Artist’s intricate Islamic art conveys a contemporary taste of tradition

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For artist Fahmida Ashiq, her career path to visual arts took a rather scenic route. Here she speaks to Safeera Sarjoo about artistic influences, following one’s passion and her creative approach.

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Blessed
Meaning: “And whatever of blessings and good things you have, it is from Allah” (16:53). Size: 121cm x 76cm /48” by 30”

Having both the determination and the courage to step outside of the box and make our dreams a reality is never an easy feat. Pressures from families and even society can sometimes dissuade us from our real calling. But when we go with our gut, the outcome can be truly astonishing. Fahmida Ashiq did just this, which resulted in Asheeq Art – her very own business, which specialises in bespoke, contemporary artwork that draws on inspiration from Arabic calligraphy and our beloved Qur’an.

When she exhibited at London’s inaugural Halal Food Festival in September 2013, visitors were impressed by the intricate detail evident in each finished piece. Though one might think that Fahmida has been creating these artworks for years, her beginnings are in fact quite surprising.

“I studied art at school but like many who hail from an Asian family, a professional career was the norm. I ended up at law school and in time trained and qualified working for Saracens Solicitors in London. I loved it and thought my life – at least in terms of my career – was mapped out; but I soon realised, in fact, that Allah is the best of planners.”

Photo of Fahmida by Rooful Ali
Photo of Fahmida by Rooful Ali

Fahmida recalls one day staring at a wall at home thinking it needed colour and vibrancy to brighten it up. “I wanted a feature art piece, but something with meaning as opposed the usual stuff. I searched everywhere but couldn’t seem to find what I wanted,” she says.

“Now thinking back, it was somewhat of a light bulb moment. I had no idea or aspiration for Asheeq Art at the time but I started to make the piece myself.”

Fahmida began by carving Arabic calligraphy, similar to when she was at school.

“It took me a few attempts to get back into the swing of things, but eventually it began to look half decent. I remember showing a version to my husband who refused to believe it was my creation. In an odd way that was all the motivation I needed, believing I could just produce the artwork myself and show my doubting husband. I eventually bought a blank canvas and, over time, created my first piece. I showed family and friends, and from there bagged my first order. The demand increased as I experimented with materials and so quite unexpectedly, Asheeq Art was born.”

In order to run Asheeq Art, a change in career was imperative. Such a change was bound to be challenging, but luckily for Fahmida, her family’s encouragement and support helped her through the transition.

“My biggest inspiration is my father, Mohammed Ashiq – hence the play on my surname Ashiq (Asheeq Art). I watched the way he managed his own business whilst raising a family, and I was always in awe. He is and always will be my hero.

“When I compare Asheeq Art to my time in law, I don’t feel like I am working per se. I get to indulge my creative desires while escaping from life’s shackles and spiritually connect with my Creator, Alhamdulillah.”

Reviving Arabic calligraphy through modern-day methods is what the Asheeq Art platform is all about. Whilst finding a striking creative outlet that further connects her with her faith, Fahmida also explores the different ways one can demonstrate Arabic calligraphy through art.

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Diamonds in the rough. Arabic meaning: “Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim” – In the name of your Lord, the most Beneficent and most Merciful. Size: 76 cm (height) X 76 cm (width)

“The Arabic script is so timeless. It has a deep aesthetic value beyond what most people first perceive. The reason it has stood the test of time is because it possesses geometric perfection. I know when I’m drafting, if the calligraphy is not geometrically aligned, it just loses its appeal. A simpler test is to place side-by-side two Arabic scripts of the same phrase or even letter of the alphabet; the version that is measured, or geometric, will always be the one that draws your eye.

“This was the first thing I noticed when creating Islamic Art, and was the reason I used that strap line ‘… reviving Arabic calligraphy through modern-day methods’. I use materials such as slate, glass, sand and even crystals from Swarovski. However, I love to couple them with some of the more traditional materials such as papyrus paper, gold leaf and so on, pairing them up whilst adopting a certain calligraphic style.”

Islamic Art in general is on the rise. You don’t have to look far to see the rich abundance of artists showcasing meaningful and powerful paintings, which make striking wall features as well as complementary accompaniments to the home. Popular social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter help to promote the artwork and generate commissions.

“Muslims have always enjoyed the rich tapestry of the Arabic script, and I believe its beauty can’t be ignored. I think with the internet it has grown with popularity, and rightly so. Arabic script in itself is so diverse and stunning. Its precision, coupled with its sweeping curves, is just stunning. I’ve worked with Arabic calligraphy for years and I’m still wowed by it. I just feel that no other script or design can compare.”

With such love for her craft, there’s no denying that Islamic art is steeped in rich histories and architecture around the world, which effectively goes a long way in providing inspiration to budding artists. Along with this, Fahmida credits the Qur’an as a vital source of motivation for some of her most renowned pieces.

“When you start to understand the true meaning of Allah’s words, the miracles, messages and pearls of wisdom, the ideas just seem to flow.”

This realisation served her well when she undertook one of her most challenging commissions: an Aytul Kursi piece consisting of over 23,000 Swarovski crystals.

Fahmida's Aytul Kursi piece uses more than 23,000 Swarovski crystals
Fahmida used more than 23,000 Swarovski crystals to create Aytul Kursi, Protection

“The final piece was 121cm x 76cm. I adopted the Kufic script and applied each crystal by hand. It took me around five months to make and by the end of it, I felt like I was going cross-eyed. This piece seriously tested my patience at times, but the final result was beautiful and the client was super happy.”

Her talent has been recognised worldwide, and by royalty too. Along with the detailed Aytul Kursi, Fahmida points to another commission that she says is her favourite.

“The other was a commission for HRH Sheikh Maktoom, which was a hadith called “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty”. I was honoured to be noticed and asked to make one by him.”

Aytul Kursi (detail)
Aytul al-Kursi (detail)
Featured in the second chapter of the Holy Qur’an, Surat al-Baqarah, and considered by many as one of the most sublime, majestic and powerful examples of Qur’anic prose. Size: 121cm x 76cm

Looking ahead, the future looks bright for Fahmida. She has crafted out a niche space within a growing area of Islamic art, and is pushing forward with exciting and engaging projects.

“I am working on a new collection which will incorporate geometry and Islamic calligraphy on a new level. I will also hopefully host an exhibition once they’re complete, but they’re large pieces so it will take me a while to finish.”

Fahmida hopes to continue bringing modern Islamic art to everyday homes whilst “always adopting the traditional methods”.

“I still pinch myself, because Asheeq Art has become something I never imagined. I receive orders from places and people I would never have imagined.”

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