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Meet Nikhat Qureshi of Islamic Art of British Columbia – Art by Nikhat in Little Elm

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nikhat Qureshi.

Nikhat, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
As my mother recalls, I was spotted live-sketching our pet poodle on a writing slate. I was probably in the 4th or 5th grade when both my parents were awestruck by the accuracy of my drawing that the sleeping poodle looked sleeping as he rested under the Peepal tree in our courtyard back in Depalpur, my native town in Punjab, Pakistan. All I remember is that I drew and sketched anything that I could find in my surroundings from prints on bedsheets, curtains to our pets as well as the people who worked around the house. My art teachers at school boosted my confidence by using my drawings as an example in the classroom.  I was always curious to try new media. I remember once I painted on glass without knowing that there are special paints for glass painting. I mixed oil paints with kerosene oil, placed my artwork in the sunlight thinking it’ll dry, I waited for days and of course, I was disappointed! 🙂 Years later, I learned about glass paints as a separate art medium when I got commissioned to paint a glass wall at a private residence in Lahore. One thing I miss from my childhood is not having access to a camera to capture my work made in my earlier days, which are hence all are stored in the memory.

Born and raised in Pakistan, I moved to the Canadian City of Montreal, Quebec to join my husband in 2003. A year and a half later, in 2005, we moved to Dallas Texas. I have a Bachelor’s in Law and Legislation and I am also blessed with an artistic talent.

My passion to express myself pushed me to delegate focused time; even amidst my busy life, I continued to paint my inspirations with a desire to share my work with the community. That is when I combined my creativity with the spirit of working for the community. Islam is about peace and teaches us to greet and treat each other with kindness, warmth, and humility. I was taking Quran learning classes at the local Islamic center and was fascinated by how Islam as a code of life provides us with prayers (duas) for every possible occasion. I decided to channel my creativity towards making Islamic greeting cards and gift baskets and connect them to relevant Quranic verses and Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH) and launched my Islamic code of dress inspired clothing label ModEast in 2006. It was a promising experience with an overwhelmingly positive response.

My art and art-related activities were continuing in Dallas and along with exhibiting my work at several local exhibition spaces, I served as the volunteer program director for the Islamic Art Revival Series from 2012-2014, whose dual mission is to bring awareness and exposure to Islamic Art and to build cultural bridges between the Islamic world and North America. In 2016, my painting entitled Faith and Hope received The Rosemary Cheney Outstanding College Award by the Richardson Civic Art Society at the 50 annual Juried art exhibitions in the city of Richardson, Texas.

I have an open mind when it comes to creativity. I love experimenting with different medium and try new ideas. The element of unpredictability in life is what keeps us on the edge of curiosity; though I am not a big fan of suspense I love surprises. I enjoy working with oil, acrylic, ink, wood, canvas, paper, stamping and all that glitters.

I am moved by one verse in the Holy Quran, from Surah (chapter) Yaseen, (verse 81) which ends by saying that He is the skilfull Creator. Each time I am able to draw and define something on the canvas I am humbled and admire how we reflect God’s attributes in human form. One of God’s attributes is ‘Al Mussawir’ (the Creator, the Maker, the Giver of Form). As human beings on the earth and as Allah’s vice-gerente we are blessed with some of his attributes and I believe having artistic abilities may also be an extension of it. Painting anything that inspires me and comes from within, I call myself ” Ana Abdul- Mussawir (servant of the creator/maker/giver of the form).

My work has been part of exhibitions in the USA, Pakistan and Canada. I believe that the most selfless way to make a difference in the world is to serve as a volunteer and help give back in any form in our capacity. One of our Initiatives of a Ramadan window display at the Children’s Medical Hospital in Dallas continues to put smiles on the faces of each passerby for the entire month of Ramadan every year since 2006. Now we have started the window display in Richmond, BC too. With my art, I intend to support social justice and raise awareness about causes such as gendercide, domestic violence, literacy, and sexual abuse. A few projects I have been honoured to support include: Gendercide Awareness Project in Dallas, sahara services society in BC, Baal Dan Charity International and Seplaa Hub in Pakistan. I am also a fashion and lifestyle enthusiast, love traveling and is currently residing in Richmond BC, Canada

Has it been a smooth road?
I completed law school in Pakistan and later a post-graduation certificate in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management at SMU (spell it out) in Dallas, Texas. I joined Dallas Casa as a volunteer advocate for neglected children in foster care and as I was ready to pursue my career working for children in foster care my life had other plans. After living in Dallas for ten years my husband’s work moved us back to Canada. I started exploring opportunities to begin working but within the first five months of our move to Vancouver, my husband was suddenly diagnosed with stage four renal carcinoma. He had just traveled to Alberta for work and ended up being hospitalized for emergency treatment. We dropped everything within 24 hours and moved to Edmonton to be with him. After five months of battling with cancer, he passed away in March 2017. My then 8-year-old son and I traveled back to Dallas to be with our family. I had no work and had no idea what life ahead had in store for us. As I was working on consolidating everything after his passing, I learned that ShariaPortfolio, an Islamic Financing company, that we had some business with in the US was looking to expand in Canada and opening their office in Vancouver. I applied for the admin position. Luckily, I was able to travel for an in-person interview and training in their office in Orlando. I felt as if it was Allah’s way of protecting and watching over us that people came into our lives like angles, and I was hired.

