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Unravelling Disorder - Profile of Artist Lateefa Spiker

Unravelling Disorder - Profile of Artist Lateefa Spiker

Issue 67 April 2010

In her forthcoming solo exhibition, ‘Unravelling’, Lateefa Spiker translates her experiences of being an outsider into the universal language of visual art. Medina Whiteman meets the budding artist. 


“I don’t plan what my art is going to look like. Generally it just comes, and I really feel like it’s not from me, that it’s coming from somewhere else…”


Lateefa Spiker knows a thing or two about coming from somewhere else. Born to American and English parents, converts to Islam, she grew up in the UK, Andalusia, Jordan and New Mexico, and later lived and studied in Egypt and Morocco. “Not really belonging makes you strong,” she says. “It gives you freedom to find out what’s truly ‘real’ without being held back by what’s expected of you within a group or culture.” Lateefa translates her experiences of being an outsider into the universal language of visual art. “My favourite kinds of conversations are non-verbal,” she states. 

 The untangling geometry of her work; the swirling, vine-like patterns, and the vibrant interplay of contrasting tones and colours convey a message that needs no translation. “Some art should try and touch the place in all of us that’s the same, that unites us,” Lateefa believes. “People need to be reminded that this place exists; it’s very easy to forget.”

Always interested in artistic expression, she learnt to paint and draw at school in Cambridge but studied the finer arts of making gesso panels and using natural pigments from the artist, Amina Ahmed. Her appreciation of sacred geometry was inspired by master geometer, Keith Critchlow during her foundation year at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. 

In her new collection of paintings there are traces of American Indian colour-ways, luscious natural waterfalls and even Indonesian ikat fabric. The smooth, velvety gesso which she favours in her paintings is reminiscent of the sculptural adobe architecture of her New Mexican childhood; all of which hint at the beauty of the physical form as a vehicle for the transcendent beauty of the Infinite.




Despite drawing on traditional Islamic forms, Lateefa brings to her art a fresh, meaningful singularity which appeals strongly to the novelty-hungry Western Muslim. “Traditional art is like a time machine that can bring the past into the present. I think Islamic art is one of the most relevant traditional forms as it represents infinity, nature, things that are timeless. But you need to speak in the language of the time.”

Her black and white piece ‘Urban Prayer’, which features stylised figures of the positions of Salah came out of her move from the idyll of the Andalusian mountains to the drizzle of North London. “I found solace in praying, because it felt like an escape from this confusing, fast-paced city into an infinite space that’s beyond any kind of materiality. At the same time the prayer is an invisible meeting place for millions of people each day.”

One of her most popular recent pieces, ‘Islimi Inside’, of a woman seated in prayer made up of budding tendrils, suggests the circulation of air, blood, or energy around the human body. “All things seem to grow in the same way, whether invisible or visible. I love the way our lungs’ airways are the same as branching trees, and 
that trees and plants purify the air we breathe.”

Knowing two worlds so intimately – the English and the Islamic – has clearly had a profound influence on Lateefa’s art. She is a living example of the seamless integration of these two identities, in reality rather at home with each other, “but which to everyone else seem totally opposed – especially now. This sparked my fascination with opposites, how they are always from the same source.”

It is clear that Lateefa enjoys playing with these ancient geometric forms, teasing them out to find their essential meanings and making them relevant in the here and now. “When I was younger, my paintings were all about trying to work out where I fit in,” she observes. “Now they’re more about discovering the right balance, between unbending conviction, and compassion and flexibility; between the transient and the eternal.”

For all of us trying to strike that balance, Lateefa’s new exhibition ‘Unravelling’ serves as a reminder that eventually chaos does find its order, opposites can agree on something, and strangers finally do come home.

An exhibition of Lateefa's work will be showing at the MICA gallery from 11th-25th May. For more information, visit



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