Maryam Souza is a Brazilian Muslim convert and specialist in Islamic art. Maryam lives in São Bernardo do Campo, where one of the largest Muslim communities in Brazil is located. She is fascinated with the many possibilities and ways to express herself through Islamic art and committed to expand the knowledge of this art across Brazil.
We talk to Maryam Souza about her Brazillian cultural heritage, writing Qur’anic verses, exhibiting her works and her thoughts on the future of Islamic art.
Growing up, did you always want to be an artist?
I always wanted to be an artist, but I never thought it was possible, considering that Brazil is a country that doesn't value art very much. When I entered college, I chose architecture and urbanism because I had a direct connection with Art, as I imagined that living only on Art would not be enough to support me financially. I spent a short time in the Architecture course, and little by little, fate took me to the profession of my dreams, and here I am, doing what I always dreamed of doing, Alhamdulillah.
Why do you feel a connection to Islamic art specifically?
Islamic art and its history connect me directly with my religion and with Allah. In the course of my studies, I could see that faith was the main source for the legacy that Islamic Art left in the world, moreover, in Islamic art I have two things that motivate and complete me the most in this life, Art and my religion.
How has your Brazillian cultural heritage and living in Sao Paulo shaped your creative practice?
Urban Art is very present in São Paulo, so a walk around the city can become an incredible source of inspiration. In addition, Brazil is tropical and therefore very colorful, and I bring this naturally to the choice of my palettes, which tend to have vibrant colors, which speaks volumes about my Brazilian cultural heritage.
Your works are inspired by Islamic illumination and Arabic calligraphy. What made you develop an interest in this artistic traditions?
My love for Islam connects me directly with the history of these artistic traditions, whose main objective in their emergence was the preservation of the Holy Quran and Islamic texts.
How did you train to become an artist specializing in these traditional artforms?
I started self-taught. I have always been an extremely observant person, so I looked for a long time at the pages of some Islamic books I have, then I started to reproduce them, it made me understand each step of the process of building a pattern. After having already had a sense of what this process is like, I started following on instagram several artists who did the same art style as me, I bought books, took courses on online platforms and practiced in several sketchbooks until I found my identity as an artist.
Where do you find inspiration to create your works?
Much of what I produce is part of my experiences as a Muslim, in addition, reading books, watching movies, following other artists on instagram, listening to anasheed, and even small everyday experiences can become great sources of inspiration for me. I believe that anything can become inspiring, and that will depend on how we look at the world around us. In general, everything that touches my soul deeply brings an instant need to make my feelings palpable, and then transform them into art.
Your works are incredibly detailed, how long does it take for you to create a piece?
Depends on size and amount of detail. I usually really enjoy working on big projects, because I can put all my ideas into practice and the result is always very impactful. In large works I take around 2 months, but smaller ones take up to two weeks. There are also jobs that can take a lot longer, because when I don't feel 100% focused on a job, I stop and take some time off painting and work on other projects, until I feel like I'm ready to finish the job I left off.
As part of your work, you also write verses from the Qur’an, which have you written?
I have written the verse of the throne “Ayatul Kursi” many times, in addition, I really like to reproduce supplications in Arabic and words that somehow connect us with Allah, such as patience, wisdom, trust, love, among others.
What is the preparation process for writing a Qur’anic verse?
I always have a sheet with the verse written as a reference, I make a sketch and thicken the strokes with a brush or black pen, after writing the whole verse and making sure there are no mistakes, I move on to the final drawing sheet.
What are your aspirations as an artist, what do you hope to achieve?
I want to improve the quality of my work and travel to countries that teach this style of art to acquire enough knowledge to allow me to spread Islamic Art in Brazil.
I want, through my art, to demystify the idea that people have that Muslim women are oppressed or that the hijab prevents us from being who we want to be.
And above all, I aspire to be always aware of God on my journey, so that my art is a means for me to achieve success in this life and the next, inshaAllah, and to be aware that everything that happens to me is only possible with His permission
How do you create your colour compositions?
The first color to be applied is always golden, after defining the golden parts of the work, I start to think of a main color, and from there I add other complementary colors to compose a composition that makes aesthetic sense.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
My first art exhibition was the highest and most important point of my career. There, I could see up close the sparkle in people's eyes as they looked at my art, I could see that even without saying a single word people understood who I am. I exhibited 12 works, and the main one was the work “Al Kursi”, next to it I installed a device where people could hear the verse from the throne while enjoying the work. people were moved and cried several when hearing the Quran for the first time. Many of them told me that they never imagined that the Qur'an could be something so profound. When they read the translation of what they had just heard, it all made sense. It was there that I saw the power that Art has to inform. It was very remarkable in my life to have provided, through my art, such a unique experience for so many people.
What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like and how do you think we can continue to keep the tradition alive?
I believe that social media is the greatest way to expand knowledge about Islamic Art in the world, and I believe that this can guarantee a more modern molding for this style of art, without losing the traditional basis, such as calligraphy, gilding, geometry, etc.
For more information follow Maryam Souza on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/maryam.souza/?hl=en
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