MMM: Let’s get straight to it. Tell us a bit about yourself and the creation of Bans Illustration.
Bans: My real name is Hannah, but I got the name Bans from my best friend at uni who called me Hanbans and it turned into Bans. It always felt like it captured my essence better than Hannah, so it stuck! I’d like to get a little acronym for it like ‘be at no stress’ or something but I haven’t thought of the right thing yet!
I’m 28 now and have been doing art as long as I can remember, but I had a period after uni where I was super confused about my direction in life and how to make money from art and thought I should be a nurse (because my mum is one!) so I tried out being a carer for while. I made it back to creative things though when I realised I felt like something major was missing for me and decided I wanted to be an illustrator. When I started that though I realised I found the idea of doing commissions for other people’s stuff really boring and having to stick to guidelines when I really wanted to do me, so I did!
I started to experiment with clothes and making hip-hop ceramics. I had my debut solo exhibition last September which was sick, but soon after that I had a had a nervous breakdown and had some time out of everything. I was at a very low point for a while. Since I recovered, I’ve been focussing on my work, not only cos I love painting and having beautiful souls wearing my stuff but because I wanna spread a positive message with it and let people know they’re not alone in what they’re going through. I’ve been there too and I wanna help.
As soon as I started to take what I was doing seriously and forge my own path with it, Bans Illustration started to become a thing; it was all a matter of self-belief! I’ve still got a lot to learn with the business bits but waking up every day to paint and create colourful things that make people happy is so sick. In the past year, I’ve, really woken up to my purpose with it all and how I can use what I’m doing to help others and make a difference which is so exciting.
MMM – Music culture and in particular, hip-hop, is clearly a big influence of yours. Hip-hop’s influence on fashion is unmistakable. Historically, narratives through rap have greatly impacted youth culture in its ability to cross social and racial borders, bringing people together. As much as it’s about fashion and language, do you feel your desire to raise the profile of mental health-related issues is in response to the increasingly apparent narratives surfacing from artists such as Frank Ocean, Lil Wayne, and Kid Cudi – who are using their craft to speak about their own mental health? Have lyrics from such artists impacted you and in turn, inspired the work you are creating today?
“I wear this f***ing burden on my back like a cap and gown… And when I attempted suicide, I didn’t die,” Lil Wayne
Bans: Yeah 100%. While there’s a lot of negative connotations and stereotypes attached to certain aspects of hip-hop culture, there are some amazing conscious rappers who are using their platform to reach out to people (and as hip-hop is so huge among the youth I think that message is profoundly important and really could change the future!) There’s been a lot of artists speaking about their depression and coping with sadness recently which is so important, cos often we think ‘If I could just get this money/status/job I’ll be happy’ but in reality, we won’t be happy unless we take care of ourselves first – the richest celebrity in the world isn’t necessarily the happiest and might be dealing with a lot of stuff, so it’s a reminder that we’re all human and to be where you are right now and to be at peace. I think it shows a vulnerability which allows people to feel they know the artist better and creates a dialogue; if you’re struggling mentally you immediately feel a bit of relief knowing Kanye, Kendrick or Stormzy – or whoever gets it, cos they’ve been through it. Today’s generation is so dynamic and exciting, but with that there’s way more pressure on young people to have that perfect insta account/ body/ to have the right clothes and followers and all that stuff, it can be so alienating cos it seems there’s so much emphasis on what’s on the outside rather than what’s on the inside, but with lots of big rappers talking about their mental breakdowns it really reaches out to people and provides comfort. I think it’s made a space for what I’m doing and made it possible – mental health is becoming less of a taboo subject and it’s starting to be way more normal than it was to talk about it openly. If we can use art, fashion, and music to spread the awareness and importance of good mental health I think it’s way more relatable, these creative outlets are amazing tools for bringing joy and self-expression and can be therapy in their own right so we have to do what we can with them!
MMM: You completed your MA in Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts (UAL). Notoriously, any “art school” experience can be costly (literally, as well as mentally) and highly competitive – a breeding ground for poor student mental health in many cases. How did you cope with the pressures and high expectations and what advice could you lend to students in terms of maintaining gratitude in such high pressured environments?
