Created with passion and brimming with movement, Shahida Ahmed’s latest works mark an exciting new phase for an artist who remains determined to break down barriers
If 2016 was a year of preparation for Shahida Ahmed, then 2017 is most definitely one of putting plans into action.
The mixed-media artist tells me that she has a solo exhibition planned for Karachi later in the year, which will take place at the same time as the city’s first-ever biennale, and is also working on a series of installations that will be shown in the coming months.
Ahead of these projects, Shahida is eagerly awaiting the results of the Alhambra Awards for Excellence in London, having been nominated in the Arts category of this prestigious initiative, while also preparing to travel to the UAE for Art Dubai. “It’s proving to be a busy year, but will also be very satisfying,” the British-Asian artist says.
Shahida explains that her exhibition in Karachi, which will be held at the Commune Gallery, marks a welcome return to a city that has a special place in her heart. “I had a solo exhibition in Karachi in 2008 and also did an international residency there with the late Ismail Gulgee, so am really looking forward to returning,” she says. “The Commune has an amazing, open-plan industrial setting, so I’m really excited about working out where each piece will go.” The first show in Karachi, she adds, took place alongside a related exhibition at The Galley 1, Bradford, Yorkshire, with both funded by the Arts Council, UK.
Shahida tells me that the artworks will explore movement and rhythm. “Capturing the movement was a challenge,” she acknowledges, “but I’m pleased with the results and looking forward to displaying the work.”
Other projects on the horizon include an installation with kinetics as its theme. Shahida says that a year-end highlight will be an exhibition looking at triangles and light in mixed media, including paint, installations and clay.
Clay has long been a favoured medium for Shahida, who today divides her time between Lancashire, in the North West of England, where she was born, and the Middle East.
She explains that pottery, which she discovered by chance, was her first love. “I immediately connected with clay,” she notes. “I found it a material which took me somewhere.”
Characterised by calligraphy, deceptively simplistic shapes and geometry, Shahida’s work takes inspiration from Islamic architecture and signature symbols of Arabic culture, among other sources. Her fascination with movement is evident in key pieces such as her whirling dervish paintings. Other works, including two installations featured in a recent exhibition, explore light’s ambivalent role in life via a more modern and universal platform.
Shahida’s talent has earned her recognition in high places; in 2012, she presented the then British Prime Minister David Cameron with a piece of her artwork at Downing Street. Two years earlier, she participated in a private exhibition in Manchester, titled ‘Spirituality in Action’, for His Royal Highness Prince Charles. Her work for the show consisted of a series of clay cubes in varying sizes, each decorated with Arabic calligraphy in the style of ‘kufic’ script, reminiscent of bar codes.
Over the years, she has exhibited extensively, while her work can be found in several public buildings and private collections worldwide.
Despite having an impressive list of qualifications to her name, which includes a double master’s in Community Leadership from the University of Central Lancashire and Visual Arts from Leeds University, Shahida is a firm believer in the power of knowledge and discovery. When not painting or sculpting, she can be found teaching, sitting on various boards or working on her PhD, which is an exploration of art management and process (standardisation) in museums and galleries. The work looks at how artists and art are selected, with a particular emphasis on Islamic art, such as calligraphy.
Shahida has even written a novel, which is currently in the editing phase and due to be published before the end of the year.
She explains that the importance of empowering women from all walks of life is a key theme in her book and something that remains close to her heart. “A lot of what I do has empowerment at its core, whether it’s the delivery of education or my passion for art,” she says. “I also feel very strongly about eradicating stereotypes; I don’t like to compartmentalise when it comes to race, culture or religion, for example.”
Last year, Shahida decided to change the signature on her art to the simple and anonymous pronoun ‘She’, to denote, she says, “a woman, no faith, colour or culture”, whose art was there to be freely interpreted by all. “My art comes from the soul and I really believe it should be a universal dialogue for all,” she says.