Sculpture artist Fathema Bemath has always been creative. She’s also always been the black sheep of her family; constantly questioning the status quo in a strictly conservative Muslim environment where women were (and still largely are) expected to toe the patriarchal line. It was her high school’s new art centre in Lenasia that awoke the artist inside her, and seeded a passion that she started nurturing again only later in life.
A conservative upbringing
“I come from a ridiculously conservative family. Muslim, Indian, South African third generation. And my dad was of that mindset that girls shouldn’t be educated,” Bemath tells us as she describes her childhood and the template of domesticity that she was expected to fit into. “There were no options for me. When you’re in your parent’s care and you’re that age, and you’re raised in that community with those belief systems, there’s no platform to challenge it.”
It was a plea from her uncle that led to her parents allowing her to pursue an ‘acceptable’ career as a dental technician at what was then Wits Technicon. This was in the early years of South Africa’s fledgling democracy, so Bemath was expected to write a letter explaining why she wanted to attend a white institution of learning. She was the only woman in her graduating class.