Bans: If I’m very honest, I went to uni because it was something I thought you had to do to help you get a job (which I then went on to find out wasn’t true for me haha!) If I was 18 again now I would rethink it as there’s so many platforms available now to get your stuff out there which would avoid getting into debt and that traditional route, there are so many young moguls running businesses and doing creative things at a young age and I like to think if I was younger again I’d run my business and make it happen for myself sooner! But at the same time, I don’t regret anything, I was from a different generation and it’s all made me who I am today!
Don’t let anyone take away from your vision and what you know in your heart to be right for you!
When it came to the competitive side of things and with taking advice from tutors, I always managed to rise above that side of the pressure because I was always really sure about what I liked and what I was doing and had confidence in it. I saw a lot of my peers going through stress because the tutors said they should be doing something else or whatever and it always upset me the idea of someone criticising your art because it’s such a subjective, personal thing; I think often universities don’t have enough tutors who are up-to-date on trends and know what’s happening now in youth culture, so they tend not to understand the vision of some students and may suggest veering from their path which can be really critical for some amazing young artists who might change what they’re doing because a tutor has suggested it, when really what they’re doing is great already, it’s just one opinion saying otherwise and because it happens to be from a university tutor it sounds like they know what they’re talking about but they don’t always! Don’t let anyone take away from your vision and what you know in your heart to be right for you! People are often afraid of getting a bad grade in their degree so they compromise what they really know they want to do. How can creativity really be graded? That system can really make people lose confidence in their craft.
literally write down everything you’re grateful for in the morning …
Bans: It’s also a difficult time cos you’re figuring out who you are and moving away from home for the first time but it can also be the best experience, I’d say just stay true to yourself no matter what and try to count your blessings every day to see the best in everything – literally write down everything you’re grateful for in the morning, even if you wake up feeling blue, try to trick your brain into happiness by recognising all those great things, such as waking up that day! The more we think about something, the more it sticks, so if you think positive thoughts you’ll manifest positivity and life will open up for you in amazing ways you never knew!
Photographer: Leila Afghan
MMM: In terms of colour psychology, your colour palette is inspiring, instantly engaging and bold, evoking happiness, excitement and a sense of understanding. Is this intentional? How important is the use of colour in your work?
Bans: Thank you! I’m really glad it comes across that way, I don’t usually stop to think about why I’m using the colours I am too much, it tends to happen naturally, but everybody wants to be happy at the end of the day so I like to think the colours are an expression of love to everyone who might see my stuff and hope they might brighten someone’s day! Even if someone doesn’t like what I do, seeing a lil burst of colour can’t be a bad thing! I love pastel colours so much I think there’s something so delicious about them.
MMM: Would you say the work you create in your sketchbooks provide your own kind of creative therapy? What pulls you toward journalling and designing? What are your influences?
Bans: I really enjoy working in my sketchbooks and have always kept journals- my Grandpa kept diaries his whole life and I have always been inspired by him, the idea of writing down thoughts and recording times in your life you can revisit again is really cool and it’s definitely therapeutic to get things out! There’s something so real about making a mark on paper, it’s something humans have done for centuries and no matter how technologically advanced things get, there’ll always be a space for that because otherwise, we’ll forget we’re human. I think we enjoy real marks from a pen or pencil more than computer drawings sometimes because they take us to our essence! I was a really lonely teenager, I didn’t have many friends and had very little confidence and when I was at school I found out about Gillian Wearing, Cindy Sherman, Tracy Emin – these strong ladies gave me a lot of comfort and influenced me to start keeping journals which were literally my life! I also discovered Basquiat a little later and he became a huge inspiration to me (Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clements became my bible!) Today, I tend to find a lot of inspiration from instagram, music, TV series (Issa Rae’s series Insecure is so good!) I’m very blessed that watching music videos and checking out blogs informs my work cos they’re things I’d do anyway!
