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Art isn’t about gender or race; it’s a dialogue with audience: Shahida Ahmed

Art isn’t about gender or race; it’s a dialogue with audience: Shahida Ahmed

Female artists should be given equal opportunities so that they are treated equally and not stereotyped based on their gender, says Shahida Ahmed, an award-winning, modern, contemporary British visual artist, sculptor and educator.
As an artist, Shahida alias ‘She’ decided to change the signature on her art to the simple and anonymous pronoun ‘She’, to denote, what she says, “a woman, no faith, colour or culture”, whose art was there to be freely interpreted by all.
Shahida, the British Muslim female artist, is among those who were not only awarded on different platforms but were able to sell her creations well. Her recent works were sold at the Albahie Auction House in Qatar.
Shahida has been inspired by her mother’s birth place Lahore where she exhibited a solo show called ‘Full Circle 2019’. Born in Pendle, Lancashire, in the North West of England, she became the first female Muslim vice chair and counsillor for Nelson Town Centre. The first UK-born female Muslim ceramic, she was awarded the Alhambra Art Award for Excellence in 2017.
Today, she divides her time between the UK and the Middle East. She has a double master’s in Community Leadership from the University of Central Lancashire (2012) and Visual Arts from Leeds University, UK (2011) and post graduate certificate in Education from Manchester University (2017). Earlier, she studied under the renowned American ceramist Jim Robison and art historian Dr David Hill, who wrote the book ‘Turner on the Thames’, at Bretton Hall, which forms part of Leeds University, UK, gaining a BA (Hons) in Visual Arts (1991).
In 1996, she won a scholarship to study traditional Islamic arts with the Prince of Wales School of Architecture at the Royal College Arts in London, UK. She was also awarded a licentiateship by the Society of Designer Craftsmen, London, UK. Aside from her art, Shahida has contributed to the arts through radio, television, teaching and community-based art projects, many of which had a multi-cultural theme. Shahida has led in community diversity events and projects based on interfaith dialogue.
Shahida recently showcased her creations at a group exhibition with Alhosh at Msheireb Downtown Doha. The art works were a selection of cubes from a collection called ‘Earth’ with more than 150 art pieces, all made in Qatar. She will also be releasing her first novel soon. She presented the then British Prime Minister David Cameron with a piece of her artwork at Downing Street, London, UK (2012). She also got an international residency in Karachi, Pakistan, with the late Ismail Gulgee. Shahida was nominated European Muslim Woman of the Year by the UK-based organisation Connecting European Dynamic Achievers and Role Models (Cedar) in 2010. She also won the Woman of the Year Fusion Awards (2009) and Muslim Role Model of the Year award by EESHA Magazine (2008). She was runner-up for the Alhambra Arts Award (2010). She was given an award for her contribution to the arts by the Mayor of Pendle in 2009. Her work has been featured in several publications. In an interview with Qatar Tribune, Shahida spoke about her passion for arts. Excerpts:
How do you see the Doha art scene?
The Doha art scene is relatively small compared to the international art world. However, Qatar has a lot of opportunity initiated by HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who is one of the greatest ambassadors of the global art awareness in the region. The dialogue between artists and internationalism can be further developed. Art needs to be shared and practiced.
Can you elaborate on your work sold at an exhibition in Qatar?
My recent works were represented by Albahie Auction House for a contemporary art auction. I was the only British female artist represented and my work was sold. Only 17 percent of female artists are represented globally in the art world. This was quite an honour and great to know such auction houses in Qatar value female artists. Albahie is the first Middle Eastern art house in the region. For me, it is an honour that they consider my work as this is the second time I am exhibiting with them and both times my work was sold.
How do you see it when you are stereotyped as a UK-born female artist rather than just an artist par excellence?
I believe art is not about gender or race. It is a dialogue with an audience and I feel when we categorise female art/British/race or religion, we create a stereotype. An audience admires the work and is not given a category. On a global level, representing our country as an identity could be considered but one should consider the person for their art first.
How did you get attracted towards creative arts?
It was an accident. Actually, I hadn’t planned a career in art. One day, while waiting for my sister after her evening class at the local college, I joined the pottery class.
How best would you describe your love for arts?
My love for the arts is about dialogue and communication as it has no barriers.
Your creations abundantly depict Islamic and Eastern architecture and calligraphy. What is the reason for that?
Being born in the UK and inspired and surrounded by Western art, I realised the wealth of heritage and culture I came from and I wanted to depict and translate that into art forms to share with an audience. I was fascinated with Islamic architecture, calligraphy and patterns and therefore I used this as a theme. I have also been inspired by Persian poet Rumi and his poetry and used the whirling dervishes as a subject in my work too.
How would you react if someone says your creativity is based on copying different objects you come across rather than your latent ideas?
I wouldn’t react because for me art is a language of the soul. It translates to the canvas. It has an inspirational pint the pulse of which can be as creative as you want and translated in any medium.
What motivated you towards your bubble series?
The bubble series started after my travel to various countries where I saw many innocent children working for survival. It touched my heart. As an educator and human being, I felt they should be in school and not working. The bulb itself is a man-made object which can light up. Children are the light of the future and we switch them on and off as it suits us. So I decided to put these children into a light bulb which also represented the man-made world and a confided space we all live in -- the society and its rules. This has been my most emotional series.
How exciting has been your journey as an educator?
It’s been amazing to see young people develop and progress, teaching around the world and enhancing knowledge and educating the youth of tomorrow. As an educator you bring your expertise into a teaching environment and can make a difference to the students you teach.
What measures should be taken to bring more female artists into the mainstream?
We need to support more female artists and represent them. They need to be treated equally and not stereotyped based on gender. Galleries and museums need to give them equal opportunities -- from exhibitions to sales. This will enable other women to choose this career path rather than still knowing it is discriminatory.

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