By Mudassir Raja
Shahida Ahmed is an artist, art educator, art activist and sculptor. The Pakistan-origin British national sees art as a “universal dialogue.”
With her diverse background, education and multicultural experiences, Shahida believes that there is a lot of potential in the Doha art scene for “internationalisation.”
Shahida calls herself ‘She, the artist.’ She insists that she should be referred to as an artist without being specified that she is a British, or a Pakistani or a Muslim or a female. She does not like to be stereotyped.
Community recently caught up with the dynamic all-round artist. Shahida, who chose not speak about her private life much, has a very diverse family background. She said: “My father’s family migrated to Pakistan from Jalandhar, a city in Indian Punjab. My mother’s family comes from Iraq. My maternal grandfather used to work for railways in Lahore.
“For me, I am an artist. In 2016, during an interview, I made a statement that I am not a race, a culture, and I am not a religion. I am just she, the artist. My art is not about what I am. It is purely about me.”
Shahida got professional education in art. “My university degree is basically in visual arts. I got scholarship for Royal College of Art London in 1996. I was also given licentiateship of Society of Designer Craftsmen. Then, I went into teaching. I specialised in educational leadership and management. I also have qualifications in community leadership. I have been very much involved in building links through art and dialogue using art in communities whether it is political or educational cause.”
Shahida got attracted to creative arts when she was doing her A Levels. “One day, I accidently ended up in a pottery class. When I first touched clay, I remembered my mother saying to me when I was very young that God made me from clay. As a material, I was fascinated how you manipulate and change a lump of clay into an object. As a result of that, I got a connection with clay. I thought it was a spiritual connection.
“I travelled to different Muslim countries with my mother. (When) I saw the Islamic architecture I thought why am I not representing all this in my work in the west. So as a subject, Islamic art became a theme in my clay work and later on in my paintings.”
As an artist, she can create and copy different objects. Her creativity however, is not in copying. “My creativity is when I express something that is coming from me. Recently, I have been doing a series of paintings showing children being in light bulbs. My heart connects with children. These are the children I have met. I see children are still in the streets begging and not going to schools. Actually, they are the light of the future so I put them in light bulbs. The trigger really is something that connects within me. It got to be a personal journey. Behind every theme or idea, there is a lot of sketching and a lot of research.
“For me, it is not work. It is a passion. I do not restrict myself. People ask me about my bubble series — that why I paint bubbles.
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For me, life is a bubble. My sculpture work is all influenced by Islamic architecture and calligraphy.”
Shahida has been holding exhibitions in different countries. She has recently held an exhibition in Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan, where she received well deserved recognition. The artist also got many awards for her creative work. “I got Alhamra Arts Award. I am acknowledged as the first female Muslim ceramic artist in UK coming from South Asian background. My works have travelled to museums in Australia, Sharjah, Doha, Pakistan, Lebanon, and UK.
“As an artist, I think it is really about showing a dialogue and having an opportunity to exhibit in prestigious galleries.”
Shahida has been in the field of education for a long time. She has been giving part time lectures on observational drawing and critical analysis at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I have been working with the Ministry of Education in Qatar, looking at their creative development for new policies in art and design in secondary schools for the last couple of years. I have been in Doha since 2012.
“I am an educator. I believe education is important to change the lives of young people. I am fascinated to see how art and design development has taken place in this part of the world, matching international level. I have done a case study and I have shown the ministries how we have raised the bar for engagement of art and design. For me, there is a wealth of opportunity here. As an international educationalist, I feel I’ve got the expertise to bring that here and develop that.”
For Shahida, art is her lifeline. She thinks that all people have artistic abilities. “Everything around us is art. For me, art is seen through a certain lens and that lens comes from my soul. It is an interpretation of the soul. But you have to have creativity within you. It is a way of releasing your creativity.
“Art is an unconditional love. You can just do it for no reason. It is a sense of inner satisfaction. As far as achievement is concerned, as a female artist, I think there is a huge chasm in the market where female art is still not as successful as male art is. The male artists are dominating the world. However, women have come far. In this century, it is important that we encourage female artists to establish themselves. We are the window for the future. For me, art is a struggle and a journey.”
Shahida wants to celebrate her creativity by showcasing her two decade-long journey. “I want to showcase because I want to encourage other people. I like to tell them that there is always an opportunity out there.”
The established artist advises the young female artists to have a back-up plan. “Art does not fetch a regular income. In my case, the back-up is my education. I have my regular job. Secondly, do not ever give up on your passion. Carry on and be persistent and it will pay off.”
Shahida feels fortunate to be in Doha. She praises the city for having world class exhibitions. “I think still there is a huge scope for a lot of internationalism. We need to bring more and more Muslim female artists into the mainstream. In my case, I have got good recognition in the UK. I have been invited to Downing Street to present my art. I did a solo exhibition for Prince Charles in 2010. It is our cultural responsibility to acknowledge and promote Muslim female artists.
“Art is a universal dialogue. It is for everyone. I think we need to look inwards (to ascertain) how we can promote and bring art together outside the cultural barriers. It brings communities together. I think we need to develop a lot more internationalism. It is important for the youth of this country.”
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