MMM: Let’s talk about Stay Grateful; a new project you are launching that sends messages to practice gratitude, be happy and to help create a community of young people who care and want to make a difference… “whilst still being swaggy af!” The collection is going to feature a range of your vibrant hand-painted items including chef pants, pink & blue camo cargos, jeans with patches and fluffy jackets. Sick! Alongside a well thought out launch party, you’ll be hosting a special Conscious Kidz event with WAH Nails that includes a clothing customisation workshop and motivational talks for the youths from a range of empowering speakers. What do you want the outcome to be for the youth in attendance at your event this November?
Photographer: Leila AfghanBans: The whole idea behind Stay Grateful is to kind of re-launch myself as an artist/ brand who’s on a mission to make a difference and create a community of young people with good hearts all linking up, who might be into everything which is sick right now but are also about being real and kind and looking out for others. There are too many brands and too much nonsense nowadays based on self-gratification and getting money or status with no greater purpose than that, and that isn’t helping young people to grow at all. It’s a difficult time being a teenager, so there should be more tools available to help navigate them through – they are the future! I really hope the Conscious Kidz event is gonna be useful to the teenagers who come along to WAH on Sunday 5th November and they might go away from it feeling inspired and empowered and happy! If even just one person comes and gets something from it so it gives them help to change how they think and gives them some tools to come with life’s challenges then I’ll be super happy and it will have all been worth it.
When I started putting together the collection I started to source pieces to paint on which I would want to wear myself (pink camo and fluffy jackets especially!) they’re nice & colourful which reflects the whole mission! Responses to my clothes are usually always so positive and I love to see the joy they bring people so it felt like a good idea to make the most of the launch and do something which might bring some light to people’s lives in the process, hence Conscious Kidz. WAH hold so many empowering events and is all about creating a network of strong females. Their nails are so dope so it makes so much sense to have it there. I’m really excited!
MMM: If you are anything like us, you’ll probably roll your eyes at how bleak, uninspiring and clinical most mental health projects, campaigns and charities appear – making it harder for younger generations to engage with them. We think your event is an excellent example of how this can change. Do you agree that we could be doing more in terms of using the arts to engage youth culture in important topics such as this – making it more relatable, accessible and collaborative in its approach?
Bans: Definitely, when you feel a bit down and try to reach out for help on the internet you come across lots of very serious sounding clinical advice and mental health pages about depression which might appear more alienating and overwhelming at a time when the last thing you need is to feel more anxious. You’re far more likely to be scrolling through Instagram and if you see some cool stuff which cheers you up and you see it’s all about being on that positive mindset (not in a ‘just be happy way’ but a realistic way like ‘it’s okay to feel down but try to look at things like this & in the meantime we got you’); to be part of something which goes by that philosophy to me makes so much more sense than buying into big brands that you don’t know anything about – a lot more could definitely be done by brands with a big platform to give something back to the youth, who are their main audience and they’d have so much impact with. I hope people feel my stuff is relatable and current so it doesn’t look like a mental health ad, but when they get to know the movement they feel a sense of comfort in knowing they’re not alone; with social media, it looks like everyone has a perfect life and it’s easy to compare yourself and feel insecure or get fomo, but I want them to know we all go through that, even the people whose lives look the most perfect, and we all human at the end of the day. That’s why it’s so important to me to be a brand who is a person, not just a label, who hand-paints and puts a bit of love into each piece rather than just churning them out in a factory, so everyone that wears them feels a bit of that love and goes out and spreads it in the world! Everything has a knock on effect!
MMM: Have you ever experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression yourself? If yes, what was the experience like for you in terms of seeking help or assistance? What would you change?
Bans: Yes, I suffered from depression at the end of last year. I’d had my first solo show and didn’t really have any particular reason that I could think of to be sad but I lost all my drive and became anxious about everything. I was putting myself down a lot, convinced people hated me – I didn’t know what to do at all! Normally I’m a cheerful person, so I was really confused and upset with myself for getting down! I went to the doctors who gave me some anti-depressants, I didn’t really want to go on them because I believe there are much better ways to get through depression which are natural (I don’t know if you’ve seen that film ‘What the Health’ but that put me off too, I won’t go into that here though!) but I went back to stay with my parents for a while and they wanted to see me a bit happier so I said I’d go on them as it put them at ease.
