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In the studio with… Shezad Dawood

26 July 2021

‘The role of the artist,’ Shezad Dawood has said, is ‘to mine the past in order to explore the future.’ Throughout his career the London-born artist has stayed true this approach, whether in paintings that repurpose historic Pakistani textiles or in film work that explores the meeting of migration and marine biology. Since 2016 Dawood has regularly worked with virtual reality (VR) technology – most recently to create The Terrarium, a VR experience that projects what this planet might look like in 300 years (on view at the Folkestone Library until 2 November). His latest work, the mixed-reality video Concert from Bangladesh, reimagines the benefit concert held by Ravi Shankar and George Harrison in New York in 1971; its premiere will take place on 1 August as part of this year’s Yorkshire Sculpture International.

Where is your studio? 
Near the Olympic Park in east London.

What do you like most about the space?
The neighbours. It’s a really great mixed community, comprised of artists, architects, fashion designers and residents. It’s also right by the Greenway, so there’s always the ability to get out of the studio and go for a walk.

What frustrates you about it?
That my desk is always a mess.

The Terrarium (still; 2020), Shezad Dawood with ecoLogicStudio and Graham Fitkin).

The Terrarium (still; 2020), Shezad Dawood with ecoLogicStudio and Graham Fitkin. Courtesy UBIK Productions

Do you work alone?
No. I’d get bored. I love having other people around to bounce ideas off. We’re a small team, so it’s like a little family – and I love that. 

What does your studio smell like?
Fabrics, so very much like my childhood – growing up around a lot of textiles.

What’s the weirdest object in there?
The handmade furry model I had made of Behemoth, the cat that walks upright from The Master and Margarita – one of my favourite books.

What’s the most well-thumbed book in your studio?
My 1972 copy of Angela Davis’s If They Come in the Morning…, which I inherited from my dad.

R (2020), Shezad Dawood

R (2020), Shezad Dawood

Do you pin up images of other artists’ works?
I have a bunny drawing that my daughter Una did right by my desk. And a wonderful image which the photographer Mariana Cook sent me (of a test casting of one of my sculptures).

Do you cook in the studio?
We often did pre-Covid, but for social distancing purposes we tend to food bring in or get our own lunch these days. My staple is a tofu kimchi rice bowl.

What do you listen to while you’re working?
Rinse FM.

What do you usually wear?
An old pair of jeans and a T-shirt.

Do you ever sleep in your studio?
No – I only live 20 minutes away, so it doesn’t come to that even if I’m working really late!

Who’s the most interesting visitor you’ve had to your studio?
The wonderful architect Sumayya Vally visited just today.

‘The Terrarium’, commissioned by UP Projects, is at the Sassoon Gallery, Folkestone Library, until 2 November; ‘Shezad Dawood: Concert From Bangladesh (An Open-Air Film Screening)’ is at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, on 1 August.