10 Questions with...Studio Hafi

Meet the designer behind Kenduri.

Hafizal Jainal, also known as Hafi, is an illustrator, designer and visual artist. She makes visual interpretations through drawings that are rooted in ancestral memories. Her works dissect themes of identity and cultural narratives via image making, most notably seen in SEASONINGS magazine which she co-founded to explore Singapore’s food culture. Her clients include Malay Heritage Centre, Asian Civilisations Museum, AWARE and National Gallery of Singapore.

What led/inspire you to pursue a career in the creative industry?

Firstly, back when I was in school, I was pretty shit at math. I wouldn’t say I was great at art but it was much better if you were to compare both.

I wanted to dive into studying art after secondary school but as the oldest sibling in my family, there were so many unspoken responsibilities that I had to withhold. One has to be a good example towards your younger sibling and cousins. One has to do well in school and find a job so that your parents won’t have to work too hard and get to retire early. I would 100% have followed my heart but I knew that I was not in the position where I could pick something and change my mind after. I had to be sure of what I wanted as it was make or break.

I decided to pick a more balanced option (balanced meaning, I am sure that there are jobs for me as a graphic designer after I leave school) which ended up with me pursuing visual communications for my diploma and degree.

I am grateful that this path turned out to be something I love doing and I am confident of my craft because I know I’m good at what I do. Everything came full circle as I am able to merge my practice of graphic design and art. Why do two things when you can combine them into one? Also it’s cool to get paid to draw.

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by both my grandmothers, Nenek (Mok Chik) who has a rug named after her in the collection I have with Journey East and my late Nyai (Aminah) whom I dedicated a whole body of work to, titled Nyai-Nyai Ayu.

I only came to appreciate the relationship I had with them as I got older. I realised that they lived through so much during their lives, having to sacrifice their own education so that they can help take care of their family. I hate the quote, “Behind every successful man, there’s a strong woman” or something like that. It perpetuates that women should just be working quietly in the background, running a household. I want to put my grandmother’s stories to the forefront because they deserve to be heard. They are a wealth of information and oftentimes we forget that they are the ones who link us to a greater cultural narrative that we are a part of.

We have to protect grandmothers at all costs!

Who or what motivates you to work hard?

Honestly, I think it is my need to pay rent, cover my living expenses and aDuLtiNg that motivates me to work hard. I love the physical space that I made for myself - my home is where I feel safe - an abode where I can rest and recharge, where I feel warm and can be my true self. Since moving out of my childhood home, I find great pleasure in decorating my own home, filling it with lots of art pieces and mismatched furniture from Carousell. I definitely have turned into a homebody. I find joy in doing mundane things like the laundry and dishes (probably because I'm not told to do it). I am entering my girl rest era - slow down and smell the roses!

What has been the hardest obstacle you had to overcome?

I don’t think I have overcome it but I still have imposter syndrome till this day, despite being a Leo sun and Sagittarius rising (two fire signs!). It was a lot worse when I was a young creative who was just starting out. I still experience it, even as a full grown, independent, adult, woman. I think I am much more in tune with how to manage my imposter syndrome. I recognise the triggers to why I am feeling a certain way. There will always be self-doubt when your biggest critic is yourself but what I learn from past experiences is that I do deserve to be kinder to myself.

I shall now quote Rupaul. “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen up in here?”

What is the most memorable experience for you as a designer?

Most memorable experience while working as a designer would be going for ‘naughty lunches’. Naughty meaning me and my colleagues would all squeeze in a car and eat at Ryoshi Ikeikemaru, a sushi restaurant at the basement of the now demolished Liang Court. The lunch would take close to 3 hours and we would return back to the office, without feeling any sense of remorse because what the heck, we worked so hard - we deserve an expensive sushi lunch once in a while. TREAT YO SELF.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Back when I was living with my parents, Hari Raya Puasa was such a hectic month-long celebration. We would have guests who would come by to visit and they would bring their kids along. The kids were always so inquisitive and would go into my room. I would entertain them with scrap paper and crayons so that they would let their parents eat in peace.

One of the years, my father’s cousin’s daughter (lmao too many layers) who was 6 was asking me about the drawings in my room. “Who drew this?” “How about this one?” “This one too?”, to which I answered, ME! I DREW THEM ALL. She was so impressed and she said “Wow! You are an artist!”

And at that moment, I went “Wow, I AM an artist”. I felt a little proud. Who knew that it would take a 6 year old kid to make me realise I’ve accomplished so much as an illustrator designer and visual artist.

What would be the dream gig?

When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with Swatch watches and how cool it would be to be a Swatch watch designer. I still think it would be cool now to design watches for them. So I would like to give a shout out to Swatch to collaborate. Slide into my DMs please.

Do you have any cool plans or projects for 2022?

Since it’s out on the press release, I am delighted to announce that I will be working on a project with the upcoming Singapore Grand Prix. Super stoked because I have been a fan of Formula 1 (and Daniel Ricciardo, ESPECIALLY Daniel Ricciardo) ever since I watched Netflix’s Drive to Survive. * insert ‘watches drive to survive once’ meme*

As for cool plans, a month-long break from looking at screens to looking at nature and sights that I’ve never been before. That would be lovely.

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy gardening and going for very long walks for a mental break. I also like cycling from my home to East Coast park and taking naps under trees at the beach. I just want to live the life of a retiree. That’s my dream.

What is one thing you cannot live without?

Teh tarik ice, less sweet.


More about Hafi:

She has been featured in multiple publications like L’officiel, Men’s Folio, Vogue Singapore, TimeOut Singapore, Berita Harian and The Straits Times. Her past exhibitions include ‘Veneer and Visage’ at Supper House (2022), ‘Happy House’ at Singapore Art Week (2022), ‘Good Dates Bad Dates’ (solo) at Practice Practice, Singapore (2020) and ‘Multiple Identities of a Face’, Kaohsiung, Taiwan (2019).

She was a recipient of the Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award in 2007. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Hons) in Visual Communication at School of Art, Design and Media in NTU and has a minor in Art History (Southeast Asian Art).

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