LYRA- Inspirational Women Series with Shaimaa
KB: Shaimaa, you beautiful human! I hope you’re well and thriving as always. Can you start us off by telling us a bit about yourself? All the general details, what people should associate you with.
Shaimaa: I would describe myself as someone who is lost in two worlds. I recently graduated from Cardiff University as a Doctor, and moved to Devon for my first set of jobs and I’m currently on surgery which I’m loving. But I’m also a huge creative spirit, and would call myself an artist in the realm of mostly Islamic art. My niche is at the moment watercolour and gold ink on Islamic geometry. So the kind of work and craft you see in Morocco, Granada, Andalusia, and that kind of realm of Islamic architecture is incredibly interesting to me. Also, Arabic calligraphy but more specifically Arabic calligraphy on maps. I have this huge fascination with maps and I think I’ve just stopped doing any Arabic calligraphy that doesn’t go with maps that I find.
I think people associate me with a fight or a pursuit for keeping going as a creative, in a world where its very important to maybe follow the rules a bit - it’s very difficult to explain. But a fight for being creative and literally going for it and fighting for your ultimate goals or dreams as an artist. I think that reflects on my Instagram, in between all of my term times and work, I try and exhibit and commit to art courses. It’s a full commitment to pursuing a career or a lifestyle as an artist. And I hope that people see that on my Instagram and on my website.
“I’m incredibly artsy and creative, and just would spend all of my time thinking about or looking at art…I was just very fascinated by the artwork of the world. But it wasn’t very much encouraged, and I was just made to be quite ‘sciency’, which I think is quite a common story for a lot of people who have traditional Arab parents, or just the mentality of it’s always very important to think about what you want to do academically, and don’t worry too much about your hobbies”
KB: So one of my favourite things about you is that you are someone who uses both aspects of your mind - scientific and creative. I’m sure this has been difficult to balance for you, but what do you feel keeps you motivated to keep both channels of yourself open?
Shaimaa: I feel like to answer this question I have to tell you a little bit more background wise. So growing up, science and maths were very much encouraged, and I feel like although I would paint I didn’t pay attention to that much. It wasn’t until my A-levels that I really realised I’m incredibly artsy and creative, and just would spend all of my time thinking about or looking at art. It doesn’t even have to be Islamic art - I was just very fascinated by the artwork of the world. But it wasn’t very much encouraged, and I was just made to be quite ‘sciency’, which I think is quite a common story for a lot of people who have traditional Arab parents, or just the mentality of it’s always very important to think about what you want to do academically, and don’t worry too much about your hobbies. So it doesn’t feel like a balancing act for me now, it feels like medicine is a bit on autopilot and the creative side of things are taking more of a front seat because I have to fight for it more in the environment I’m in, in terms of family and expectations.
I don’t think of art and medicine as two separate things to be honest. I think I ended up going into medicine because of this potential for a platform to do good, and even now as I start my job as a junior doctor, I’m thinking about why I went into medicine. I would love to do more work abroad, like with NGO’s, that sort of work really inspires me. And with that there are also ways you could incorporate art into it, in terms of film, documentary making, things like that. So it isn’t just a separate thing for me.
“That’s where the name ‘SalaamSanctuary’ (my art brand) comes from actually - a peaceful creative space away from everything, really. Not only work and obligations but the chaos of the world, especially now”
KB: Would you say that your art is a way for you to step back and unwind from the heaviness/intensity of practicing medicine? Is it in a way, a medicine for you? (Cliché, I know)
Shaimaa: 100% yes. Art is definitely a way of escaping from medicine which now is long hours, whereas before it was just the stress of endless studying. That’s where the name SalaamSanctuary (my art brand) comes from actually - a peaceful creative space away from everything, really. Not only work and obligations but the chaos of the world, especially now. For me art is something that you can control. The easy part is knowing that you like art and the galleries and stuff, but the hard part is building yourself up as an artist. So, it isn’t always peaceful and easy, there are stressful parts to it as I’ve come to know.
KB: So what got you into Islamic geometry specifically and why is it a passion of yours?
Shaimaa: So, this is a really long story, but essentially the first time I formally studied art was at A-levels, and that was just a massive wake-up for me that there are so many creatives out there. I studied abstract work, mixed media, landscaping, and all other sorts of mediums, and that was the first time I actually went to galleries and museums and had a look at people’s different styles of artwork.
I didn’t really know that there was Islamic art at that point, and then when I took my year out before uni, I downloaded Instagram and that is when I started connecting with creatives, but also creatives that were Muslim, and that is when I discovered this whole beautiful world of Islamic architecture, Arabic calligraphy, Islamic geometry, and Arabesque and traditional forms of art that I’d never seen with my own eyes or even in pictures.
That really fascinated me, so I started following people like Peter Gould, Adam Williamson, and Richard Henry who offer courses in Morocco, Turkey, Granada, and Iran. It was very inspiring to me because I didn’t relate to English artists in the same way I related to people who also incorporate religion into their art. Ever since then I’ve been studying geometry and Arabic script, and seeing where I take it and exploring that niche. As well as from a background of liking abstract acrylic work and watercolour and things like that. So, it’s just a massive journey of which I still feel like I’m right at the beginning. But it’s incredible, I’ve met so many different people and it’s so nice to relate to them creatively and through religion as well.
KB: That’s all so amazing and your work is phenomenal, I hope you’re able to continue growing within it. Where can people find your artwork and follow your journey?
Shaimaa: My Instagram for my work is @salamsanctuary, but you can also find blog posts and additional content on my website salamsanctuary.com!