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The Future of Art and Style, as Told by a Pair of Statement Makers

“Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I spent a lot of time pondering that frequently asked question during my senior year of high school, and it lingers to this day, inspiring questions that only seem to beget more questions. Got the promotion I was working toward? Great, but what’s next? Happily married? Cool! But where do I see us in 10 years? Thinking about the future is clearly something I find a smidge anxiety-inducing, so when I meet people who are relentlessly driven by their vision of the future—people who make great strides on a daily basis toward achieving that vision—I tend to feel rather inspired (okay, and maybe a bit envious).

I might be thinking of two people in particular, actually… Pakistani artist Hiba Schahbaz and gender-fluid model/activist Elliott Sailors. I recently had the chance to sit down with the pair and talk with them about their visions for the future—specifically, the world of art with Schahbaz and important LGBTQ+ issues with Sailors. Not in a crystal-ball “What’s going to happen?” kind of way, mind you; more like “What are we making happen?” Decked out in Gucci (which only felt natural, given that Creative Director Alessandro Michele always seems to be light-years ahead of us in every respect), they had a lot to say…

 

For Karachi-born, Brooklyn-based artist Hiba Schahbaz, the future means many things, and she’s especially excited about the expanded opportunities for self-expression. “I love the possibility,” the wide-eyed artist tells me.

Schahbaz comes from a traditional Pakistani background, one where paintings of the nude female form were deemed unacceptable. “When I was growing up, I got the feeling that women's bodies were sinful and somehow not appropriate—that we need to be seen less, speak less, feel less, be less,” she explained. “I spent so much of my life trying to conceal my vulnerability and emotions because I felt there was no place for them.”

Which makes the subject of Schahbaz’s paintings—nude female forms that often look like her—feel especially moving. “Now I find that being a woman is such a pure and natural experience,” she continues. “I want to express that through my paintings. In a way, expressing my femininity through my paintings has helped me express it in my daily life. I suppose life imitates art and vice versa.”

ON THE FUTURE OF HER ART:

I asked Schahbaz how she would answer if someone asked her 10 years ago where she saw herself. “I thought I would live in a mansion surrounded by rolling hills, with 27 children, a baby elephant, and lots of horses and dogs,” she answers. “And everyone would be running around happily, loving each other.” It’s the opposite of where her life actually ended up: in a Brooklyn studio painting all day, every day.

“I took a chance on myself, moved to Brooklyn, and began my life as a full-time artist,” she explains. When she talks about her art and her daily profession, it’s clear that she’s found her true calling—and that she would have had regrets if she hadn’t made the leap. “As an artist, I live in a world of imagination and communication. I create paintings which are an expression of my inner life. Every decision—color choice, subject, scale—is a form of self-expression. I’m also lucky to be working in a space with natural light and flowing energy, which suits my temperament.”

As for her future? Schahbaz tells me that she’s not really a planner, preferring to make decisions with her gut as she goes. “It feels important for me to keep moving forward and challenging myself,” she adds.

ON HER STYLE:  

When we got around to talking about personal style, it was clear that Schahbaz feels that every piece she wears needs to express who she is. “As a woman, my clothes, hair, and scent all facilitate my natural self-expression. I need to feel comfortable in my clothes. I prefer soft, natural fabrics that allow my body to breathe and move freely,” she told me as she slipped into her mules. Sure enough, every detail, down to her timepiece, reflected her vibe: expressive, delightful, and just a little unexpected. “I’m partial to dresses and wear them every day,” she noted. “I also enjoy wearing white and off-white tones. Sometimes I feel that a clean aesthetic de-clutters my mind.”

You might recognize Elliott Sailors from their modeling days: Their striking features are hard to miss. Sailors made a splash in 2012 when they announced to the world that they identify as gender-fluid. “The most significant action I have taken was getting my hair cut,” Sailors told me. “I chose to to do this in order to model menswear as well as women’s, and that led to incredible opportunities. There were times people questioned my intentions, and it had me constantly and consistently question myself as well, always considering how best I can make a meaningful impact.”

ON THE FUTURE OF THEIR ACTIVISM:

Soon, Sailors had launched their #BeTrueBeYou movement: “[It’s all about] bringing together individuals and brands to help make a difference in the world, while to coaching these people and companies in practicing mindfulness, empowering each of us and then others.” An important part of that this involved their work on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community.

With #BeTrueBeYou, Sailors is not only shaping their own future as an activist but also helping shape the future of their community. “As the oldest of six children, my father always spoke to me about leading by example,” they tell me. “From my earliest memories, [I was always conscious of the fact] that I’m shaping the future, and mindful of what example I’m being and how I’m shaping the future.”

ON THEIR STYLE:

“Who I am is constantly shifting, evolving, changing, and growing, so how I feel most comfortable one day looks completely different than how I feel most myself another day,” Sailors tells me when we start chatting about style and fashion. With these Gucci looks, we see the true range the model and activist can pull off.

“So often, people think gender-fluid is just dressing the opposite of the gender you were assigned at birth,” they add. “But what I love about fluidity is moving seamlessly between what’s seen as traditionally masculine or feminine. Alessandro Michele does that perfectly.”