I Am A Living Piece Of Art: An Interview With Hafsat K. Abdullahi By Haneefah Abdulrahman

Hafsat K. Abdullahi is a 21-year-old award winning Spoken word Artiste, Writer, Fashion Designer and Model. She is a proud member of the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation and Enactus A.B.U Zaria.  In 2021, she won numerous contests notably; Spoken Poetry Contest Winner at the Abuja Literary Society Grand Slam, and the Association of Nigerian Authors Spoken word Slam. Second runner-up at Frontline Youth Creative Initiative (FYCI) where she was inaugurated as an ambassador for anti-SGBV. She also won the Fashion Killer of the Year in the contest organized by Indigo Fashion and Teen County Africa. She was also awarded Tuition Scholarship for Art Category at HIASFEST 2021. She was a Finalist at an Oratory Competition organized by ‘We inspire Africa’ in Lagos. In 2017, she emerged as the overall Winner at the Nigerian Festival of Teen Artist (NIFESTEENA). Hafsat has worked with Handz media in Collaboration with the Northern Governors’ Wives of Nigeria led by the First Lady of Nigeria. She has also worked with Just Art Animation to do Voice overs. She is currently working as a Voice Over Artiste with the notable CameraboyTV and Greywolf Empire. Hafsat has been featured on Daily Trust Newspaper, The Tanzanian Article, The Art Muse-Fair, For Creative Girls, Splendor of Dawn Poetry, Channel, Black Magix on the Move and elsewhere. Hafsat has also volunteered on different developmental platforms like Minna Book and Arts Festival (Minna BAF), TEDx, Enactus Nigeria, Tranquil Youth Organization of Nigeria, Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation, Abuja Literary Society (ALS), Minna Spelling Bee, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Frontline Youth Creative Initiative and others.


LitVo: Welcome to Litvo. Please creatively introduce yourself.

Hafsat: I am a living piece of art. A clay-made moulded to fit into any creative space. I have a flair for creativity and so, I am a spoken word artist, a novelist, an orator, a singer, model, actor and fashion designer. I am also a woman and I remain Hafsat K. Abdullahi.

LitVo: What was your first encounter with literature and the literary world? 

Hafsat: That memory is a little blurry given the fact that I started writing at an almost ridiculous age but it can be traced down to my nursery school. I had bad handwriting but I sure knew how to use the back of my Olympic exercise book to make up stories with it. To me, that is my earliest encounter with the literary world.

LitVo: You are the newly crowned champion of the popular Abuja Literary Society Poetry Slam; how do you feel about that? 

Hafsat: Like I said in my recent Interview with Daily Trust, I’m a bit of a psycho and my poetry can testify to that, and maybe that is why when I’m asked to talk about my feelings I drown into an ocean of ideas while trying to be as truthful as possible. I might end up writing a prose about it. So, for the sake of brevity I would say I am still trying to allow myself to believe that I am a slam champion and overall each time I whisper the reality to myself, I am genuinely happy and it has helped to boost my self-confidence.

LitVo: Apparently, this isn’t the first time you participated in the Abuja Literary Society (ALS) Poetry Slam and you have always been beaten by the professional spoken word artistes, whom you see as spoken word lords in Nigeria. Give us the history of your participation in the ALS poetry slam. How were you able to win this time around?

Hafsat: I have lost at so many trials that I have gotten so used to the feeling of watching someone else take the prize and then afterwards, I mentally pat my psyche on the back and reassure myself that we will try another time. Not necessarily adding that “we” are trying another time to win and not just try.

My first slam was 2017 where I came 4th place out of over twenty contestants and was given a compensation prize of ten thousand Naira. I was encouraged and I came back again, and again and again till I lost count. My last was in 2018 at the maiden edition of Abuja literary festival. ALS introduced a new category called the ALS GRAND SLAM. This category was specially made for one-time spoken word finalists and champions and I made it to the contestants list because I had been a finalist before. This time, I made it to the second round and lost again. After that night, I made a resolve in my heart to come back when I was ready. It took me two years and six months to slam because after that slam, I took that timeout to watch people slam and learn. Finally, on the 1st of October 2021, I claimed the prize as the ALS GRAND SLAM champion.

LitVo: Are you from a family of artists, are they keen about your artistic restlessness? What is the nature of support from your family? 

Hafsat: I am actually from a family of scientists who know little or nothing about my art. Only my brother Faruk Abdul can relate because although a technical student, he loves art. And from the onset, the support has not really been encouraging because of lack of understanding but I have been able to make them see from my results that art is worthwhile and lucrative.

LitVo: If you receive little or no support from your family, how were you able to carry your art along as you grow and shine through it without the encouragement from your family?

