At Amaliah, we’ve started a series talking to women who are championing the art of hobbies. We’ve spoken to Esra Alhamal about the art of Islamic illumination, Azeezat Adeola about mindfulness in knitting and how to get started and knitting for social issues, Neda about pole fitness, body confidence and online trolls, Chaimaa Creates about baking and cake design, Brooke Benoit about jewellery design, Nur Hannah Wan about documentary-making and painting, Firdaws Clotaire about ceramics and pottery-making, and Zainab Alema about her journey to becoming a professional rugby player and encouraging more Muslim women to get involved in sports.
This time, we’re speaking with Katie Haseeb.
If you would like to interview a Muslim woman about her hobby, get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a fine artist and an illustrator. I create paintings focused on Islamic spirituality, tradition, and my experiences as a Muslim woman. I’ve been an artist since I was a kid, but my work shifted and became an expression of my faith when I embraced Islam nearly eight years ago. Along with this personal painting practice, I also do portrait commissions and freelance illustration work.
To me my art is a lot more than just a hobby. Like most people, I often painted at home and at school when I was very young. As I got older it became a major mode of self expression for me, particularly when I was a teenager. I was somewhat quiet and shy, and art became a way for me to talk about things that I found important, while also creating something that was visually appealing in the process. When I went to college I majored in fine art, and since then it has always been an element in not just my personal life but my career as well. I’ve worked as an educator at an art museum, where I made art with children and families, and I now work as a professional artist and freelance illustrator.
The best part of art making for me is seeing a concept, or even an abstract thought, transformed into an image that physically exists in space. It’s incredibly satisfying when you visualize something in your mind and you’re able to make it a reality in front of you. Seeing how people engage with and interpret my art is also really rewarding, as I love how art can forge connections between people. I personally believe that experiencing a work of art with someone is the best conversation starter.
The most challenging aspect of being an artist is facing your own self doubt. In the image-saturated world of social media, it can be easy to fall into the trap of comparing your skill to that of other artists. Playing the comparison game can completely freeze you up. All of a sudden you’re so concerned about making art that is “good enough” that you’re not making any art at all! And if you’re not making anything then you’re not growing as an artist, thus feeding the feelings of self doubt and inferiority. It’s a nasty loop that artists can get stuck in.
Along with those feelings of self doubt are the thoughts that others might doubt you as well. You think, “Will other people care at all about the art I’m making?” Art takes a lot of vulnerability, and that can certainly be challenging to grapple with.
There are several things I do to stay motivated. I love going to art museums and being transported through time while looking at the work from different eras. I especially love sitting down in a gallery and sketching. Another thing that keeps me motivated is taking breaks from art. There are days where I’ll focus on other creative pursuits, such as writing or making music. It helps me clear my head and gets me back into a positive creative space. I also like to make art that is specifically not to be shared online, sold, or hung up. I especially enjoy making fun little paintings with my husband as a date night activity. Sometimes you just have to take the pressure out of art making for it to feel good again.
This is a tough question to answer, but it might be my thesis show from my senior year of college. Not because they were the best paintings I’ve made, but because I felt brave for making and showing them. They were some of the first paintings I publicly showed that were about my experiences as a Muslim woman in America. The paintings depicted Muslim women in brightly colored spaces, wearing hijabs and contemporary American clothing. When I look back on it, those paintings were a big part of my efforts to create a Muslim American identity for myself. It was like I was reassuring myself that I was Muslim but I was still me, I was still Katie. I had embraced Islam a couple years before that, and had only recently started wearing the hijab. I was one of a handful of Muslim students at my very small art and design school. A lot of the people who came to the show and saw my work were unsure how to react to it, and to me. There were even a couple people who had negative responses that really upset me at the time. But I stood by the work, literally and figuratively. A few days later I saw that a Muslim teenage girl, who had come to the thesis show, had posted a picture of one of my paintings on Instagram. Her caption read, “To you it may be just a painting, but seeing something like this means the world to me.” To know that my art had that kind of impact on even just that one person made my heart feel incredibly full.
Managing my time has been a pretty significant challenge since I started doing commissioned work from home. I typically write out my day’s schedule and tape it to the wall by my work space. I try to live a balanced life, so I make sure I schedule time for things like going to the gym, running any errands I need to, and cooking. I also make sure I take breaks. Sometimes I’ll practice the piano or go on a short walk during those breaks. Since I can set my own schedule, it’s usually not too difficult to set aside time for seeing friends or spending quality time with my husband and family.
Above all, I strive to center God in my life, and I try to make loving God and His Prophet my main priority. Alhamdulillah, I always feel like when I’m on top of my prayers the rest of my day falls into place around that structure.
My inspiration comes from a mix of Islamic and Western art. More specifically, I find a lot of inspiration in Mughal art, Ottoman miniature paintings, and the works of artists like Marc Chagall, Kerry James Marshall, and Alice Neel.
I also want to shout out several artists who I’ve discovered through Instagram; the incredibly precise Khadijah Rehman, the skilled oil painter Safia Latif, and the whimsical painter Amina Aly, to name just a few!
Be prepared to keep maintaining and growing your art practice while you work a “regular” job. There is absolutely no shame in working a non-art related job to pay the bills. It does not mean you’ve failed as an artist. Don’t get caught up in the social media game; your art is worth more than a certain quantity of “likes.” I would also say to keep an open mind about the direction your art may take you. You might think you’ve got your “style” figured out, but a lot of times when an artist starts thinking that way their work becomes quite stagnant.
My advice specifically for Muslim artists is this: Don’t be afraid to be the only Muslim in the room. If we don’t tell our stories, someone else will tell them for us. Our beautiful, rich spiritual heritage has shown us that the arts are a vital component of a healthy, flourishing Muslim society and culture. Above all, put your trust in Allah and make abundant salawat.
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