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Illustrating Architecture, Naseeba Khader

Naseeba Khader is a Mississauga based artist who describes herself as 'A girl who loves to draw'. Her work is inspired by the beauty which surrounds her; be it the elegant lines of a minaret, the vivid hues of flowers or the curves of calligraphy. Naseeba's passion is the Art and Architecture of Islamic lands. She is on a quest to absorb and learn as much as possible and to translate that knowledge with her pen or paintbrush.

We talk to Naseeba about her passion for Islamic history and architecture and how her cultural heritage has influenced her artistic practice.

What was your journey to becoming an artist and have you undertaken any formal art training?

I guess my journey to becoming an artist started when I was quite young. I would draw on any blank surface; like the underside of the coffee table or the walls of our home! Much to the annoyance of my parents! I would make paper dolls or draw my favourite cartoon characters. By the way, my parents still have the coffee table I drew under! Throughout my elementary and secondary education, Art was my favorite subject. Even in my other classes, I managed to somehow incorporate some Art into it, like drawing title pages for new units and assignments. I remember in Grade 6, my teacher had selected me and two other classmates to attend a Summer Arts camp. I wasn't able to attend, but I kept that application form as a reminder. In high school, I continued taking Art classes. I had even won the Visual Art award for 2 years but I did not pursue a Fine Arts degree in University nor did I train in other institutions. In hindsight, I don't regret it because I believe opportunities will present themselves when the time is right.

Currently, I am a student of Islamic Calligraphy at Deen Arts Foundation, studying under Master Calligrapher Shahryanshah Sirajuddin Hoca who is based in Istanbul, Turkey and I am ever so grateful for the opportunity to learn this beautiful and sacred art.

How has your heritage influenced your creative practice?

I was born and raised in Toronto but my parents are originally from Hyderabad, India and as I grow older, I try to reflect what it means to be a Muslim/Canadian/Hyderabadi/woman. I have a deep interest in the Tehzeeb (Culture and Art) of Hyderabad and the Deccan plateau generally. Lately, I have been delving more into the Deccan Sultanates of lndia. Which were five Medieval kingdoms that ruled in the South from 1527-1686. My art is one way for me to explore, learn, and express all those facets of my cultural and religious identity.

You have a strong admiration of Islamic history and architecture, why architecture in particular?

I believe architecture is the physical interpretation of Art, History, Religion, Geography, Politics etc. Each structure has its own unique story, a story which is just waiting to be (re)discovered. That excites and inspires me. I want to learn who built these structures? Why were they built? What has time done to the structure? Why have some buildings survived while others have been lost? I love searching for what I call ‘the little guy,’ that obscure, local architectural gem that perhaps has not been given its proper due as some more ‘famous’ buildings have been.

You also combine calligraphy in your work, can you tell us more about your vision and process around this?

Since I am a student of calligraphy, I want to learn more about the history, the heritage and the legacy of Islamic calligraphy. I try to add it to my work whenever possible, but I am still in the early stages of learning and the calligraphy that may appear is not Islamic Calligraphy in its true essence. I feel it is very important to state this because there is a lot of misinformation about the practice of Islamic calligraphy. Calligraphy is an Islamic Science which requires many years of dedicated study and hours of practice under the guidance of a qualified teacher (someone who has attained their Ijaza). What you see in my sketches or paintings is me ‘drawing’ the calligraphy, not actually writing it (with a few exceptions, where I have written the phrase via qalam and ink then traced and transferred it.) But I hope that one day InshAllah I will be able to use Islamic Calligraphy in it's true form in my work.

You draw and paint, what mediums and materials do you use to create your works?

For my drawings and sketches, I primarily use pencil, pencil crayons or pigment-based pens, and illustration markers. I always get an equal rush of excitement and fear when I draw/paint my first stroke. Sometimes I feel I will be able to give the subject I am drawing its proper due with graphite pencils. Sometimes I feel it can best be expressed with just black ink. Other times, I will draw the ‘skeleton’ of the building in black fineliner then add depth of colour and shade with a mix of pencil crayons, fineliners, and illustration markers. When I paint, I enjoy using watercolours. I love the intensity, the richness, the transparency, the luminosity about them! Watercolours are so unpredictable. But that is why I love them as well. Lately, I have been drawing exclusively in a lovely sketchbook a dear friend had personalized and gifted me. I have a smaller sketchbook with Aya Sofya on the cover (another gift) which I use for my pencil sketches. For commissioned work, I use Arches watercolour paper (cold or hot pressed) because I've found that it works really well and can withstand erasing of small mistakes and cleanups. For my calligraphy practice, I use a variety of inks and qalams, though I find I really love the Kamish (reed) pen. As for calligraphy paper, on my recent trip to Istanbul I bought some glossy white paper for regular practice and a selection of machine and handmade ahar paper. But I’ve only used ahar a handful of times because I feel I need to be more proficient in calligraphy. Though I haven't drawn on my tablet as much as I used to in the past, I would use Autodesk Sketchbook. The app was a quick way to draw when sometimes pen and paper was not feasible. I could draw one half a structure and by using the symmetry tool have it replicated on the other side. Or I could zoom in and add little details to clothing and textiles. I could play around with colours, or duplicate a pattern with ease.