The Flowing Forms of Furniture
Artist & Sculptor Sabiha Mujtaba
News: What was your first
exposure to woodworking and what attracted you to attempt your first
Sabiha Mujtaba: Hammersmith College of Art and Building
in London had a trade directed school. Sculpture students were encouraged
to spend allotted term times to learn from the guilding, bricklaying,
plastering, welding and woodworking shops. Although I enjoyed all
the options, I preferred welding and woodshop. Many years later
it was a chance meeting through friends that I began my loose apprenticeship
with Timothy Sutherland in Atlanta.
WN: What are the
sources of inspiration for your works?
SM: My inspirations for designs
are probably a distillation of a collected subconscious - about
nature, humanity, culture, experience, etc. - intuitive creativity?
The only animal that seems to reoccur in your work is the snake.
What does it symbolize for you?
SM: The snake image was first
used as a convenient form to create a jewelry box - a stylized,
circular form - contained, complete and sensuous.
The idea took off, as did my interest in the snake imagery - human
ambivalence to this awesome creature. In my work I see the snake
as sometimes a passive observer, sometimes a guardian, but never
threatening/defensive - so far.
WN: Another element that frequents your work is draping,
flowing fabric. What does that represent and how do you think people
are impacted by its inclusion?
SM: I use drapery to soften
the straight lines necessary in furniture. But with its inclusion
I can express its universal use in rituals and ceremonies, as a
metaphor for the hidden emotions, or just simply to animate a furniture
WN: You leave much of the wood in a natural state, allowing
the viewer to follow grains and the flow of the wood. As you are
creating a new piece, is the concept ever altered by what you "discover"
in a particular section of wood?
SM: Once an idea is developed
I usually stay with that, especially if it's a commissioned piece;
however, I am selective of grain pattern that enhances the curves
or forms in that piece.
What do you enjoy the most, creating/designing, construction, carving,
finish work, or the satisfaction of seeing the vision fulfilled,
SM: The exciting aspects
of furniture making/woodworking for me are the creative/design process
and the final finish - everything in between is a challenge that
ranges from patting myself on the back for begrudgingly making that
jig for those two perfect joints, to yawning through the seemingly
endless sanding, almost a third of any project time.
I do design intuitively so I wait until it's ready - sometimes nervously
- but I know that the tension has its power.
WN: Describe your
SM: My basement studio with
its 8' ceiling is dry with natural light on two walls. Most of the
major tools are loaned by a friend who changed profession for a
more lucrative livelihood - without Duncan's generosity at a crucial
time, I may not have been a furniture maker. With his Powermatic
table-saw, jointer, drill press, radial arm saw and Delta band-saw
and some of my own hand tools, I began my independence in a field
where women woodworkers were still an anomaly. In the early '80s,
in the USA, Wendy Maruyama and Gail Friedell were the first women
graduating from RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) furniture
Judy Kensley McKie, a painting major from RISD (Rhode Island School
of Design), through alternative routes was becoming one of our foremost
artisans of animal imagery in furniture today. However pervading
the resistance, women in our field here and in Europe are receiving
accolades more often for design and technical abilities.
readings/books would you suggest to someone who wished to begin
creating sculpturally carved pieces?
SM: The first serious
technical book on carving was William Schnute's High Relief Wood
Carving. Today a better book is one I recommend in my classes,
Techniques for Power and Hand Tools by Mike Burton
(202373), which takes a more thorough look at tools and techniques.
Apart from the tech books, I suggest woodworkers read more on
creativity - anything from David Pye's The Nature and Aesthetics
of Design (200595) to today's makers, (regularly
profiled in Woodwork magazine) who talk more about their
inspiration and process.
learned, continuous practice creates accuracy - but aesthetics and
design sensibilities are what makes the craftsperson an artist. I am
constantly aware of the balance between the two - both need
attention so neither lets the other fail. Not every piece will be
successful, but I understand how the next project will already be
Sabiha Mujtaba works from her studio in Clarkston,
Georgia. For more information about the artist and her work visit
her website: www.chrysaliswoodworks.com.
View a slideshow of Sabiha's