes up the majority of our population” they feel that creatively, they are “nowhere to be seen and heard.”

Shams feels that they are still “playing catch up whilst the rest of our fellow countries across the South Asian belt are way ahead of the curve.”

Their position is exciting because “the underground scene is the fertile creative bed of this city”. “It is the most dangerously volatile, yet exciting place to position yourself.”

Abdullah explains that in Pakistan, the youth can be seen as a threat, but “that is where FT.WA is the perfect antidote to that.”

creative connection

The process of finding, connecting and collaborating with creatives in Pakistan is “no walk in the park” for the team. It took Shams “...three years and a lot of online convos from my flat in London to connect with all these creatives in a country millions of miles away; now looking back at it, it really did take some mad planning skills.”

As well as doing a lot of research, and building trust in relationships with other creatives, there was the additional struggle of knowing when to let the ideas out. Shams admits that this “was another ball game altogether, as we know a creative’s bread and butter are their ideas so I had to really safeguard my concepts till I felt I could share them with the right people, with the right mindsets.”

Describing embarking on a project with the LGBT community, Shams told us how she had to “learn about what they did to help their community at a grassroots level”, to understand their “personal stories and to build a relationship with them so they would get on board with FT.WA’s concepts.” She found the venture to have been “truly fantastic” and “learnt so much”, forming part of a “humbling journey”.

struggle and divide

The split between India and Pakistan profoundly influences the work of FT.WA. “Our clothes represent that struggle and that divide. The fight between different sects, different provinces, cultures and traditions all within one nation. It is a struggle to connect and unite and the things which constantly come in between this desire to unite”

“No one is ever one thing. No one gets to box you into one convenient category. That is what FT.WA clothing is all about.”

FT.WA strives to create a brand that “represents something homegrown but honest, brutal but beautiful, representative but revolutionary.

It is about being proud of what you stand for, making space for yourself and each other. It is a movement. It is a community.”

Space in relation to the creative process

For Abdullah, space is key to making art for FT.WA, he needs “that zen vibe — always.”

Saboor carefully regards space as integral to the process, “without space, the art suffocates and dies very quickly.”

Shams notices the stark contrast in creative spaces between London and Karachi, “London is sprawling with safe spaces for young creatives, especially women. In Karachi everything can be a mental challenge”.

She explains that there is a “constant state of being ‘unsafe’, especially as a woman” which can “dampen creativity and take away my energy”. Despite this, Shams also acknowledges that what Karachi lacks in safety, it makes up for in creative relentlessness.

dreaming of a better future

Abdullah would love to see “ a thriving film industry”. But believes that there needs to be a “whole change of mindset.”

Shams thinks that development for industry change could improve with “more inclusivity and exchange of knowledge and skills”.

motivating the hustle

Abdullah believes that young creatives “...have something to say” and the hustle “ is how we’ve chosen to say it.”

We also found that religion plays a large role in the motivation of young creatives in Pakistan. Saboor tells us that there is “energy and retaliation, against the entities which have tried to stop the youth from really expressing themselves.” Pakistan’s turbulent history has meant that the youth have been unable to express themselves at all, as things improve “it's almost like they can't contain it anymore”. This motivation takes an influential role in his own creativity, “hustling in this country is pretty badass, you have ACTUAL risks involved, which makes our hustling even edgier and more angrier. It's thrilling to work under such circumstances.”

The hustle, in Shams’ eyes, is the mobilisation of the feelings of “complaining and moping” and asking, “ If we won’t do it who else will?”.

She describes being moved by watching a Parkour video of young people in Palestine, in “the backdrop there was bombing and shelling happening across Gaza. They were so immune to the violence because they had accepted their ground reality but were focussed on that moment – locked into the hustle on what gave their life meaning and purpose.” The hustle is how we “take our narrative into our own hands the best way we can”.

in support of small brands

Saboor speaks about lack of guidance being an obstacle when creating something “new and unorthodox”. Specifically in Pakistan, she finds that they “have a tough time finding right references and people to look up to.” A lot of the time “we're on our own”.

As well as “Money, work spaces and a healthy society”, Abdullah needs “more people open to unconventional ideas.”

Shams agrees with both, there is a need for an “overall more conducive environment to be able to find the right avenues with ease and less hostility.” Nepotism can be a huge barrier with starting projects, “if you don’t belong to the right social status, or don’t have the right accent, the right passport, the right connections you automatically don’t fit the bill and everything becomes ten times harder”

This is in stark contrast with London, where she feels “everyone is given an equal opportunity with enough basic resources to start off.”

All of this has a heavy impact on the opportunities and creative freedoms that young people have in Pakistan, which is why “FT.WA is so focused on giving young creatives from all religious, social backgrounds and disciplines a chance to be represented authentically.”

the ft.wa team

Shams Mansur, Founder/Creative Director [@badbrowsensei]

Abdullah Kasumbi, Film & Sound [@abdullahkasumbi]

Saboor Arshad, Film & Photography [@saboordinate]

Zara Khokhar. Hair & Makeup [@zarasbeautybook]

Laila Mehnur Anjum, Producer [@buttooanjum]

Habron Hammad, Styling [@the_hab_stylescloset]

the ft.wa creative collective

Hassan Arshad, Photography [@b_ank__space]

Hareem Farrukh, Photography [@hareemsdoodles]

Menahil Husain, Photography [@mandrphotos]

Maaz Jaan, Illustrator & Photo Editor [@maazmjaan]

Shaanay Q. Mansur, Copy/Performance Artist [@shaaneqasim]

Shumyle Haider, Lead Designer [@shumyle.haider]

Rukham Khan. Visual Arts [@rukhamkhan]

Osama Ali, Performance Artist [@mojimusik]

Sameer Qambrani, Visual Arts [@cuckfu]

Words: Jessie Auguste

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