After settling in Dubai in 2003, Zain Mustafa began to establish a niche for himself as an up and coming interior designer. Although he had no plans to move back to Karachi, his hometown, returning to the city to meet with a potential client two years ago suddenly made him change his mind and he decided to stay. Mustafa moved back into his childhood home which he redecorated to better suit his unique taste — avant garde, mercurial and in-your-face refreshing.
Mustafa attained a Bachelor’s degree from Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, New York. He then went on to graduate with a Masters degree in New Technologies in (architectural) Education from Columbia University. Since then, Mustafa has built houses, been the creative director for dot.com, dabbled in fashion designing and worked in New York, New Mexico and Dubai. Starting off as a rookie designer, time has helped Mustafa’s design sensibility evolve. As an old friend and collaborator on almost all his projects, stylist Nabila has helped Mustafa make his mark. As his work progresses, his clientele grows, with celebs like cricketer Wasim Akram asking him to decorate their homes.
He has also taught at the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture (IVSAA). He was invited to teach their interior design programme, when the 21 chairs debacle took place and resulted in the departure of 13 teachers. He signed on, but was extremely determined to use his own methods.
“There were five girls enrolled and all were failing. I couldn’t understand how this was possible. Yes, they were weak but all bright, talented, intelligent individuals, so I was left to conclude that there was something wrong with the way they were being taught,” Mustafa explains.
With only four short months to transform his students to professionals in the real world, Mustafa taught them how to use 3D rendering software (then they had not done so before), put their projects online, updated their progress on Facebook and kept his lectures open. He even held an open jury every two weeks where professionals from different fields were invited to critique the seniors’ work. His hard work paid off and all five graduated — some with distinctions. Although he was asked to teach again the following year, the four-year interior design program lacked a curriculum and he chose not to go back. Instead, he started his own design school — Cube.
“Students need role models, people they can relate to. It’s time to let students take charge, take the initiative, take responsibility. Slay the dragons, let creativity flow,” he says. “Cube aims to empower individuals to build Pakistan’s design identity. It’s open to everyone and anyone who is interested, regardless of age, occupation and background.”
Mustafa says he has everyone from high school students to home makers to businessmen coming in twice a week for the eight week long course. “Prior knowledge isn’t required and we don’t have any prerequisites — except for an open mind,” smiles Mustafa.
Although Cube is his brainchild, it began with the joint collaboration of three teachers; Sehr Bokhari, Sheba Akhtar and Mustafa himself, all of whom want to encourage Pakistanis to develop critical thinking, expand their theoretical knowledge and hone their technical skills. The core teaching medium in Cube for all courses is film. “Film is a medium of art, it is easily accessible, easy to understand and pretty interesting for all my students,” states Mustafa. “We also provide hands on training and emphasise the importance of being able to communicate with local karigars (craftsmen). We hope that Cube can become a social enterprise and training centre for karigars as well as design students.”
When asked why he decided to take on this project — with other, more lucrative projects for someone with his background, both in Pakistan and abroad — he replies, “The government is so disinterested that anyone can stand up and make a change. And the time is now; Pakistan is ripe for change.”
Published In The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2012.
More in Life & StyleKhumariyaan: The sound of intoxication