COLOURFUL, thoughtful and dynamic. These are the words that come to mind upon viewing the works of Bono Stellar (alter-ego of artist and designer Nawwar Shukriah Ali) whose psychedelic art will give you more than a backdrop for your social media profiles.
Bono advocates the kind of creativity that pays tribute to her influences. With a background in architecture, she is known for creating vivid installations utilising acrylic, glass and light which stimulate the minds of onlookers. She’s also the go-to girl for visual merchandising, set design, and collaborative murals such as the one above this post which features local painter Sophia Kamal.
Bono is the creative director of Make It Happen, a collective showcase which promotes transparency in the creative process. Debuting at Urbanscapes earlier this year, the initiative by Stellar Design hopes to inspire people to get out and make things happen, along the way providing a platform for local artists to share their work and experiences.
But things are about to get bigger for Bono and team. Make It Happen will be returning to Johor this weekend on a larger scale when it hits IP Kreatif, Johor’s festival of ideas.
Before the team set off to Mall of Medini to start populating the white box with art and Bono’s fantastical creations, we decided to have a chat with the bright young woman about how things are going. Read on to find out this talented artist’s favourite projects, the role of music in her work, and what led her into the real of visual art.
May I know how you got the name “Bono Stellar”? Is it a reference to the U2 vocalist or Sonny Bono? How did you start dabbling in the world of art and design?
I can’t reveal how I got the name (laughs), I just can’t explain it now. But I was exposed to drawing since I was 3 years old. My mom was an art teacher and she loved to encourage my siblings to draw all the time until she passed away when I was 17. So I used to draw cartoons like the Smurfs and put my drawings on the wall.
When did you decide to pursue art as a career?
I got into it by accident actually. I studied architecture and my mother was in the creative scene and I would get involved in art through her, but I never thought about practising art. Art was only a hobby while I pursued architecture.
Eventually I realised that I don’t want to be an architect anymore, so I took up a Masters in product design. I wanted to pick up a Masters in fine arts but my application was rejected because I graduated in architecture which my lecturer thought was a body of work too detached from fine arts. But I don’t agree, because we can adapt. If you have the passion, you can do anything regardless of your background, be it engineering or architecture.
Soon, I opened Stellar Studio, began collecting vintage stuff, and started designing my own store, which pushed me into interior design.
What do you think is stopping people from just doing? What else do you think should change if we’re going to encourage more people to express creatively and make it happen?
I think artists have to consider how much they want to be artists and how desperate they are to be creative. They can’t be too comfortable as it would pause them from going far. Artists have to ask themselves how badly they want to do art, then fight for it and believe in their vision wholeheartedly.
Make It Happen is a movement to create more diverse creatives and we’re hoping to bring people through various creative processes through special sneak peeks and talks in which artists share their experiences, including tips on how to handle clients.
Tell us a little bit about your upcoming art installation at IP Kreatif?
I’m working on two installations for IP Kreatif and I’ll be using acrylic for both.
The installation I am creating for Make it Happen is about reflecting upon yourself as a person and a creative to ponder on the creative process and how to truly make it happen. It is a mirrored installation with various shapes and forms and there’ll a podium in the middle for people to stand on and interpret the artworks for themselves. So they can experience the exhibition as being a part of themselves.
My other installation at the festival is a continuation of a series I’ve been working on. I’m still collecting stuff to put it together.
Recently I have been thinking about life and what it means to be human and how we feel. So this installation will be a reflection of life. I’ll be playing with shadows and acrylic colours, and I might even put up some spotlights so we’ll have to see.
It says on your website that you’re a huge fan of live music and concerts? How much of it influences your art? What is your favourite concert experience?
I have my special playlist because it’s very important to me but I always put it on random. I guess it does influence my work whenever I need the right emotion. Sometimes I also sing-along to anything that comes on. Lately I’ll put on a song while working, absorb the feelings in the song, and channel it into creating honest work.
I have a lot of favourite concert experiences because I love going to festivals and looking at how the crew members would set up the stage.
I’ve watched The Flaming Lips and they make me happy with their lighting, visuals and the inflatable things they have. Arcade Fire‘s set was also really good, and so was Phoenix when they played in Singapore and asked the crowd to come up on the stage. I managed to get pictures on stage with them!
You’ve stated that you love works by Roy Lichstentein and Henri Matisse, but your art is very geometric as evident through works like your Urbanscapes exhibit, designs for Odd One Out, and acrylic creations.
How did you come up with this visual style and how much of your architectural background plays into your creations?
It’s always a learning process and even now I’m still exploring my style. I’m inspired by movements in art and the creative industry; I would study specific artists, take a bit from their works and collage that in my art. Like how Lichstentein translated Picasso’s paintings.
Architecture is a bit rigid with lines and shapes. My architectural background still inspires my work, especially now that I have to create something critical with function.
But my strokes are more artistic; I can get crazy with my designs and distance myself from that architectural mind set when necessary.
Your work can be categorised as pop art which in itself is a very rebellious style of expression.
I’m still forming my own visual style; I explore pop art but I wish to delve deeper into pop surrealism. I’m still trying to understand all the movements and styles in art, as each has something I can absorb. At present, I think I’m more inspired by Bauhaus and Memphis Design, but at the end of the day, I’m still looking for my own “ism”.
It is a shame that there are a lot of cliques in the local art industry so I might be limited to working with groups which are comfortable with my type of art. I don’t think there should be boundaries between different types of creators — everyone should connect, whether self-taught or professional. I hope Make It Happen can bridge this gap and bring creatives closer to one another.
Do you have any favourite projects?
(Long pause) Too many, but early this year we designed the set for a Shiseido advert and we had two weeks to create the lighting, structure and the anamorphic set up; we had hundreds of lightbulbs which looked ordinary from one angle but would reveal the logo from another angle.
If you didn’t have any limitations, what would be your big project? Would you design a building?
Yes, of course. That would be a dream but I have to look at the budget (laughs). I imagine that I could build a warehouse with various machines and tools for artists to work and share. If possible, I want to build a monument with a function.
What would you like people to take away from seeing your work?
Don’t steal it (laughs). No, I actually just want my art to connect with people so they can create their own experiences with it. I want them to be able to understand an exhibition and really look into the artworks instead of taking Instagrammable shots and leaving it at that. That said, nothing against social media: I use it all the time to follow other artists and get inspired.
Make It Happen and Bono’s dimensional art installations can be found at IP Kreatif which takes place this weekend in Johor. Come to Mall of Medini, Iskandar Puteri from 22 – 23 July to celebrate the movers and shakers in Malaysia’s creative industry, and enjoy music, art, crafts and even free nitrogenated ice cream (siapa cepat dia dapat)! Entry is free. Get more information on IP Kreatif via Facebook!