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Impact Story Posted • 19 Oct 2022

Making being South Asian, Muslim and an artist normal

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Making being South Asian, Muslim and an artist normal

Haseebah is a talented young Muslim printmaking artist and arts educator hailing from Birmingham. She describes her practice as being “socially engaged and speaking on matters I feel should be spoken about more and telling stories through that, whether it’s culture, identity or people.” Having graduated from university in 2018, Haseebah has been practicing for around four years. She has featured on children's TV channel CBBC and, in Birmingham, her work has been displayed on a billboard on Bradford Street. Haseebah recently exhibited at the British Art Fair at the Saatchi Gallery.

“Don’t be afraid, people assume that to be an artist you have to compromise your religion”.

Amal supported with Outreach

After the pandemic, Haseebah found few opportunities because the climate was still not conducive. Amal connected her with community groups to deliver printmaking workshops as part of Amal’s Creative Visualisation Programme. “What was great was the relationship was already established in these centres by Amal's Community Engagement Manager. With one-off workshops, it takes time for people to warm up to you and trust you so to have a middle person there was great.” Working with Amal also gave Haseebah the opportunity to work with different demographics including teenage boys with whom she had never worked before.

Taking into account their specific needs, she tailored her approach for a hugely successful workshop in Smethwick. 

“It’s nice when people approach you and ask how they can do printmaking outside the workshop because it means that they really value the creative skills they were taught during the session”.

Celebrating Diversity

As a freelance artist, Haseebah deems it important to “teach art skills in places that really need them the most, in areas such as working-class backgrounds and to people of colour”. At one community centre in B8, an elderly woman quizzed Haseebah on how she could continue printmaking at home. In addition to providing some resources, Haseebah explained how easily different materials could be used.

Being Muslim is a big part of Haseebah’s identity:

“I am South Asian and female but being Muslim is really important to me and I didn’t have to hide anything”.

This was said by her in reference to her workshops with Amal. “It was nice and refreshing, I could relax.” Coming from a South Asian household, she adds, art isn't a traditional career path and Muslims also aren't very visible in the creative industries. “Growing up I didn’t see anyone in the sector wearing the hijab, brown like me and also Muslim, it was either one or the other.” She states the importance of being that person for someone else to look up to. “If Haseebah can do it, then maybe I can do it as well - that's what motivates me,” she says.

Finally, Haseebah shared advice she would give to someone Muslim thinking about getting involved in the arts. “Don’t be afraid, people assume that to be an artist you have to compromise your religion. It’s completely possible to be yourself in arts venues and spaces. People might feel embarrassed about asking someone for space to pray, for example. It’s fine, people are there to support you. Own it. At the end of the day, you can make a career out of it. Even if it’s just a hobby, pursue it!”

portrait from Grain Projects shot by Arpita Shah