Hafsat: My art is the air I breathe. I did not need validation or permission to do it. It took a ridiculous amount of thick skin and resilience to keep pushing. But I needed to keep breathing, so I kept pushing. Plus, I had a family of artists at the Hill-Top Art Centre who believed in me and supported me in ways they could, and I had my guts too.

LitVo: What inspires you? What is the familiar trigger to your creative outputs? I’m curious to know that thought or state of being that keeps coming to you to stand up and birth a new creative product in all the genres you do?  

Hafsat: I have a very shy Muse, and she visits only at my weakest and highest moments and that explains why most of my works are on the extreme side. I am yet to give credit to an idea or an object of inspiration. I get inspired even by the weirdest of situations, like the salty yet rusty metallic taste of my blood in my mouth; the appetizing smell of the first drop of rain on dry sand; a beautiful view of nature; a sudden and unexplainable feeling of melancholia.

LitVo: In competitions, you win or lose. What is the most impactful story you can tell on your losing as well as winning experiences in your outings?

Hafsat: I used to be a sore loser. The kind that locks herself in the restroom and cries herself to another dimension. But then it took me a few more losses to get used to the fact that competition is a drive to improvement. With every loss, I got even better. Today, I look back at the poems I performed in the past and see a big difference to the newest I have written and I realized also that losing does not render you a total failure but rather, it means there is room for improvement. Like Sadiq Dzukogi once told me during a mentoring session organized by the Art Muse Fair. He said ” a bad poem is better than no poem.” Perhaps if my “bad poems” were awarded in the past, I might never see the need for improvements

LitVo: The other year, you represented ABU Zaria in a competition, what was that about? 

Hafsat: I have always had a passion for social and developmental activities and when I came to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, I heard about Enactus from my one-time mentor (Nana Hauwa Sule), I was smitten. Enactus is a non-governmental organization that employs students/people of different discipline to use entrepreneurial and innovative action to solve socio-economic problems in their targeted communities. I heard marvelous stories of how the Enactus team of my school have marvelously solved the problem of LED poisoning in Bagega, Zamfara state through a solution called Aquaponics and Jactrofa. They won the 2018 National Competition and proceeded to Silicon Valley, USA to represent Nigeria. I was intrigued. And when the recruitment form finished, I signed up as a volunteer. A rare but possible thing happened after that. I was one among the very few volunteers that was selected among the members to represent the school at the Enactus National Competition at Civic centre Lagos. We competed with a new project we like to call project SMS now known as PUP. PUP which is fully called plastic upcycle polish is a polished made of wax and table water sachet. A project aimed at reducing the spread of plastic waste in the environment. With this project, we came second out of the numerous schools in attendance that day. After that, we have been on and about various brainstorming session to tackle more problems in an economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable way.

Overall, Enactus ABU has stretched me beyond my limits. Took me from my comfort zone of art and introduced me to the entrepreneurship world. I learnt soft skills, business terms, leadership skills, team bond, sacrifice, time management, diplomacy, proper manners and business etiquette, and most of all, discipline. I would go through the Enactus process again and again.

LitVo: In 2021 alone, as a young artist, you won about three prizes that were accompanied by cash; about half a million in your kitty including a fashion prize. Tell us more about the prizes. What do you do with your cash prizes?

Hafsat: My parents are not financially buoyant but tried in their own small ways to provide for my necessities. Which is something I fall back to whenever I start to despair over the fact that they don’t necessarily take the finance of my art seriously. I try to remind myself that I am not the only child and even with their little means, they have managed to provide a roof over my head and never have I complained of starvation. But since they don’t finance my art, I took it upon myself to finance myself with it. When I was younger, I was solely dependent on my mentors for financial support whenever there is need for money. Sometimes, they pay my transportation fare to the place of my function.  Other times, registration fee, data subscription, and more. Without complaint, these group of individuals I call mentors have without stop supported me without asking for anything in return. But as I grew older, I grew self-conscious and sensitive, and tried to curb whatever feeling of entitlement that might be building up in my head on account of their generosity. As much as they’re willing to help, they’re not obligated to. So, I took it upon myself to sponsor myself except on occasions where I find myself boxed in a tight corner, then I run to them again. As a result, I grew more independent and I tried to relieve my parents of some responsibilities. I know I don’t necessarily give them money but from what I’ve earned, I can boast about paying part of my school fees, my rent, my food, personal belongings. I now finance my trips to functions as far as Lagos and Port Harcourt without the need to ask anybody. I pay for professional video contents; I buy fabrics to experiment and make ready to wear for sales; I promote my fashion art page; I own a few useful gadgets which I use to create visual contents on social media to keep my poetry and Creative buzz from fading, and I save some in my piggy bank for ‘incasities’ sake.

