Glass Shaped Box

Nabeeha Mohamed conceptualises, curates and creates from a conservatory

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg Photographs: Nick Gordon

Working from her family’s Bishopscourt home, Nabeeha Mohamed makes art and works on her clothing brand, Meso, in the type of space where people are usually warned against throwing stones. 

Normally when she’s in here she’s dressed in her painting uniform – a pair of paint splattered jeans and a few Jackson Pollock-inspired tops – but today Nabeeha has dressed up in a knit and one of her bright Meso skirts, the brand that we photographed The Lost Girls Club wearing. 

Nabeeha’s mother renovated the hothouse that we're sitting in while her husband was away on a business trip, removing a 20-person jacuzzi, and before she could turn it into another guestroom Nabeeha moved back home and claimed it as her studio.

“I moved back home when I decided to pursue making art full-time,” says Nabeeha, perched on the chair behind her desk in that girlish way with her feet off the ground and her knees pulled up to her chest. “Compound reasons. One was financial. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make rent on my art until I was more established. Another was that before, when I was in Sea Point, it was too easy to get distracted. To meet someone for a quick coffee or whatever. That very Capetonian thing of people not wanting to make a fifteen minute drive to the other side of the mountain helps me get more work done.”

Prior to this move the 27-year old gave up her role in the family business (an ice-cream company and some Spurs) to do her own thing – a decision that faced some initial resistance.

“My dad would’ve preferred me to stay in the family business. It was a struggle convincing him. Even changing from a Business Science degree to Art was a big thing for him. But my dad’s an entrepreneur, and he appreciates my entrepreneurial spirit. He sees how much time and how much heart I put into this, and although he’d still like me to be involved, he respects my choice. And it’s not to say I won’t ever go back. I’m sure there’s something I could bring at a later stage. But for now this is something I need to do while I’m still young and have the energy.”

Right now energy is something Nabeeha has in reserves, and while she’s busy creating art and running Maison Meso from the space we’re visiting today, she’s also busy setting up her new space, a dedicated design studio at Mason’s Press. From here she plans to work on her Spring/Summer collection and launch her first consolidated collection.

“Mason’s Press is like another Woodstock Exchange, just past the Palm Centre and done in a similar aesthetic. I’m sharing a space with two friends who own a jewellery company called Matter Of Fakt, and we’ll have two hot desks there, too.” 

An artist first and foremost, after two years of business science Nabeeha switched to an Art degree. After graduating, the young artist, whose graduation work involved flooding a Michaelis quad and sprinkling it with a golden dust, stepped away from the art world to run the books for her family’s businesses. Two years later she founded Meso as a way to monetise her art. 

“I have no background in fashion. Sewing or any of that. Fortunately I found a fantastic seamstress. The idea is for me to have someone that I’m working full time with at Mason's. That way this space can go back to being used solely as an art studio. It’s just not conducive to making clothing.”

Right now, Nabeeha's busy trying to correlate her fashion and art in order to give Meso more of a personalised edge. Hanging on the rails in her studio are ponchos with hand painted details. The references stuck around the studio are equal parts fashion-inspired tear outs, Polaroid photos that she’s taken, oil paintings, watercolours, posters, rocks…

“I haven’t been as organised as I would like to be, and I’ve kind of been figuring things out as I go along. I’m looking to make Spring/Summer my proper launch where I design a range and launch a season.”

She turns self-consciously away from the camera pointing at her face.

“I prefer the other side of the camera. At the moment I’ve been using a lot of my own photographs as references for my paintings. I took up photography two years after I graduated from Michaelis. I didn’t have much interest in it while studying, but now I’m really enjoying the medium. To take a photograph and then go back and try see why I took it in the first place.”

The majority of the pieces stuck around the studio are oil on paper and Nabeeha explains that where a canvas has a slight give, she prefers working at the desk in the middle of her studio. Halfway through the process she’ll pin a piece to the wall and then work like that.  

“I’d like to get to the point where I’m making installation work again. That’s why it’s so important to move the clothing side of this somewhere else in order to give myself the physical and mental space I need.” 

The work that Nabeeha did at her final-year exhibition was quite different to what she’s busy doing now, and what she liked so much about that was how she couldn’t see her hand in that work. For her piece There’s Still So Much I Want To Show You, Nabeeha flooded a 10x15 metre quad at Michaelis by blocking all the drains. She then covered the water with the fine shavings that she’d collected from a large brass tube that had been cut. The result was a piece that played with the elements – sun, wind, rain and jealous lecturers… 

“Even though I had staff backing me, there was a lot of infighting, and it’s especially problematic because your lecturers are also artists. There was some opposition to what I was doing. Claimed it was environmentally unfriendly. Called me disgusting. For four years that’s all I did – art. After that I didn’t step into a gallery for a while. My mom commented that she’d seen a weight lifted off of my shoulders. I needed the break. Now I’m doing a lot more and feeling way more inspired.” 

The path that she’s taken up until this point means that Nabeeha has the ability to take her art further than most.

“My parents built their business together. My parents’ friends built businesses. Subconsciously I’ve had to be aware of that. I’ve learned to market myself and can do all the… good housekeeping that’s required when running a business. I haven’t been as pedantic as I’d like to be about everything, but with moving into this new space I’m going to put that pressure on myself.”

Meso will be at the Biscuit Mill soon and Nabeeha will continue to collaborate with the likes of Caroline Mackintosh, Ricardo Simal, Ané Strydom and Gabbi Kannemeyer.

“It’s quite nice to have beautiful photographs to look back on the collections with. I like to curate and collect things. A lot of my influences are from nature and I collected most of these rocks on hikes. I love collecting materials and then allowing them to direct their own end. I did a body of work called Backyard Wonders, which was all about finding the wonder in the every day and learning to appreciate those things you tend to look past.”

Quitting the family business meant that Nabeeha had to move back home, but the upside was that it came with an inspirational space that’s conducive to creativity. And it’s from this light-filled, calming space that Nabeeha can plan, plot and pull off her next big move. All the while maintaining those things that she’s already started.