Samira Mian is a UK based artist and educator with a passion for Islamic geometry. She has successfully combined over 12 years of experience as a teacher of mathematics with Islamic Geometry to create a contemporary take on tradition, promoting this art both in the U.K and internationally. Samira’s interest in Islamic Geometry was sparked in 2013 while taking a class with Art of Islamic Pattern, and ever since then she has been inspiring and teaching students person and online.
We talked to Samira about her journey to becoming an artist and educator, how the Muslim community needs to support the creative sector more and the importance of preserving heritage for future generations.
You are an experienced artist and educator with a passion for Islamic Geometry. How did you develop such an interesting career from teacher to artist to creative educator?
It’s not something I entirely consciously developed or planned from start to finish, as with most things, it evolved and grew. One thing, one mindset that does help, is to just do it, whatever “it” is. Thinking about it, and trying to have a fully formed plan doesn’t work, you can learn so much by doing, and I did and still am learning.
How did people react when you made a choice to practice art full time as opposed to teaching?
A certain amount of curiosity and intrigue as many didn’t and probably still don’t quite get what I do. I guess we don’t always have the vocabulary for unfamiliar territory, especially the ever-evolving online world and social media. I often don’t know how to describe it either!
I’m really quite fortunate that the people in my life are kind and nice about my unconventional ways, I guess they see I’m happy so they’re happy for me too.
You spent time in Fes in Morrocco, how do you think this influenced your creativity and artistic style?
Yes, it was such a change from my reality in the UK, the surroundings were so very different and beautiful. I often had unreliable Wi-Fi which meant I was quite disconnected from the internet; I was able to immerse myself in my studies and art work making the most of the daily inspiration that surrounded me. I squeezed out as much as I could from my limited art supplies & books, they became extra valuable to me and I really got to know my paints and how they behaved. I was able to understand patterns better as I was left to my own self to analyse and figure them out, making plenty of mistakes along the way. So all in all it was very beneficial on this and so many levels.
Your passion for the compass and straight edge constructions of Islamic geometric patterns is amazing. What do you enjoy most about analysing and constructing the patterns?
Such complex beauty from simple tools still blows my mind. There’s a famous quote about stars aligning and it really reminds me of how a drawing develops: the lines, circles and intersections align perfectly and everything falls in to place seamlessly. It’s so beautiful to create and witness what’s happening before your very eyes with your own two hands. All the while, we know how hard it is too, as we’ve made so many errors along the way. We also get a sense of the artisans and geometers from different places and time having done the very same thing, such a beautiful sense of connection.
What materials do you use to create your works and can you talk us through your process?
I have a few different variations as to how I work, but usually to create a final painting of an Islamic Geometric pattern I start with a plain piece of paper on which I draw lines and circles with my compass & ruler from this I will trace a unit of the pattern so that I can transfer to watercolour paper repeatedly to create a repeating pattern. I then add colour, usually watercolours and metallic paints.
With such a breadth of experience teaching Islamic geometry all over the world, what has been the most memorable? How far and wide have you encountered and taught students?
I have been really fortunate to have taught in different locations: Canada, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Spain and Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, each one so enjoyable and ever so tiring too! I forget how travelling for work can do that, but luckily, I really enjoy it so it’s so very worth it.
Being able to teach online is so amazing, I recently reached 3000 students in 98 countries for my online courses on Udemy. That means a lot to me because it’s people paying for my courses. I know my reach is wider on Social Media and YouTube but those 3000 people feel so extra special!
Teaching is a part of your creative process. You teach both online and face to face, what are the benefits / differences of both?
Teaching face to face will always be the best experience for both myself and the people I’m teaching, the human connection, interaction & feedback is instant & so full an experience it can’t be matched. However, very early on I was told, “what about those who can’t get to your workshops?”, so I developed my online courses. I know the reach of these is so beyond any places I can travel to or those who can’t come to me, so it’s important to me to reach those people too. The internet had made it possible for us to connect with so many, even before the lockdown I had been able to see what people had created from my courses & free tutorials on YouTube and social media, their gratitude, engagement & creations makes you realise that although it may not be as perfect as face to face it is so very good an alternative from which so many benefit from.
Can you share some tips on how to draw Islamic geometry for those interested in getting started?
My aim early one was to make resources for those getting started, so I’d suggest my online course on www.samiramian.uk/learnonline for the content and getting the best tools you can afford via www.samiramian.uk/equipment . I also know that many don’t have funds or prefer books so I have many more links and resources on my website and YouTube. In short, visit my website!
From your experiences as a British Muslim artist, is contemporary Islamic art visible and represented in mainstream institutions, or does more need to be done?
I think one thing I love about the internet is how something niche like Islamic Geometric Patterns, can become a thing, a thing which connects you to many individuals around the world, builds up a momentum and a presence which institutions then cotton on to. I have worked with a fair few mainstream institution especially in education: the Open University, the Royal Institution, the Association of Teachers of Mathematics and the V&A Museum, as well as many beyond the world of education. I have loved every experience and felt so very valued by them.
I actually feel more valued by them then British Muslim organisations. If anything, more needs to be done it’s by people in mosques, organisations & community groups, who often have little knowledge of the Islamic arts and our very rich heritage but then also have an expectation for artists & teachers to work for free or minimal budgets. So if there’s need for representation and visibility, it’s in our own community more so than in the wider British community.
What are your future plans and aspirations as an artist?
I either have really specific numerical goals and targets so very geeky or broad ones to travel to such and such places. I know both will benefit me in terms of motivation. Otherwise, I plan to resume my in person workshops and continue online with Patreon Creator account plus all the other things in between. One specific one that’s always on my to do list is create more YouTube content, it’s really very hard to create videos consistently so it’s something I want to work on, improve and get better at.
How can Islamic geometry evolve for future generations? What does the future of Islamic art look like to you?
I’d love for more people, especially Muslims to be far more in touch with their own rich, beautiful and intellectual history and heritage. Of course, in my very specific field of Islamic Geometric Patterns but also in the wider arts, culture and history. To know this greatness existed and thrived when other places in the world especially Europe was in the “dark ages”. To know how it contributed to the success of those who followed. We should understand, appreciate and celebrate our history, be inspired to emulate such greatness and build our own brilliance and success in the Islamic Arts and far beyond.
All images courtesy of https://www.samiramian.uk
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