LitVo: I want to know more about your fashion and modeling life. Is it everything you do in the art?  Aren’t you confused being a poet, novelist, spoken word artist, seamstress and an aspiring model? 

Hafsat: The Tanzanian youthing magazine at a time once remarked to me as “THE JACK OF ALL TRADE AND MASTER OF ALL.” It’s completely understandable to think that the issue of niche would come a little hard for someone like me who seems to want to do it all. My mum always say that “Hafsat, if you’re everywhere then you’re nowhere” and I almost agreed with her, but then on the course of trying to be “somewhere”, to identify that which best describes my personality and that which I am really good at, I realized that I am everywhere and I am still somewhere. I am good at all these things I have tried out. Good enough to call it a profession and even my social media pages and contents have testified to that.

Although I would honestly say it gets tiring to joggle over three artistic forms of expression all at once. Sometimes I’m drained and creatively inactive and times like that, I just relax and stay away from creative activities for a period of time. Then I bounce back. But I am very sure of one thing, I have never found myself lost in confusion as to which I should give more priority to. Like a joggler, I grab the ball that comes to hand at the time and let it suspend just at the appropriate time to grab another. I have an almost paradoxical personality that leaves people who have been in encounters with me perplexed, shocked even. One minute I am a very nice, geek-looking young lady who projects herself to be naive and lacks taste, and then the next moment, I am a supermodel who can strike amazing poses and then another time, I am on stage wreaking havoc. Even though I am yet to put a finger on that single entity which best describes me, my resolve is this: I am still on the journey of self-discovery and I promise to have fun and “try everything” while at it.

LitVo: Why are you so mad about sewing dresses or fashion to the point that you brought your sewing machine to the university. Is it just the passion or to earn money to pay your school fees? 

Hafsat: Like I said in a recent question, as I grew into adulthood, I grew sensitive and self-conscious. I grew this sudden need to be independent and to carry my own weight. To minimize how often I asked for financial assistance and bringing my sewing machine to school was the first step. But aside from the need to make money, I realized that staying away from a particular skill might render one’s experience in that skill dormant and I did not want that. So, I brought the machine to school and after that, I have made a reasonable amount of money to fend for myself before the big wins.

LitVo: Do your peers in the university laugh at you coming all the way from Minna to Zaria with your sewing machine? Have you had any cause to be bitter or ashamed of that decision since you arrived in Zaria with it?

Hafsat: I always say that I have enough confidence to go round the country and back. So much so that if any of my peers had made any attempt to ridicule me, it might have skipped my notice because I was too focused on the goal. Making money and improving my skills. But even in my tiny friend circle, none have made any negative remark towards my decision. Instead, they patronize me.

LitVo: You appear to me as a dogged example of a desirable Nigerian child who wants to make something great out of life. Do the youth like you who come from poor homes feel abandoned by the society especially when President Buhari labelled the Nigerian youth as lazy? 

Hafsat: To avoid contradictions, I would say the society did not abandon youths like us, rather it had forsaken us. I have been waiting to take the lead of my long-promised tomorrow but sadly tomorrow never came. Even at that, youths like myself refuse to be the victim of their circumstances. Some of us so sought to find tomorrow ourselves but sadly, not all go through the right means to seek that tomorrow. I dare to say that the statement “Nigerian youths are lazy” resembles a fallacy because I am yet to see the truth in the totality of that generalization. I have travelled for many social functions, mingled with a reasonable number of youths like myself who have developed the hustling spirit as a result of the limitations the system’s shortcomings has created for them. Some are joggling between two to three jobs while trying to make their grades in school and somehow still manage to find humour in all of their difficulties. In my words, the Nigerian youths are forsaken, not lazy. I would say the term “lazy” is a too demeaning to describe these sets of strong-willed individuals, but what do I know?

LitVo: As a Poet, you know that you do not have to be an art student to write. Why did you decide to study English literature? Why literature when you know you also have the entrepreneurial spirit. Why didn’t you pick a commercial course while still pursuing your art? How did you end up in Ahmadu Bello University, why ABU, Zaria? 

Hafsat: The story of my admission to ABU, Zaria is a rather long story that a few paragraphs cannot tell but to cut the long story short, English and Literary Studies was not the original plan. I already had a good foundation for my writing talent so I felt there was no need to follow a traditional procedure of four years to get a degree on it. I obviously did not need a degree in that field to be a good writer plus there are countless platforms where I could better cement my writing skills without the four walls of an educational institution. I was also aware that four years and six month of dressmaking classes was enough to get me a degree so I didn’t have to study that in school too, so I figured that to better improve my performative skills and my spoken word poetry and acting in general, I should study theatre and performing arts. And the closest University to me that accredited such a course at the time was ABU, Zaria. But certain factors thwarted that plan. My mum was not completely in support of the theatre and performing arts idea and her approval did not change my mind. I cunningly settled for English as a course that would keep me close to my targeted course but in the long run, I came to like English and the thought of changing departments slowly wavered away.

