This is a preview of our piece on Sharif Farrag, which will be featured in upcoming issue 20, out this October.
Sharif Farrag makes unforgettable work—it looks like nothing you’ve seen before. In this world of constant visual consumption, a fresh perspective is always welcome. Farrag has found a unique way to speak through ceramics and does so from the depths of his being. However, while his work is a part of him, he is not his work. Rather, his ceramic pieces are only parts of who Farrag is and what he can do. As we know, some parts do not indicate the whole. We are all continuously discovering our inner selves, and some of us do so through our insanely intricate ceramic work.
SHARIF: Mom, can I take a cigarette from you? Sasha, the garage is a kinda cool area to shoot.
SHARIF’S MOM: Oh my god Sharif! All these pieces of junk.
SASHA: I’m not mad at that.
SHARIF: I can just sit here. This is my mom’s chair. She sits here all the time. I always want to take a photo. Mom, you look crazy when you sit right here.
SHARIF’S MOM: This is where I smoke cigarettes! I want you to come and clean in here. Throw all this away.
SHARIF: I am. I gotta clean all this up and throw a lot of it away. It’s a whole week of like…this isn’t mine! It’s her stuff, a lot of it. I’m just kidding. It’s mostly my stuff. I’m just gonna smoke a cigarette right here.
SASHA: I’m gonna get my camera and take a photo of you right here.
SHARIF’S MOM: Are you sure? It’s so hot in here.
SHARIF: I’ve never had anyone at this place! It’s so nice to have you over.
SASHA: I feel really happy about this because it’s one thing to go to someone’s studio and see what they make, but it’s a whole other thing to see where someone is from.
SHARIF: I really like that I don’t have to explain much here.
SHARIF’S MOM: At least put some of your art next to you.
[Sharif’s mom leaves the room]
SASHA: How often do you come here?
SHARIF: Usually, like once a week, my mom will cook dinner. After Covid we started doing it more. My dad is disabled and really immune deficient, so we didn’t come for a while. I didn’t come here too often to be honest. I wanted to [visit] more, but it’s hard.
SASHA: I can relate—my grandpa is definitely nearing the end of his life and I didn’t see him the entire year.
SHARIF: It’s been my whole life. He’ll be almost gone, and then he’ll make it back. He’s been in twelve comas since 2000, so every year or two. He’ll go into a coma and come out with a crazy dream. He met the devil. I find a lot of power in that now; his stories helped make my imagination because I believed him hard. My dad is someone who has met the devil and has traveled worlds and stuff.
SASHA: Why would you not believe him?
SHARIF: I know. I do believe him. I think maybe it was affecting my life more than I realized. He also would tell me things like, “This world isn’t real.” At like age seventeen or eighteen. It was like, who cares about my life?
SASHA: I think that’s a time when you are thinking a lot about existentialism anyway.
SHARIF: I think he’s right. But to hear it at that time, you have to try to care about yourself. I think he has influenced my work a lot too. At first I had to escape from that issue, and escapism has a lot to do with my creativity. The little bit of world building I did would be to get away from shit going on at home. Also, it was to make sense of things in a weird way. I make improvisational stuff, and I don’t know what I’m making until it comes out a certain way. It reiterates the fact that things aren’t what you think, and they’re not clear. I think I can exist in chaos after living in this house for so long. There’s a lot of shit in this house, and that space is just good for me. It all adds into the art. Sometimes I think that through art I’m connecting to the stuff that he’s connecting to as well. He has a seizure disorder, so when he starts seizing, he gets into certain modes where he can see things. It always got me fascinated about how fragile the brain is. He started getting sick when I was like seven years old. My parents didn’t have a lot of time then, so I had a lot of freedom. A lot of Arab kids don’t get that. I got to learn a lot about things I like.
SASHA: Definitely speaks towards self-expression and individualism. I can imagine, though, that it was difficult to grow up with the darkness kind of always on your heels. You can’t ever really run away from it. But the silver lining is that you had the room to express it.
SHARIF: If I didn’t, I don’t think it would’ve been good, real talk. That’s why my studio practice has a very important role. I’m really grateful that I can meet people who support me, and I can make a living doing it. But it’s always been an outlet for me. I have a mirror in my room that I painted in middle school, but I kept painting it over and over again. Or I’ll paint my walls and just fuck shit up. I didn’t notice it then, but now I see how sacred that is. Everyone has their coping mechanisms. I also do a lot of therapy now, so that helps.
SASHA: Do you think therapy has changed your work at all?
SHARIF: This month I’ve had a weird relationship with it. There are parts of me that get activated through art that I express. And then there are the thoughts about it being my job, and I have to make it happen. That part of me is getting too close. Therapy is helping me see the part now. For a long time I didn’t see that part, it would just take me over. I would take Adderall or drugs and just go crazy making art. Now I can see that part comes up when the pressure gets put on. Getting therapy is causing a little issue because now I know that this is happening, and I’m not going to let myself get unhealthy.
SASHA: But it’s hard because you have to maintain the output.
SHARIF: There’s a memory of that part that is so present when things get busy. It makes me feel out of control. I used to love that feeling because it was my escape, but I can’t escape much longer—I’m going to start hurting people. It’s no one’s fault but mine.
SASHA: I think it’s pertinent to remember that you’re not just an art robot. Like, just because it’s what people expect of you. You’re just a person expressing themselves and it happens to be in a way that people like.
SHARIF: Yeah, thanks. It’s so easy for me to turn on the robot. Sometimes you just get caught up in all the ideas, and you lose the person a little bit. That’s ok, I have faith that the person is always there, but it’s a dangerous place to be when you have bits of mental health issues. The capitalist kind of world.
For more from Sharif, follow @sharif5 on Instagram.
Photography by Sasha Douglas-Nares.