In August 2017, I traveled back to Edmonton, signed my lease online, scheduled the movers, and drove for three days for 1400km from Alberta to BC through the Canadian Rockies with my son and our cat, Toffee. It was a giant leap of faith as I had no idea what the City of Richmond looked like and what kind of place we would be living in. Prophet Musa’s (Moses) prayer during the desperate times of his life to God, “Oh my Lord, I am in absolute need of any good you send my way” was my prayer day and night, and I called to God for help and guidance. I asked God that I put myself, my son and all our affairs in His hands to take care. And HE the Almighty did. My son started his school, I began working from home which allowed me to allocate some time to my art again. It helped me navigate through life’s darkest moments. It was easy to feel sorry for ourselves and fall into depression, but I decided to say no to feeling sorry for myself and allow anyone else to do the same. Along with counseling, art therapy, grief and loss as well as writing workshops, my son and I also started traveling around (where locally?) We wrote and made videos of our travels just for ourselves. We discovered a new spirit for life and positivity. I got a chance to join a digital storytelling class offered by Voices Of Muslim Women, a local nonprofit organization, in Vancouver.  Meeting with other women, learning about their vulnerable and strong stories of life’s struggle breathed new life in me.  I was able to create a little video clip of our life’s journey, which helped me process my struggles with even more positivity. Here is a link of that video: https://youtu.be/Goqdxc5RL8w – I also started an online support group for young Muslim widows to lend some Comfort & Connection with Grace but I experienced that people have a lot of reservations in talking about challenges that are faced by widows.  I hope people can be more involved and open to share their stories and struggles so we can uplift each other’s spirit even more.

Please tell us more about your artwork, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
Art connects cultures and communities by removing boundaries and defining an uplifting spirit of how we learn from each other. It allows us to appreciate the diversity of our thoughts and ideas without words and judgments. We all have our own connection with art which facilitates drawing a conclusion based on our unique perception. In painting inspirations and reflections, I take my creativity as a means to express the connection of my thoughts with a soulful inner world. I am a self-taught, award-winning visual Artist & Calligrapher, my passion for calligraphy is driven by the religious writings and poetic texts which I interpret in my artistic expression. As an explorer of Islamic Art, I studied the basics of the Nastaliq script of Calligraphy under the tutelage of a calligraphy master from Pakistan and Thuluth Script from the master calligrapher in Canada of My Qalam Academy. With my contemporary approach, I enjoy combining traditional styles and techniques of writing scripts. I find it as (?) permission to explore the art of Calligraphy with the freedom to conceive an immaculate connection with The Truth (Divine). This sacred art of calligraphic writing requires a lifetime to master, however, I like sharing the knowledge at any stage of learning. After moving back to Canada for our life’s new journey, I started sharing my artwork with the local community and reached out to local artists and art groups to explore opportunities to come together and promote education in the arts of the Islamic world within the Muslim and wider community to encourage a cross-cultural exchange of art/art-related activities. Since 2017, I have conducted several Basics of Arabic Calligraphy workshops for beginners. I have worked with the National Art Gallery of Alberta, City of Surrey, City of Vancouver, City of Richmond to host community events for people of all ages to experience the arts of the Islamic World first hand. In 2018, with a group of local Muslim artists, we formed the BC Muslim Art House. Welcome Ramadan and Celebrate Eid 2019 was a successful community event with the City of Richmond at the Richmond Public Library in May 2019, the event was attended by 700 plus people from all around the metro Vancouver and received great appreciation. My work with Shariaportfolio Inc. ended in October 2018. I expanded my work search criteria which led me to get hired as a resident calligrapher at the exhibition space of Oakridge by Westbank Corporation. It was a contract position and with the difficulty of managing time as a single parent, my availability to work was for limited hours that resulted in ending my contract in march 2019. I was certain to give art a chance as my primary profession which led me to establishing my own art business, the Islamic Art of British Columbia in June 2019. I also initiated a community arts program in collaboration with local Muslim Food Bank, a non-profit organization that was greatly supported by the donation of art supplies by the Opus art supply store in BC.

Recently, I was honored to be invited at the history-making celebratory event to mark October as the Islamic History Month hosted by the BC Government at the Hall of Honour inside the Legislature. The display of my Islamic art and calligraphy was admired by everyone. Presented an exclusive painting titled, “O Canada” to the Premier of British Columbia, Mr. John Horgan. This featured major Islamic centers in different parts of Canada celebrating Canada’s diversity, multiculturalism, freedom, discipline, inclusion, unity, and peace.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I foresee growing engagement of the Muslim community in the arts and more artists fostering cross-cultural collaborations and engaging diverse communities in learning about the art of the Islamic world.

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