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Redefining Tradition, Raanaz Shahid

Raanaz Shahid is a multi-award-winning artist from the United Kingdom. Her work is heavily influenced by her British, Asian and Islamic roots, which have allowed her to create a style and aesthetic that is entirely unique and entirely her own. As well as studying courses with Art of Islamic Pattern and some with Prince's School of Traditional Arts, Raanaz is an honours graduate of Surface Pattern (with Textiles).

Raanaz’s work has also been commissioned by celebrity clients including former Light-Welterweight World Champion Amir Khan and his wife Faryal Makhdoom, along with Harry Potter actress Afshan Azad.

Raanaz’s passion for art doesn’t stop there. After years of practise, she is now an Arabic Calligraphy student studying Quranic scripts Thuluth and Naskh under Master Hoca Haji Noor Deen based in China. She also has the honour to be studying the art of Tezhip in thorough detail with her Master Hocam Ayten Tiryaki based in Istanbul.

How did your journey as an artist begin? Did you always want to be an artist?

I wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. So much so that I ended up studying a GNVQ BTEC Advanced in Art & and Design and BA(Hons) degree in Surface Pattern and Textiles. My journey began when I was a little girl. I was very young, probably 6 or 7, and I used to look at the illuminations around my Quran. I remember it so clearly, I’d get told off for not reading because I kept getting distracted by all the patterns, illuminations and calligraphy.

One day my dad bought me some tracing paper because he had seen my interest for patterns and art in general. I started tracing the designs around the pages in my Quran and any religious book that we had.

I went to Manchester Islamic High School for Girls when I was 11, and in my first year we went on a school trip to John Rylands library, where we had the chance to learn how to do Arabic Calligraphy for the afternoon. Again, something I will never forget, that day opened up a whole new world for me! I went home extremely excited, and I couldn’t wait to show my parents the calligraphy I had created. I had been reading the Quran for many years by this point, but I’d never considered that a person could write such beautiful art.

My dad went on a hunt to all the stationary shops in Manchester to find and buy some calligraphy bamboo pens for me. Back then it was a struggle to get such supplies and he told me to tape together two pencils and to practise with that until he found the right supplies. Unfortunately, he had no luck. However, he came home with some bamboo and made me my own pens. That’s where my creative adventure began!

Your works are inspired by Islamic geometry and illumination painting. What made you develop an interest in these artistic traditions?

While I was growing up my parents used to take me on holidays to Pakistan. I was 6 or 7 on one of my very first trips where I was old enough to remember. We’d go every other year and spend 2 months there. I would be intrigued and in awe of the beautiful mosques that

we’d visit. Badshahi Mosque and The Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore and Multan Fort in Multan were just incredible!

I was drawn to all the details and the architecture. I just couldn’t understand how all these patterns were leading into other patterns. There were just patterns upon patterns, florals, and geometry everywhere! I just wanted to stay there. And actually I remember begging my parents to put me into school in Pakistan so that I could see more of this beauty and to study how to make them. But obviously they didn’t let me stay. However, I carried on pestering them whenever we would visit.

On these trips I would also notice the workers in the bazars dyeing fabrics in all sorts of colourful shades along with fabrics being embroidered with beautiful silk threads and all sorts of beads, crystals and stones. That’s where my love for textiles came from.

You are currently studying to get an Ijazah in Thuluth and Naskh calligraphy and Tezhip. What made you want to undertake this level of training?

Throughout my studies, at college and university, I always struggled to learn how to create these beautiful shapes correctly. Islamic art wasn’t as accessible much back then and my teachers would always encourage me to stop using Islamic art as my inspiration. But every time I was given new a brief, I couldn’t help being naturally drawn to it, so I had to do a great deal of research myself just using what minimal access I had to books, pictures and photos I had taken from my trips to Pakistan along with local mosques in the UK.

Over the last 10 years or so, Islamic art has been flourishing and become very popular in the UK. So I wanted to give myself a better understanding of these arts and also to see if what I had learnt myself over the years was correct. I started doing courses with Art of Islamic Pattern and The Princes School of Traditional Arts, both in London. This then led me to want to further my skills and develop my knowledge.