Indigenous heroines: Shafiya Aslam Ahamed pays tribute to tribal women - GulfToday

Indigenous heroines: Shafiya Aslam Ahamed pays tribute to tribal women

Shafiya Aslam 2

Nomadic Queen is a work in mixed media.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Shafiya Aslam Ahamed’s art celebrates tribal women from many parts of the world. “I am deeply passionate about capturing the authenticity and complexity of women from different ethnic groups and tribes hailing from areas of the world less known or less travelled to, through the delicate lens of portraiture, in mediums such as oil and acrylic,” she says.

As a portrait artist, she finds deep inspiration from her travel experiences and her passion for culture. She works with two aims in mind: she would like to pay tribute “to the diverse and powerful narratives woven into the fabric of womanhood and want to invite viewers to connect and get to know and learn about women I paint, while transporting themselves to lesser known parts of the globe.” She speaks to Gulf Today

What attracts you to tribal culture?

Initially, what attracted me was the intense colours, the unique attire and adornment. Later, when I started doing more research into their history, I learnt about their modern day lifestyles and resilience. I was mesmerised beyond words! The subject was too compelling for me to not express their stories on canvas.


Beyonce sends flowers to Jack White thanks him for his influence on her new album

Bollywood diva Gauahar Khan flaunts her unique look drops boomerang video

Sharjah Archaeology to showcase discoveries in Uzbekistan

How many tribal regions of the world have you travelled to?

I have travelled to the North African region where I visited the community of Berbers in the Atlas mountains.  I had the pleasure of spending time with them, getting to know their culture and talk to them about their traditions. Learning how they, in their own ways, contribute to the famous Argan Oil industry in Morocco, was a scintillating experience for me. In the East African region, I have had the opportunity to witness cultural groups such as the Creole, both in Seychelles and Mauritius, whose traditions and modern day practices are so intriguing. Their contribution to art is also very captivating.  In the MENA region, I have travelled to countries such as Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and of course, Saudi Arabia. I had the opportunity to learn so much about the Bedouin who belong to the region and for whom I have so much respect. A few years ago, when I travelled to the Central Asian region, specifically Samarkand in Uzbekistan, I had the chance to learn about the Seljuks. Also, got to know about tribal communities that inhabit parts of Azerbaijan, who once lived either under Ottoman or Soviet rule, and have influences from both Turks and Russians. I lived in Cambodia for some time and travelled to South East Asian countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and a few others. It was great to learn about the tribal communities there and their cultural practices. Also, when I visited ranches in Argentina some time ago, the cultural groups there really thrilled me.

Shafiya Aslam 1 The artist in her studio.

Why do you like to use bright colours?

I am not an advocate of the quote that bright colours bring happiness and joy; but in fact they do, to some extent. Bright colours have a very strong impact on viewers. For example, all the colours I could think of to show emotions such as empathy, sympathy, love, affection, courage, resilience and strength, are bright colours. To me personally, bright colours speak a million words.

How do you keep authenticity when drawing your subjects?

When painting my subject, the first thing I take into consideration is how culturally appropriate it is for me to include the elements I want to paint. It plays a major role when I plan my work. Respect is key. I respect all cultures from around the world.

Can you tell us about the research you do on tribal culture?

I start by researching specific tribes or cultural groups in different areas that I want to depict. This helps me narrow down the unique characteristics of that particular group. Then I do extensive online research, seeing reference photos of the past and present. I then read about them to get a feel of how their life is and to see if any specific information excites me. Then I write down all the research I have done and start sketching based on that. In the future I also wish to read many books published by anthropologists and historians, to dive deep into my topics.

Can you tell us about your working day?

On a normal day as a wife and mom of two girls, I am usually very busy. That being said, when I am in my studio, there is plenty of creation that takes place - which means either painting or planning an artwork such as getting the colours right, sketching or even simply even prepping a canvas. I only paint when I fully feel comfortable with my idea. But I am always open to what shape and route my artwork can lead me to. I don’t always expect my planning to have the exact outcome and love it when the result surprises me.

What are the qualities a good portraitist needs have?

A good portrait artist should possess a combination of technical skills and artistic sensitivity, meaning, the accuracy to observe and capture facial features, proportions, expressions and details. Then, of course, empathy and understanding. Empathy allows a good portrait artist to connect with their subject on a deeper level; this is part of having good communication skills. The willingness to accept criticism and learn continuously also does a world of good.

Related articles