I remember this day where I made a pact with myself to pick myself up and do anything it takes to get better because I knew if I didn’t make that decision I’d stay feeling low and I wouldn’t beat it, and the only way from down is up init. So then I went on a massive mission to heal myself and figure out why I’d got so depressed. I did a bunch of different things: talking therapy, CBT, cranio-sacral therapy (a healing body therapy), I watched lots of motivational videos like Tony Robbins and Les Brown, and read lots of books (Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss was amazing as it made me think about how, when something is emotionally causing us pain it manifests in the body and we get sick so it’s about looking after our emotional and mental health more than anything and your body will respond to that. I hadn’t thought about that connection before.) I noticed that by resting and just focussing on getting my mind better and finding comfort in the process and starting to see it as a journey of discovery or an awakening I started to feel much better and got inspired again and back into painting. I came off the antidepressants as early as I was allowed to (as there’s a minimum amount of months you can take them for), going off them gradually and I focussed more on what I wanted to do with my career; I did a self-development course and then started to get properly back to a good headspace. Now I’ve been there, I’m so extra-grateful every day to be out the other side and feel like I’ve got the tools from having experienced it to stay as far away as I can from getting into that space again, and I’m determined to make life better for those people going through a difficult time, to be there for them and show them that they’re not on their own.
Even though there are a lot more rappers and influential figures talking openly about their own battles with depression and stuff like that, we need so much more to happen to really start to change things. I think it will come in time as people see how normal and de-stigmatized it is to be struggling, they will share more with each other and support and empower each other. We need to use the power of love to heal everyone’s pain and be understanding with each other to break the cycle of hate which is getting us down in the first place.
Also there should be way more free and accessible therapy for everyone, as getting NHS therapy can be very difficult especially in big cities as waiting lists are long – sometimes that wait is just too long. That was a definite issue for me and makes me concerned for other people going through it, especially the most vulnerable – in those very difficult moments not having access to something which might feel like the only answer at the time can feel like a dead end, but luckily if you have access to a computer, Ted talks and motivational videos can be just as powerful in providing some comfort, and everyone heals in different ways so find out what activities help you mentally relax that you enjoy, and take time to listen to what you really want to do and honour yourself. I pray the government will put more emphasis on young people’s mental health as it’s a major problem with this generation and there could definitely be loads more done.
MMM: You recognise the intense pressure of the generations to come, preaching the importance of embracing who you are. Finding confidence in being true to yourself can be hard, how can young people protect themselves against the increasing pressures of society and encourage them to ‘just do you’ regardless?
Bans: I think it’s such a hard thing to figure out who you are growing up when so many things change so quickly and some things which you probably won’t care about when you’re older really matter to you at that point. But even when you are grown, all these pressures in society can still really get to you! We’re all human and get insecure from time to time, social media is like a breeding ground of little gremlins that prey on those little corners of our mind in which we might put ourselves down or doubt ourselves. But it actually isn’t real and people aren’t living perfect lives with perfect butts and perfect fingernails (lol). Everybody is a person living a life and no matter how much money or love or fame or sick clothes or family or whatever it is they have around them, they will still have ups and downs, their dog might still get sick and they might scratch their car or whatever, but that’s part of the process. Their life might look perfect on Instagram, but someone else is probably thinking the same thing about yours. Literally, however it might seem, even the most confident people are dealing with stuff, they poop and probably snore and have to have showers cos they smell funky, so if you put a system in place in your brain which reminds you of that when you feel a bit bad about it all, look at them like a human not just this shiny Instagram personas, it changes everything. If you meet a person in the flesh, you can see what they’re really about even if they try to cover it up, you can feel someone’s aura – if they’re a really lovely soul they look great no matter their appearance because light radiates from them. Sometimes the people who have the least social media going on are the most beautiful people, and sometimes people who are ‘perfect’ on Instagram really aren’t perfect in real life because they aren’t projecting love into the world, but instead maybe self-entitlement or vanity…sometimes it’s the other way around entirely. You just don’t know until you meet someone and give them the time of day (don’t judge them from their social media or from what others say about them no matter what preconceptions you might have about them). Be really clear about the difference between reality and social media – don’t let that shiny packaging fool you and get you down or have you behaving in a way that you think you should to look good but actually makes you feel a bit sad inside… Try your best not to succumb to pressure to be something you’re not cos there are so many ways of living your life it doesn’t have to be the way that seems cool right now, try to listen to yourself and what you really want.
