Creator Labs' 8th Season Welcomes Scottish Folklore Through the Lens of Furmaan Ahmed

Furmaan Ahmed

Creator Labs strikes again, launching its 8th season with 29 artists based outside of the United States, including the mystifying work of Furmaan Ahmed. Titled “Memory Palace,” a series of images of reimagining folk stories and mythologies are seen throughout, with performance artist Soojin Chang and playwright and artist Ebun Sodipo as the subjects.

Having worked with renowned artists like David LaChapelle and Willow Smith, Ahmed has developed a distinct style in photography and set design (see a film for Tate Museum and Walt Disco) beyond the bounds of traditional customs. Each image acts as a vessel, stationing queer, trans, and Black and Brown people at the forefront.

Creator Labs was formed in partnership by SN37 and Google to support rising talent in photography. Its projects center pivotal cultural narratives within motherhood, community, migration, civil unrest, and diversity. Alongside Ahmed, highlighted photographers include Campbell Addy, MaryV, Shikeith, Texas Isaiah, and Dana Scruggs.

In their latest series, Ahmed depicts siren-like characters washed up from sea, adorned in gowns and embellished headpieces — exclusively photographed on a Google Pixel8 Pro. We caught up with the artist about who and what they’ve been up to lately.

- Tell me about who you’ve been lately?

I’ve been listening to a lot of PJ Harvey recently. I feel like a hibernating hedgehog. I'm hiding out in the mulch of wet leaves. I’m slowing down for some kind of renewal but I’m in no rush! My recent projects have led me to a bit of a perspective shift, I feel less of an urgency to create right now, I'm in the mood to explore and research again!

What are some of the new works you’ve been working on?

I recently had a show at the Serpentine with Gabriel Massan; it was such an informative experience in mythologizing ourselves in a world designed for people like us. We created this vast network of growing biota in the gallery, a type of botany that contained memories and histories between lands.

I’ve recently been fascinated by holy wells in the UK recently, places of elemental worship that were then banned by the state. Churches and cathedrals were built over the wells to conceal them and to stop villagers accessing them. It’s this kind of erasure in the landscape I’ve been so drawn to as a person of color in the UK. I’ve been looking at a lot of archives and maps of folk customs and rites in the UK while trying to imagine how queer and people of color fit into these historical customs in antiquity.

Tell us about the work in the Creator Labs. Who are your subjects? When were the photos taken?

The project explored diaspora and the history of landscapes in Britain. For a lot of people in the UK diaspora, there is little to no recollection of their ancestors and traditions in the history of the UK’s folk tradition. For a tradition that is so connected to ecology and the land, I’ve always found it odd that we don't have more access to these traditions - a dying tradition also may I add.

With the creator labs project, I wanted to retell stories of Scottish lore through new voices and bodies. To rewrite folk stories and mythologies by placing queer, trans, and migrant voices at the center of these histories, customs and rites as a form of cultural and heritage emancipation.

I worked with the incredible performance artist Soojin Chang and playwright and artist Ebun Sodipo and we created the images at Welcombe Mouth Beach in Devon. - Where do you find your inspiration from?

I am so captivated by landscape; it's a sublime and futuristic force constantly transforming itself. It holds a different kind of politics; it has its own governance in a way. I think this feeling comes from bodily and cultural displacement to find a place where I belong. In a time of simulation and extreme world/information building, planet Earth is the best world builder, and we're all just mimicking her! Sometimes, the only place you can turn to is nature, the sky, the moon, the sun… It's one of the most simplistic belief systems.

I'm finding a lot of inspiration from Sufi spiritual traditions, too; I guess intrinsically, it's so linked to nature and creating the garden of paradise on earth.

What made you begin working on cultivating the effects of photos with glitches in reality?

Surrealists and fantasy makers have done the exact same thing for centuries, I just believe image making needs to and slowly is advancing to offer us new worlds, posit new thoughts and shift our perspectives through new technologies. The way we interact with technology is like a cyborg now, we are our devices and our devices are us. I think we can become spiritual cyborgs - technology should feel sublime, not compartmentalized.

My work and research comes from such an antiquarian place, but my idea is not to get lost in the past and create imagery that feels old or that could be found in the British Library archives. Magic, science, the future - whatever you call it - it’s about creating something we cant imagine yet. As a trans person I am constantly looking for something that's not been created yet.

Do you think of trends when approaching your photography?

Raw emotions are what create magic in images, I’m not so fussed about what the image looks like or if it looks current. However I’m not opposed to trends, they are signifiers and almost help create networks/ a language for us to speak together. Trends especially in photography are a reflection of what's going on in the world, I see it as a network thing - they can be useful!

Creator Labs was formed as a partnership between SN37 and Google to support rising talents in the creation of new work about important cultural narratives, and these new projects speak to motherhood, community, migration, civil unrest, diversity and more.

The 29 artists of Creator Labs Season 8 are: Lawrence Agyei, Furmaan Ahmed, Cruz Valdez, Campbell Addy, Kennedi Carter, June Canedo de Souza, Aidan Cullen, Pegah Farahmand, Myesha Evon Gardner, Chiara Gabellini, Lelanie Foster, Coyote Park, MaryV, Neva Wireko, Amber Grace Johnson, Andy Jackson, Andrew Thomas Huang, Justin French, Anthony Prince Leslie, Myles Loftin, Natalia Mantini, Gabriel Moses, Shikeith, Texas Isaiah, GLASSFACE, Tim Kellner, Mayan Toledano, Dana Scruggs, and Adrian Octavius Walker.