"I think that if people are looking for a meaning, a hidden message or a symbol in my art they will not find it. I just want to put the focus on the colours!"
Self-taught fiber artist Lutfia Muntasser started out crocheting, quilting, and embroidering pillows and plaids. After years of learning and practicing these skills as a hobby, she took on the challenge of creating artworks without the use of traditional methods like drawing or painting, but experimenting with fabrics and fibers such as cotton and wool.
The artist's creative process is highly intuitive - no drawings or sampling are involved. It is entirely guided by the moment of creation which means that each piece is unique. Today, Muntasser's passion for colour and yarn has resulted in numerous collections of intricately embroidered artworks.
Q. Did you always want to be an artist?
A. No it was not that obvious in my mind. The only thing that I wanted when I was a little girl was to ‘make pretty stuff’. At school, I started with drawing and embroidery and later on patchwork and crochet. I think I have always been very artsy but it is only in the recent years that I started seeing myself as an artist. But I still feel shy saying “I am an artist”. It is as if I don’t deserve it. Call it the impostor syndrome if you wish.
I don’t want to sound sentimental but I had to zigzag a great deal during my life to finally arrive where I am now. During the heavy stuff I went through during my life, with both my physical and mental health, my art has always been my shelter and a means of self-healing but also a way for me to reach out to others and open up. But I am now ‘home’ and ‘whole’ in my little technicolour world and I am so happy with the positive reactions I am receiving from people regarding my work.
Floating Windows, 2021
Q. What made you move from a perhaps more 'decorative' use of fiber to creating autonomous abstract pieces?
A. The need to let go of my anxiety, to let my mind wander and see what happens, to feel that 'not having a clue how to start and how to finish' is okay, to let the colours and patterns speak for themselves, to be confident.
Q. Could you describe your artistic process? Do you design your patterns in advance or do they gain shape organically?
A. I never design anything beforehand. I wish I could say that I am like one of those artists that you see sitting in cafes drawing sketches in their beautiful leathered sketchbook. I wish, but alas that is not my case. As far as I am concerned, I make things organically. Even for my Skyscrapers I did not make any patterns. I had a clear picture in my head of what I wanted to create and reproduced it on the canvas with my needle and yarns.
My process is quite simple: I first decide on the colours and size of the canvas. Then on the stitches that I want to use (I sometimes change my mind during the embroidery process or “accidentally” invent a new stitch). What I also like to do before starting is to spray paint my canvas. It comes in beige from the store and since I don’t like beige, I like to spray paint it in vibrant colours so that when I embroider I have a nice colour I can look at. The other reason is that the yarn is thin and you can see the beige of the canvas underneath. So by spray painting it you see the vibrant colour underneath and this gives it that little bit of extra "waow" effect. Then I bring out the needle. I always work from the lower left corner and let my needle and yarn wander all over the canvas.
Pink Multi, 2021
Q. How do you choose your colour palette?
A. That is one of my favourite parts of the process. I usually start with one colour yarn that I feel like using that particular day. Once I have it, I would go through my entire stock of yarn to see what goes with it. Sometimes, I would use 3 to 4 different colours on a project and sometimes over 15 different yarns like for my Pixels or my Skyscrapers.
I have such a passion for colours. I buy and collect a lot of yarn and fabric. I know exactly what I have in my collection and where I bought it. I constantly pay attention to colours. I cannot help it. Sometimes, in the street, I would stop someone just to congratulate them on the colour combination of their outfit.
Q. What, to you, is the distinction between art and craft (if such a distinction exists in your opinion)?
A. I see indeed a distinction and it is about the context I would say. If I embroider a piece of fabric and use it as a tablecloth that would be called 'craft'. I can make 2 or 3 or more of those tablecloths. On the other hand, if I embroider a piece of fabric, or canvas in my case, and then frame it, give it a name and hang it on a wall then that would be called 'art'. And I cannot replicate it like that tablecloth. Like there is only one Mona Lisa ...
Also, I believe that you can be born with a certain artistic talent but you cannot be born with crafting skills. Simply because those technical skills come with the experience you gain over time, whereas an artistic talent comes mostly from the heart and soul. But there is this tendency to put art above craft. I find it disrespectful and I cannot endorse it.
Q. How do you feel about the fact that textile art is still often considered a distinctively women’s art and therefore sometimes undervalued?
