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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.

What does the process entail and how do you hope it impacts your creative practice?

It’s quite an intense process and I’ve learnt so much in the 9 or 10 months that I’ve been studying these subjects. I’m finally analyzing and learning to form the correct measurements for each Arabic letter to create the perfect shape. I have homework every week which gets marked and I have to correct any mistakes for the following week. I’ve just finished my second semester.

My Tezhip journey is more or less the same procedure where I’m taking formal training and learning in detail how to create all the patterns and florals the correct way, with the right proportions. Recently, with permission from my Master I was allowed to hold some of workshops at the In Praise Art Exhibition in Leicester. I’ve only been studying with my Master for about 9-10 months, you wouldn’t normally be considered to teach a workshop this early into the training. However, my Master allowed me to, she supported and guided me every step of the way.

It’s important to gain permission from your Master, rather than teaching before you start to

study under one. This is to ensure that you are then only teaching the correct methods and projecting only the correct information to anyone learning from you. I often used think, how can I consider myself being good enough to teach if I’m not studying under a master? Doing some short courses over a number of years didn’t seem enough for me personally. But everyone’s journey is different. So it was a huge blessing to start my journey down the Ijazah road and my Master granted me permission and gave me her support.

With this journey I hope the skills I’m learning will impact my silk artwork by incorporating the calligraphy and Tezhip style in a better and more precise way. I want to remove any flaws and perfect my designs further to keep the artwork as authentic as possible. I thoroughly enjoy working on my silk pieces and have always looked for ways to develop them.

You have developed a contemporary twist on this traditional Islamic art, how did you develop a distinct style?

With my Art & Design background and my close ties with Textiles it all came quite naturally. After being a full-time artist for some time, I wanted to incorporate something a little unique. I started to experiment with ways to create intricate detailed patterns on silk without the colours and paints bleeding. Along with my Textiles comes a little chemistry! It took me a few attempts, but I got there in the end.

You have worked on numerous collaborations and many commissions. What is the most memorable moment of your career so far?

I’ve worked with a few celebrities and different brands over the years and individually they were all great to work with! I love all my projects. I think Amour De Soi has to be my favourite though! There are a number of reasons why, seeing my designs go from paper to pure luscious silk was an incredible experience. I’ve seen it before but I’ve had one or two brands who wouldn’t credit me as an artist, which is absolutely fine as I still get paid. But this was something I could openly talk about. The brand recognized my skills and my worth and wanted to credit me for all the hard work, my efforts to putting the designs together and then digitally creating each scarf. They gave me an idea of colours and left all the rest to me.

Another one of my favourites is the piece I did for The Cambridge Mosque project. This one was more about how rewarding it felt, especially after recently being invited to visit the stunning mosque in person and seeing what my artwork contributed towards! In 2016 I was approached by the organizers to create a piece of artwork to help raise funds to build this spectacular building. So after 6 years of waiting it was a huge honour to go and visit this beautiful masterpiece. What makes it more special is that both my Calligraphy and Tezhip Masters also contributed towards this amazing project.

Where do you find creative inspiration?

I find my creative inspirations through my travels, Asian heritage, everyday life and especially my children. My children are also very creative and musical! They both play the

harp and piano, so whenever they’re doing music practise the house lights up with all the beautiful sounds. Watching them is my biggest inspiration!

Which of your works is your favourite and why?

Oh that’s a hard one! I think... probably ‘Cerulean’ it was my first ever silk piece. I analysed the geometry that’s on it while I was at university without any help whatsoever. I had no one to help me but I’d picked one of the most difficult patterns. It was a pattern from the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. Actually, years later when I started doing courses with Art of Islamic Pattern, one of the tutors said it was the first pattern he was drawn to as well. Again, I was unsure if I had created it correctly, I had, but it was great to finally have confirmation. I got to create this pattern again with Art of Islamic Pattern on their Granada study trip.

Having said that... I love all my silk pieces but maybe more so... ‘Sunshine’ because I love how the batik turned out, along with the kufic calligraphy illuminations on it and the bright colours. ‘Midnight in Persia’ is very striking, very much a favourite and my finally me recent ‘Persian Silk Collection’.

Do you think the preservation of cultural heritage and traditional artistic skills are important?

Yes, absolutely! All these sacred traditions have been around for 100s of years, it would be sad to lose them. In fact, when I visited Fes, Morocco about 6 or 7 years ago, I came across

an old man who was working away cutting mosaic tiles. It was quite strenuous work, I asked him why he was still working at this age? He looked at me and said he didn’t want to lose this skill as who would keep it going? He went on to say that some of the new generation want to go down different paths. But without this skill they would lose the beauty of the country. Losing this skill means losing their heritage and roots.

However, looking at how much all these traditional methods are being used nowadays, I think there isn’t as much a worry any more.

What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like and how do you think we can continue to keep artistic traditions alive?

I think due to Covid Islamic Art helped many people get through the pandemic and actually I know many people who have continued to keep practising these skills. So I think Islamic Art is going to continue to grow. The beauty about Islamic Art is you don’t have to be Muslim or particularly religious to create it - it’s open to everyone of all cultures and religions. Geometry and tezhip are all about the beautiful patterns they produce. I think more and more people are learning these beautiful skills. When we create a piece of artwork, the eye is automatically drawn to the beautiful shapes and patterns which I think will continue to keep these sacred artistic traditions alive.

For more information follow Raanaz Shahid on social media: Instagram: @raanazshahid Facebook: Raanaz Shahid Twitter: @raanazshahid and check out

The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.


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