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The evolution of my work into Islamic Heritage, Art and Culture

A few years ago, one of my closest friends recommended a book to me about a woman who’d left her life in England to seek out a Sufi teacher in India. Sufism in case you don’t know is the spiritual dimension of Islam. Those on the path, are seeking a deeper connection with the divine and this is to be done through the annihilation of the ego. Bearing witness to this lady’s souls evolution stirred something inside of me whilst also providing a space in which I felt safe and connected to.

Along the path, she made references to several poets, writers and psychologists whom I myself admired or went away and researched. One of them being Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, born in 1875. I had explored Jung’s teachings whilst developing my work as a coach and mentor. Jung taught that much of our outer experiences are influenced by our early childhood experiences, culture, society and ancestry. That we wear a ‘mask’ concealing our true self and to feel free and self actualize, we must make the unconscious (shadow), conscious.

I was under the impression that his ideas were solely western but much to my surprise, I learned he was very much influenced by eastern mysticism including the work of Andalusian Muslim scholar, mystic, poet and philosopher, Ibn Arabi, who was extremely influential during the golden age of Sufism in the twelfth century. Ibn Arabi coined the term ‘Al-Insān al-Kāmil’; the perfect human: attaining oneness with the divine by letting go of one’s egos desires.

This whole experience was quite a revelation as the Sufi work which included art, architecture, literature, poetry, psychology, philosophy and, spirituality, was leading me back to my own Islamic roots. I felt as though my life was going full circle.

I began my professional life in the creative industries as a designer in the fashion industry. After a decade and a half in this career, I experienced a huge internal shift and started my own business in wellbeing and personal development, never however leaving behind the creativity. Alongside, there’d been a number of projects relating to mental health, social change and justice. This work I never intended to do but based on how life and my spiritual evolution unfolded, it attracted me and I attracted it.

In the present, my exploration of Islamic heritage, art and culture pulls the different strands of my work together in a much deeper, profound and richer capacity. I never thought I would find a spiritual tradition that placed so much importance on beauty, yet it was under my feet all along. In addition, I also feel that when much of the Islamic world is either suffering due to war and famine, is often misrepresented in the mainstream or subscribing to generic one dimensional global commercial ideas, I feel passionate about sharing the depth of the heritage, legacy, and beauty left in the world by this community.

Although I speak about more recent years, my interest in Islamic art and heritage on a more ‘conscious’ level, began in the year 2000 during a family trip to Lahore, Pakistan. We visited Shalimar Baag, a Mughal garden and palace commissioned in 1641 by Emperor Shah Jahan. I was so enthralled by it that, on my return, I decided to write my dissertation for my BA on ‘The exploration of Hindu and Islamic decorative motifs and symbols in Mughal Architecture and Art’. Since then, this passion led me to visit many more Islamic architectural sights, including the Alhambra Palace and Mezquita in, Spain, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakesh, and Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Oman.

In more recent years, I’ve developed a deep love for Islamic history overall as I don’t believe you can truly understand culture, heritage, and art without contextualising it and learning the history.

I regularly attend online lectures by AFSACK; American Friends of Sufi Arts and Culture. The latest one covered The Poetics of Architecture: Existence, Silence, and Solitude. In May 2023, I translated my research into a live Sufi music and poetry event, coproduced at a local art gallery in Derby. The event was based on the aesthetics of Ottoman palaces and Moorish Spain. I gave a talk on Sufism, followed by people sharing their chosen Sufi poems. We then discussed our thoughts and feelings around the topic, ending with a meditation where I recited Jaladdin Rumi’s poem, ‘Lose yourself’.

I've been immersed in this beautiful world, exploring early Islamic scriptures and music in West Africa and poetry from Persia, Andalusia and South Asia. My current collaboration with photographer Lianne Foye is a very self indulgent project where I wanted to recreate images which almost resemble a peaceful, dream-like state inspired by Persian love poetry.

I adore the Arabic language, the sound, and the beauty of the written word which I will share soon through my lino print artworks.

Whatever our own truth is, we should live that. I’ve always followed my heart doing work which gives me joy. This work is a manifestation of the romance and sensuality that resides inside my soul. I hope it gives you as much pleasure to witness as it does for me to create.

Saima x

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