Meet the maker: Sculptural ceramicist and artist, Halima Cassell.

Halima Cassell Solo Show: Photography by Matt Alexander

Shortlisted for her highly intricate and distinctive hand carving technicality, as well as her intrepid approach to materials, Halima Cassell is the 2024 winner of the Brookfield Properties Craft Award.

Fusing mesmeric, nature-derived fractal patterns, with a seemingly innate understanding of architectural principles, Halima channels her appreciation for Islamic art and North African surface design into her detail-driven forms.

Born in Pakistan, brought up in Lancashire and now living in Shropshire, Halima’s multi-cultural background is tangibly visible in her works. Brought to fruition in either clay, bronze, marble, wood, glass or concrete (to name a few), Halima is fearless when it comes to actualising her designs within an ever-expanding material palette.

It’s for these reasons above that we were eager to chat to Halima about her career in craft to date, as well as learn more about both her solo show with Brookfield Properties, and the 5&20 showcase, in collaboration with Crafts Council.

Halima's solo show at 30 Fenchurch Street is one of the two exhibitions co-curated by Brookfield Properties and Crafts Council for their joint milestone anniversary of five years of the Brookfield Properties Craft Award and 20 years of Collect Art Fair.

While Halima's solo show celebrates her as the winner of the 2024 Brookfield Properties Craft Award (leading contemporary craft award in the U.K.), '5&20' at 99 Bishopsgate celebrates the best in British contemporary craft with over 30 rarely seen artworks on display from the Crafts Council Collection. Both shows are on until 26th September 2024, and are free and accessible to all, testament to Brookfield Properties' mission to culturally regenerate London's Square Mile, through thoughtfully led art placemaking projects to enhance the well-being of workers and visitors.

And so without further ado, over to Halima…

Firstly, could you please introduce us to you as an artist and your practice?

“In my practice, I like to experiment with architecture, mathematics, and geometry found in nature. I'm interested in working with many different materials because I'm curious to investigate and push their boundaries.”

You were introduced to clay at high school. Can you talk us through your further education and early residencies that shaped your practice as we see it today?

“Being curious has always been a core aspect of my practice, and since the early stage of my career, it has shaped how I perceive and interact with art. Studying and researching are the only ways to grow and challenge myself as an artist.”

Halima Cassell Solo Show: Photography by Matt Alexander

Halima Cassell Solo Show: Photography by Matt Alexander

Where does your passion for architectural geometry and both Islamic and African surface pattern stem from?

“I've always been fascinated by the architecture that surrounds me. I feel my passion for architectural geometry is partly linked to my upbringing in the North-West of England.

"My own cultural upbringing of rich textiles and jewellery reflecting Asian geometric patterns played a big part, too. In my late teens, my interest in North African surface pattern also informed a big part of my practice to date.”

And where do you think the innate curiosity to turn these into three-dimensional forms originates?

“Growing up in North-West England (Manchester) allowed me to interact with a rich mix of architecture, especially the typical hand-carved stone and beautifully modelled terracotta buildings.

"Seeing how the ever-changing light and falling water would interact with these buildings has always fascinated, inspired, and left a deep imprint in my mind.”

You were born in Pakistan and then brought up in Lancashire, how do your Pakistani and Lancastrian roots manifest themselves tangibly in your work?

“I feel I'm a person who is highly conscious of how our surroundings impact us, so I feel my Pakistani and Lancashire roots have always intersected with my creations.”

What does the creative process from start to finish typically look like when creating one of your pieces?

“It starts with a lump of material in front of me, followed by a long process of exploration and imagining how the ultimate artwork will be before I start carving.”

5 & 20 Show: Photography by Matt Alexander

5 & 20 Show: Photography by Matt Alexander

5&20 Show: Photography by Matt Alexander

5&20 Show: Photography by Matt Alexander

What are some of the projects / pieces you have most enjoyed working on?

“It is really hard to say, as each piece has a unique design. I always enjoy the challenges and exploration that each new design presents to me, as well as the various processes that I go through to make each piece. For me, the carving stage is such an exciting and rewarding part of the process.”

How do you go about tackling the mathematics and technical problem solving involved in your works?

“When I choose the final design from my sketchbook, I carefully map them on the material using various measuring instruments such as a compass, protractors, rulers, etc.”

Your making process is a continuation of carefully subtracting material. How do you deal with and overcome mistakes / setbacks in the construction process?

“When creating my work, I follow four equally important steps. The first one is the design, followed by making a geometric shape that I then map out onto the material. Lastly, I work out the direction of the overall piece before carving. Each of the four processes has its own technical issues, and if done cautiously, it eliminates any mistakes and setbacks.”

Halima Cassell's studio: Photography by Vicky Polak Studio

Halima Cassell's studio: Photography by Vicky Polak Studio

Halima Cassell Solo Show: Photography by Matt Alexander

Halima Cassell Solo Show: Photography by Matt Alexander

You're known for working with a wide-ranging material palette, creating works from wood, marble, bronze, glass and clay, with your signature style interwoven throughout. Where does the interest in working with different materials come from?

“From a very young age, my love and curiosity about materials have greatly influenced my creative thinking. It is also important to me to research and understand how I can explore and push the boundaries of new materials I am interested in.”

And how do you approach working with new, unfamiliar materials?

“I think by researching and studying how to push the boundaries of how a material could be used in my practice. As a curious person, I enjoy experimenting to implement new materials in my work.”

You rarely implement colour yourself as a decorative element, using the carved material to determine the palette of the piece. Why is this?

“Because I love nature and don't like to alter the material's natural characteristics and colour where possible, when observing my carved surfaces and structures, I am always fascinated by how light and shadow alter the perception of the work and the ever-changing interplay and drama it creates with these elements.”

Can you talk us through your solo exhibition on show as the winner of the 2024 Brookfield Properties Craft Awards?

“As winner of the 2024 Brookfield Properties Craft Award, my work will be shown in two new exhibitions, a retrospective solo show at 30 Fenchurch Street and the '5&20' group show at 99 Bisphosphate. Both shows, co-curated by Brookfield Properties and Crafts Council, celebrate the best in British contemporary craft for their joint milestone anniversary of five years of the Brookfield Properties Craft Award and 20 years of the Collect art fair.

“I wanted to show a range of works to a new audience that would not necessarily go to see my art in a gallery or museum setting. I would like my work to be as accessible to the public as possible, and it's great to know both shows will be free to the public on both Brookfield Properties' sites.”

What does the title 'Virtues of Unity' symbolise?

“'Virtues of Unity' symbolises the importance of unity, respect, and empathy for one another through understanding our similarities as humans, rather than what superficially divides us with our differences in culture, religion, status, background, and colour.”

Finally, what's next for you?

Over the last months, I've worked mainly for the opening of my solo show and 5&20 as winner of the 2024 Brookfield Properties Craft Award. It's really exciting to see my artworks on display in such a unique exhibiting space as Brookfield Properties glass-fronted buildings. At the moment, I'm working on some commissions and project works that I can't wait to show the public.”

Halima Cassell's studio: Photography by Vicky Polak Studio

Halima Cassell's studio: Photography by Vicky Polak Studio

Halima Cassell's studio: Photography by Vicky Polak Studio

Halima Cassell's studio: Photography by Vicky Polak Studio