LitVo: You are a brilliant performer in spoken word, and on stage. In fact, it is your ace over your peers. Your videos are excellently rendered and highly performative. Why didn’t you choose performing art ahead of English? 

Hafsat: I have a flair for performance but never have I really been to an academic setting to be taught that. I felt there was so much more to know in that department and with whatever skills I acquire, I would add to my spoken word art and make it more colourful. And after my encounter with theatre and performing art, I realized that there was really alot I’m yet to know about performance.

LitVo: Your tiny body is a house of many artistic expressions. Tell me in different smart ways what fashion, poetry, spoken word, modeling, novel, performance is to you? What do you feel about each? What temperament do you take to each when you switch between or among them?

Hafsat: I like to say I am an adrenaline junky. On stage, the jitters and adrenaline that erupts naturally as a result of performance anxiety materializes to fill up some holes in my soul. I get a sense of completeness, importance, like people can really see me in all my perfect imperfections and still appreciate me. Outside the stage, I am almost regular and invisible, so I take advantage of every moment while it lasts.

For my writing, I naturally have a flair for narration. I can generate two hundred pages of a book simply telling a story of a door. I enjoy the process. I like to tell stories, and my imaginative space is a safe haven where I run to when reality becomes too stuffy for my mental state.

For fashion and modeling, I used to think I like photography. But when I enrolled to learn photography, I realized that I loved being in front of the camera than handling it. I had really good poses and poise, so, my photography instructor advised me to consider modeling and that is where my modeling career started. And a person that loves the camera will definitely love to look good enough for the camera, and there you have it. Passion resulting in better taste in fashion.

LitVo: In your words, “I am a perfectionist” which means you are allergic to mistakes. What do you mean by being a perfectionist? Is art a perfect phenomenon? Knowing that art comes with different perspectives to many people, when does a creative product become perfect?

Hafsat: There exists no perfect piece of art, but there exist really good ones. And I won’t mind if my work is in the “very good” list. I like to say that I am my own biggest critic but sometimes my overtly critical eyes leave me feeling as though my work is unfit for consumption by people. But that does not apply to everyone but myself. I enjoy a good read of another person without caring to look at it with a critical eye. And to correct the notion, I am a perfectionist does not imply that I am allergic to mistakes because that would present the biggest irony given that imperfection is a generic trait of mine.

LitVo: Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation is your platform where your art started solidifying. What exactly do the members do there? What is the foundation to you?

Hafsat: The foundation to me is home. Aside the free mentoring session with the volunteer mentors, they also create platforms and opportunities for young creatives to experiment what they have learnt. On a regular day of the week, Saturday to be precise, we converge at the Hill-Top Arts Centre to mentor and be mentored, discuss literature and even general societal topics; share ideas, critique and edit, and also read. Overall, the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation creates a conducive environment for young chaps like myself to expose and explore their art.

LitVo: Hill-Top publishes teen and young authors. The foundation wanted to publish your novel in 2019. You withdrew it from further work on it. Why is it still not out, is it the perfectionist tendency that is affecting it or what?

Hafsat: Like I said before, there is no perfect piece of art, but there are good ones and I won’t mind being on the list of the “good ones.”  As much as I would love to disagree and blame it all on editing, the truth is still the same. My perfectionist problem is also affecting the book. But I am very sure that if time and unforeseen occurrences does not affect my activities, that the release of that book would not exceed December this year.

LitVo: Thanks for the time. I hope to see more of you in the public eye, in 2022, with greater results. I am proud of you.

Hafsat: I am proud of you too. Thanks, dear.

Haneefah Abdulrahman is a Writer, an Interviewer, Spoken Poetry Artiste and a Podcaster from Nigeria who is the author of a collection of short story book titled Shades of Becoming. Her works have appeared on The Nigeria Review (TNR), Wisprout Project, Arts MuseFair, and elsewhere. She is a 2021 fellow of the Ebedi International Writers Residency and a Columnist at DailyTrust Newspaper. She is the 2021 Winner of The Arewa Rising Literary Star. Born in Kaduna, Haneefah is an indigene of Kogi State studying Literature-in-English at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where she is the current Chairperson of the University’s Creative Writers Club. She is the Chairperson of Kaduna Branch, Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation. Haneefah was shortlisted as one of the 30 Contemporary Women Poets to read, by Poetry Column-NND in Nigerian News Direct. She is a YELF ARTIST OF THE MONTH for November 2020 edition.