Re-set into a positive mindset if you see yourself moaning or comparing, be open to learn about yourself and get as much out of life as you can, gain knowledge and do right by other people and life will show you, love.
MMM: Let’s talk about your studio/workspace. What does it look like and what 3 items can you not live without?
Bans: I live in a guardian property (which is where you live in an abandoned place to protect it for the council), it’s an old youth center so it doubles as my studio. It’s amazing for painting as I don’t have to worry about being messy or getting paint on the floor or anything, and have loads of space, there are clothes rails everywhere, and colourful things and inspiration on the wall.
I would like to give a more fun answer but if I’m very real with you, my phone and my computer and my painting stuff cos they are the things I use the most! I use my phone to look at images of things to work from, and always need some music or videos to watch so I need my computer and then I’m busying painting away at the same time so they’re my day ones. lol.
MMM: What music do you listen to when you are working or is that really obvious?
Bans: At the minute I can’t stop listening to Amine, he is amazing! I try to listen to positive sounding music when I’m working to give me energy to paint, if I listen to angry rap or stuff that sounds sad I lose my flow, so I have to put a bit of Chance or something to cheer up then I’m away again!! The power of music is so mad and infinite! My boyfriend keeps my iTunes library up to date and shows me every new thing on WSHH so I’m very blessed to be kept in the know with what’s going on hahah! When I was a teenager I used to be a lil emo so it’s funny that emo rap is a thing now but it’s sick.
MMM: Your debut exhibition ‘Wavey Things’ really celebrated your mixed media abilities using clay modeling to shape the heads of 100 hand-sculpted and painted ceramic hip-hop rap musicians alongside your amazing custom skate decks. You recently implemented papier-mache Bans Gangs character heads in your latest photo shoot, and once, drew on a Kangaroo bone. Clearly limitless in your approach to designing on a multitude of surfaces, underneath the colour and vibrancy – are you a bit morbid and dark? Just wondering.
Bans: That’s an amazing reminder of all the mediums I’ve used! Haha. Yeah, I am for sure! I have a taxidermy bat named Joey, and when I was in Australia I had to keep stopping the car to take photos of dead kangaroos in the road, there’s something so peaceful and beautiful about them to me and I wanted to really look at each one and appreciate it’s life and magnificence! I think an ability to be as pragmatic as possible and smile in the face of death is really important in finding happiness, not letting the idea of death restrict you or make you really sad but being grateful for it, because, without it, life wouldn’t be so amazing and special. With light there’s got to be some dark isn’t it and with dark, there’s always some light so we just gotta keep that in check!!
MMM: What does 2018 have in store for you? What’s the vision and what can we expect? No pressure.
Bans: This year I made a commitment to myself to take my art seriously and become a proper businesswoman, so I quit my other job with the plan to make it happen gradually, while also hopefully making a difference in the process and spreading some love. 2018 I’m planning on being unstoppable and churning out as much painting as I can, getting it out there and expanding the Bansgang community with like-minded souls who aren’t on the negativity ting!! I’m planning on having a pop-up in NYC for sure and having more events for young people, I’ve got a few other exciting things up my sleeve but I won’t give everything away! The vision is very pastel, full of creatures and overcoming bumps in the road to greatness!
Photographs featured in this article were taken by Leila Afghan
You can keep up with Bans by following her on Instagram @bansillustration or visiting her website www.bansillustration.com
Want to check out Bans’ STAY GRATEFUL event? Click here for all the details!