A. I think that, from what I experienced here in Geneva while approaching several galleries, most gallery owners, museums or even collectors are men. And men prefer art made by men. Their mentality needs to change so that the gender gap in the art market changes. You have probably heard of the female artists collective in the U.S. called 'Guerilla Girls' who fight against gender discrimination in the art world. Well, they discovered the following: less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City are produced by women, while 85% of the nudes are of female. Shocking right? Also, between 2009 and 2019, only 11% of all museum acquisitions were art pieces made by women.
I believe that ROA is a great place for women artists because it is not your conventional art gallery. The owner and the curators at ROA truly want to empower, support and nurture as many deserving artists as possible without putting the gender into the equation and I find this very refreshing.
Q. Is the tactile quality important in your work?
A. It is not important per se, but I have noticed that when people look at my embroideries it arouses curiosity about how they are made and they cannot help touching it. This is the reason why there is no glass in my frames, but I always remind them to be cautious because, you know, art is 'vulnerable'.
Q. What would you like your work to evoke?
A. Honestly, I think that if people are looking for a meaning, a hidden message or a symbol in my art they will not find it (there is an exception which I will mention later). I just want to put the focus on the colours. They are THE subject matter, THE quintessence of my work. Colours, as beautiful as they are, are sometimes enough in their simplicity. You know, I enjoy reading very much, and I remember a book I started last year (and still need to finish!) called 'Circe' by Madeline Miller where there was the following quote that still resonates within me: "His words were simple. They had no art to them, which of course was also art."
FIZZY Green, 2022
I am merely using the embroidery as an outlet for my depression and anxiety disorders. In all the stitches that I make I put all my fears, my anxiety, my anger, my craziness and my desire to move forward. It is with my yarn and needle that I sort of pull out the stuff that hurts me in the inside. But when it comes out I am always surprised and sometimes teary-eyed by how beautiful the 'stuff' is, now that it's out.
As I was saying previously, there is an exception: I have made a collection of skyscrapers called “Does anyone know that I am here?” - a quote from the book 'The Buddha in the attic' by Julie Otsuka. It evokes the loneliness I sometimes feel as an artist trying to get myself noticed.
A. You have stated that your work draws inspiration from your visual world from when you were a child, could you elaborate on that?
Q. I was born in Libya in 1970 and I lived there the first 8 years of my life before coming to Switzerland with my family. 8 years spent amid colourful North African rugs, embroidered tapestries made by different tribes, and cushions with geometric patterns is enough time to be forever influenced. I also remember the jars of various spices being displayed in my mother’s or grandmothers’ kitchens - radiant yellow saffron, glorious red paprika… I was used to seeing the women in my family wear the traditional Libyan dress made with brightly coloured silk threads and their heads always covered with a colourful headscarf.
I am so into colours that even when I cook rice I add some turmeric so that it looks yellow and not white. As strange as it may seem, I am not into white, simply because for me it lacks colour. It is empty. It's a void. The colour is not there you see? It's blank! As a matter of fact, “blank” is like the French word “blanc” which means white. So “blanc” (white) is “blank” (empty). So there you go!
Q. Which other creative do you admire?
A. Creativity is a quality that I admire very much in people. And by people I don’t mean necessarily artists. Some people are not artists but are very creative and imaginative like for instance in their way of cooking, or dressing, or talking. And giving you an answer is a difficult task for me as I have a pretty eclectic taste when it comes to aesthetic. Here are just a few of my favorites:
For using art as an outlet of all her sufferings and a catalyst of her healing. For her strength of character and independence. For her resilience in the face of all the horrors that life threw at her.
For his inimitable style both in dressing and musical. For having created his own unique artistic universe. For always managing to surprise us when we least expect it.
For his monumental and unique talent and creativity. For the Japanese haute couture collection he made for Dior many years ago, which has made a memorable impression on me. For his uniqueness, drama-queen exuberance and theatrical style. For his resilience after almost being professionally and mentally destroyed a few years ago.
Also, last year I started taking ceramic classes and got to discover some great ceramic artists that I strongly recommend to follow. Like for instance:
For his beautiful ceramic art of extreme facial expressions. For his skillfulness. For being a self-taught artist.
For the beauty of his ceramic work. For his unique sense of colours. For his almost Basquiat-esque style.
And another creative that I admire (and secretly want to be her BFF):
Nathalie Du Pasquier
For her unconventional path. For being a many skills artist. For her vibrant use of colours. For being a self-taught artist.
Q. Could you describe your work in three words?
A. Colourful - Geometric - Fibrous