Fatima Khan has a passion for Islamic architecture and explores this in her magnificent paintings. We talk to Fatima about her creative process, her appreciation for Islamic history and heritage and her future aspirations.
What was your journey to becoming an artist and have you undertaken any formal art training?
I have always been drawn to being creative, whether that was in textiles, sculpture or designing. I explored different forms of art and allowed myself to experiment. I haven’t necessarily had any formal art training, I studied A level Art which gave me the freedom and independence to work with any medium. I took this opportunity to teach myself to work with paints, ink, clay, plaster etc. I then stopped practicing art for several years due to university commitments but decided to get back into painting as a hobby during the lockdown.
You have a strong admiration of Islamic history and architecture, and renowned mosques are often the subject of your paintings, why architecture in particular?
I studied Engineering and Architectural Design at the Bartlett School of Architecture in UCL for a year where I developed a passion for the construction and structures of buildings. We also studied the eco-friendly Mosque in Cambridge; this was when I first encountered how Islamic designs were incorporated into architecture and engineering to create sustainable solutions.
Growing up my parents would take us to visit the Mosques around Islamabad and Lahore including the Faisal Mosque and the Badshahi mosque, to Masjid-Nabawi and Masjid Al Haram when we’d go on pilgrimage. I was always in awe of all the mesmerising intricate details and geometric patterns which prompted my visit to Istanbul less than a year before I got into painting Islamic architecture. I visited the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque and Hagia Sophia. I was then inspired to paint the distinctive beauty of the imperial Ottoman Architecture on this trip.
Your work is incredibly detailed, what is your creative process and how long does it take you to create a painting?
Islamic architecture tends to be highly detailed and I try to replicate and depict those details in my paintings as much as I can. The creative process entails the manipulation of a number of art techniques in order to create a lifelike scene in my paintings, such as the lighting; deciding which angle to have the lighting from the sun/moon hit the subject matter in order to paint the shadows and bright areas, the composition; this is the vantage point I choose for the angle I'd like to showcase in my painting, colour combinations, mood/atmosphere of the scenery and so on.
It can take 45-60 hours to complete a painting depending on the size and level of detail which usually takes over a month or two.
The colours you use are so vivid and lifelike, how do you select your paints and colours, is there a lot of blending and mixing to get the right shades and textures?
I begin by experimenting with different colour palettes by mixing and blending a range of shades, both complementary and analogous.This helps me to stick to a specific colour theme which in turn allows me to paint both the foreground and background of the painting in coordination. I pick the colours for my painting according to the mood I choose to set. For example, the Isha painting from my Call to Prayer collection was set during the late part of the night with the moonlight hitting both the domes and minarets of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the crests and troughs of the waves in the ocean. In order to create a dreamy and calming scene, I stuck to analogous colours, the main shade of blue in the Mosque, sky and ocean being Prussian blue for consistency.
Your work expresses the joy and spirit of the rich heritage of Islamic art and culture. Is this a focal point for your work or do you plan to explore other aspects of Islamic heritage?
The Mosques I have painted so far all represent the rich and diverse heritage of Islamic art and history. From my painting ‘Madinah’ inspired by the simple design of the Prophet’s house during the golden age of Islam to the bold characteristics of Malaysia’s Putra Mosque which was modelled after Persian Islamic architecture of the Safavid period in 1999.
I plan to explore Islamic architecture from its earliest origins to contemporary Islamic constructions, transformations inspired by some of Islam’s greatest dynasties including the Umayyad’s, the Ottomans and the Mughals.
You have painted magnificent mosques and architecture relevant to Islamic history and heritage. What meanings do these buildings hold for you?
Mosques reflect some of the greatest architectural achievements, Islamic craftsmanship, artistry and also embody a city’s cultural identity and geography. Along with their educational purpose, their spiritual purpose gives them an overpowering beauty and to be able to study and create art inspired by these magnificent structures gives me the opportunity to learn more about the history of Islamic heritage.
The main objective of my first collection of paintings was to not only paint the Mosques but to have them symbolise their main purpose within the painting; a place of prostration. I named this collection ‘Call to Prayer’ which refers to the Adhan; the Adhan is a formal Islamic call delivered by a ‘Muadhan’ before each of the 5 obligatory prayers. This collection consists of 5 paintings, each painting representing one of the five daily prayers and consisting of Mosques with exteriors that would harmonise and coordinate with the colours in the sky at the time of the specific prayer they exhibit;
Fajr: From the beginning of dawn to when the sun rises.
Zuhr: After the sun has passed its highest.
Asr: The late part of the afternoon.
Maghreb: When the sun sets and is low on the horizon.
Isha: The time of night.
I wanted this collection to act as a reminder of one of the most important pillars in Islam and to represent a significant obligation of my faith by reflecting the beauty of the Mosques around the world and the skies that Allah paints so beautifully throughout the day. These paintings have highly resonated with my audiences and it's been such an honor being told how much it has influenced and impacted people as well as how much peace and calmness it has brought to my viewers.
What has been the most challenging work you have created and how did you overcome obstacles?
The Dome of the Rock painting (Zuhr) from my ‘Call to Prayer’ collection as it was my first time creating a highly detailed piece which required a lot of time and patience. This painting allowed me to combat my impatience when rushing through a painting. I would look for shortcuts to complete them as I'd be eager to see the final result of my work. There were no shortcuts around the highly detailed tiles of the Dome of the Rock. I embraced my learning curve and took my time with each layer of paint and started implementing the same level of patience into the rest of my paintings.
How has your work been received by audiences? What has been the most memorable reaction to your work?
The reaction and support I have received on my paintings and the launch of Khalq has been extremely overwhelming as I’ve had people supporting my business from all around the world. One of the most memorable reactions to my work was when I posted the Zuhr painting from my ‘Call to Prayer’ collection. A painting of the Dome of the Rock in Palestine which was shared by many people and platforms and received over a million views on Instagram.
Can you share your creative plans and hopes? Projects in the pipeline?
I’m working on products inspired by my paintings which are currently in the making and I hope to launch a variety of products throughout the year so people have more access to my art and at the same time are able to utilise them daily. My next project will be the second collection of my paintings which will be inspired by my travels to Islamic countries and visits to renowned Mosques.
What does the future of Islamic arts and culture look like to you? What are the opportunities and potential?
I think Islamic art will continue to be revived and with social media, more contemporary artists are able to showcase their art-work and reach large audiences globally.