Growing up, Kamilah Ahmed was surrounded by a wealth of cultural influences. The rooms of her childhood home were laden with textiles from Bangladesh and painted Portuguese ceramics. Sparking a passion for pattern, textiles and the ancient processes used to make them artisans.
“I like to disrupt the traditional making order of heritage techniques. The process is meditative once you find the rhythm of a particular technique and you get into the flow of it on . I also enjoy returning to fine tuning the design when I need a break from the repetition of the executing of a timely technique.”
“As a child I used to draw non-stop for hours on end, pulling on what was around me for inspiration.”
Kamilah was set on becoming a fine artist from a young age. However after a Foundation Course at Camberwell College of Art and Design. She decided to experiment with more 3D work. Leading her to start a BA in Textiles at Chelsea College of Art. Tutor Isabelle Dodd recognised Kamilah’s talent for both art and textiles. Encouraged her first exploration of mark making to create “a painterly approach to stitched textiles.”
“During my MA at the Royal College of Art. I was able to collaborate with Monsoon womenswear to develop a Spring Summer. ‘Artisan’capsule collection, celebrating Indian heritage handcraft techniques. This involved my first production trip to New Delhi and Jaipur. Where I worked alongside expert artisans across woodblock printing, indigo dying and batik textile processes.”
Kamilah then went on to win the 'Worshipful Dyers’ Guild Travel Award' by proposing the craft artisans research trip to Dhaka. That became central to the development of her “current approach to combining hand and digital processes”.
It was during the final year of Kamilah's MA that she travelled to Dhaka Bangladesh, to document the Jamdani muslin weaving and embroidery processes that inspire her practice today. Since then, her knowledge and skill have led her to embroider for illustrious couture houses including Christian Dior, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen.
Kamilah’s work is intricate and colourful, taking hours to complete and perfect. It is little surprise that her skills have harness by numerous fashion greats. Kamilah has a unique approach to revising the ancient process of embroidery, which appeals to fashion houses looking to keep their collections fresh and innovative, whilst holding on to the traditional techniques that they are celebrated for.
“My mixed media embroidered textiles merge contemporary processes and aesthetics with tradition, to explore the boundaries between hybridity and heritage. Referencing Jamdani muslin sari weaving and the revival of this Bengali, Dhakai art after its initial decline due to colonial import policies favouring industrially manufactured textiles.
The interdisciplinary approach to process in my work takes inspiration from Jamdani which combines weaving with hand embroidery simultaneously on the loom. I aim to share a personal narrative through hybrid aesthetics that juxtapose contemporary techniques with hand making skills.”
The process may be time consuming, but Kamilah loves “the freedom that mixed medium embroidery lends to combining materials in unexpected ways." She marvels at how "a single process can be reimaging endlessly by expressing it with new materials, in a new context or scale.”
“I like to disrupt the traditional making order of heritage techniques. The process is meditative once you find the rhythm of a particular technique and you get into the flow of it on
“I like to disrupt the traditional making order of heritage techniques. The process is meditative once you find the rhythm of a particular technique and you get into the flow of it on artisans . I also enjoy returning to fine tuning the design when I need a break from the repetition of the executing of a timely technique.”
. I also enjoy returning to fine tuning the design when I need a break from the repetition of the executing of a timely technique.”
It is this passion for refreshing heritage techniques that made certain industry jobs stand out for Kamilah.
“Having the opportunity to work on developing the embroidery for 2018 Dior, Pre-fall, Spring/Summer. Autumn/Winter and RTW collections was a highlight so far. I also really enjoyed working on the embroidery for Menswear brand Ihnomuhnit. Alongside the creative director, who wasn’t afraid to try new things. Allowed me to explore heritage making traditions in unconventional and new ways. We worked on a few showpiece garments for artists. Which I am particularly proud of, that played on layering different print and embroidery processes.”
Now based in Cockpit Studios London, with her distinctive style and process as well as a remarkable list of clients, the New Craftsmen Award winner is looking to collaborate with fashion and interiors brands who, like Ihnomuhnit, share her love for her heritage making techniques and celebrate "identity through artisans craft at their core.”
“An ambition is to further develop my existing textile processes for interior contexts. To work collaboratively with product designers across bespoke lighting and cabinetry.”
Kamilah’s sophisticated designs require a great deal of planning, research and sampling before she picks up her needle and thread.
“I like to develop a visual narrative to work form to inform color, scale and technique. This can be a mix of: craft legacies evoked in family photographs. My mixed media illustration and research into a particular embroidery process. This will lead to sampling, where I will develop small technical trials. Exploring ways in which I can merge contemporary processes with traditional making disciplines.”
From developing hand wrapped warps held together by digital embroidery. Trapping silk yarns along with other experimental approaches to combining materials.”
The results are electric, tactile pieces of art, accumulations of vibrant colour, ancient techniques and personal nostalgia. Guaranteed to grace runways, galleries and museums for many years to come.
You can find out more about Kamilah's work here!