The Cultural Motivation Behind Artist Yusuf Ali Hayat’s Work

Yusaf Ali Hayat
Photos: Daniel Purvis

Yusuf Ali Hayat’s art practice started during his years working in a homeless day centre. Evening art classes were an outlet to process the intensity of his work. “Just to break out from a heavy day and just to do something completely different,” he says.

Yusuf soon realised he could use art as a tool to help people at the day centre share their stories. This morphed into a project with a group of homeless men to document their lives through photography. As the project gained traction and public attention, so too did Yusuf’s interest in art. “I figured this medium could do something really powerful.”

Representation is a key theme in Yusuf’s work. As a young Indian boy living in England he struggled to find art in the mainstream that reflected his culture and lived experience. “It just felt like stuffy galleries weren’t for people like me. I didn’t see a lot of people like me doing art. I didn’t see a lot of the art in the galleries that represented the stuff that I knew of my culture.” This is why receiving The City of Adelaide Award for his graduate work Mashrabiya at the recent Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition felt significant.

Yusaf Ali Hayat

His sculpture will form part of the City of Adelaide’s collection and Yusuf hopes that different communities will be able to access the piece. “Having something in a public space that people feel like they can own [it], that it’s part of their story and that there’s room in the public space for them. In putting that out there in those spaces there would be other people who would think, ‘Okay, there’s room in the mainstream, there’s room in the bigger public spaces for us to kind of say this is what we’re about.’”

Yusuf also walked away with a British School of Rome residency valued at $25,000. There, he hopes to continue his exploration of transcultural communication and histories in art. “That idea of this clear lineage is nonsense, we’re way more connected and there’s always been this history of contact and exchange. Those are some of the things I’m really interested in, in terms of art and architectural forms as well.” In the meantime, he enjoys observing the different reactions and readings of his work. “It’s in the multiple perspectives of audiences that new meaning emerges and that is the creative process that I’m most interested in. It’s not about an object [or] artefact but about the relationship and shared meaning it mediates.”

Who’s your favourite South Australian artist? Let us know in the comments, below.

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