Salwa Najm is a contemporary realist and calligraphy painter who lives and works in Windsor, Canada. With a strong admiration of Islamic history and architecture, her detailed and colorful paintings pay homage to the most magnificent mosques built throughout the centuries. Her distinctive personal style emanates joy and peace, yet also expresses the vibrant spirit of the diverse Islamic culture.
We talk to Salwa about her painting techniques, the inspiration she finds through architecture and reflecting the joy and spirit of the rich heritage of Islamic culture in her work.
You are a contemporary realist and calligraphy painter, what was your journey to becoming an artist and have you undertaken any formal art training?
I am a self-taught artist and do not have any particular formal training. Like most artists, I began my journey with art at a young age with doodles and scribbles on notes and during art class. I was encouraged, and even, enrolled to attend an art program during highschool, but chose not to attend. Although I painted on and off through my adult years, I did not begin taking painting seriously until 2017/2018 and joined Instagram to showcase my work.
You have a strong admiration of Islamic history and architecture, and renowned mosques are often the subject of your paintings, why architecture in particular?
Growing up in a historical area in my city in Canada, I roamed the neighbourhood with admiration of homes built in the early 1900s. As I became more aware of my faith as an adult, I began to read about Islamic history, architecture and art around the world.
My first trip to Syria in 2007 was my very first encounter with Islamic architecture and design. Visiting holy sites such as The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and the Great Mosque in Aleppo were incredible eye opening experiences. Since then, I’ve only increased my love for Islamic architecture and design.
Your work is incredibly detailed, what is your creative process and how long does it take you to create a painting?
My creative process first begins with inspiration. What inspires me to begin a painting usually comes from researching a region or an Islamic historical era. I then select what I want to paint based on its historical significance, intricacies and aesthetics.
After careful sketching out the object of the painting, I begin to paint first with colour blocks, then move onto refine the shapes. Lastly, I detail the painting with the shadow and highlights.
The entire process can take days, weeks or months- all depending on how long I am able to work. Some days, I can paint for hours in one sitting. Other days, I can only paint for 30 mins.
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?
That’s simple! I match my colour palette to the photo I am replicating. In that way, the painting best represents the subject.
Your work expresses the joy and spirit of the rich heritage of Islamic art and culture. What has the response of audiences been?
So far, it has been overwhelming. I receive messages of encouragement everyday from followers from all around the world. With all the interest in my work, I was able to successfully launch my website this summer.
You have painted magnificent mosques including Badshahi mosque, Wazir Khan Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. What do these mosques mean to you in particular?
Each mosque that I choose represents a significant achievement in Islamic architecture. The Wazir Khan Mosque and the Badshahi Mosque both display marvelous intricacies unique to the Mughal Empires.
Other than the fact The Dome of the Rock is one of the most impressive works of architecture in Islamic history, it encompasses generations of Islamic history, constructed originally by the Umayyads between 685-705. It was then further constructed by Abbasids and Fatimids, then by Ayyubids and Mamluks and Ottomans.
Can you share your favourite work of art you have created so far with us and why?
My favourite work of art so far has to be the Wazir Khan Mosque Minaret painting. It was the first piece where I was confident in the results.
What has been the most challenging work you have created and how did you overcome obstacles?
The Wazir Khan Doorway proved to be a challenge due to its massive size (4ft x 3ft). The only way I could overcome the overwhelming size was to work on it section by section in very short, but productive increments.
What are your creative plans and hopes? Projects in the pipeline?
Projects I am currently working on include a commission for the famous Cambridge Central Mosque exploring the architecture of Uzbekistan, several commissions for a private investor looking to display the intricacies of The Dome of the Rock, and other commissions from clients all around the world.
I am also working at making my artwork more accessible to more people by introducing prints and lifestyle products to my website www.salwanajmart.com
Can you tell us more about your social media campaign Muslim Artists Unite?
Sure! Muslim Artists Unite (#Musimartirtsunite) began as a hashtag I started on Instagram. I created it because I wanted to connect with fellow Muslim artists like myself.
It contains work from very talented, supportive and unique Muslim artists from around the world. Although the Islamic art niche is small, it has currently gained more popularity in the last two years and continues to grow as a community.
In the spirit of unity, I hope to feature one post from the #MuslimArtistsUnite hashtag here on my website every month.
What does the future of Islamic arts and culture look like to you? What are the opportunities and potential?
I see traditional Islamic art practices at the forefront in the future. I feel the community values the importance of sustaining arts such as geometric construction, tezhip and calligraphy. I also see the increase in fusing traditional Islamic art elements with new techniques and trends, especially in calligraphy and digital arts.
Technological advances and connecting the world through the internet have played an important role in what opportunities are available for Islamic art innovation. Applying something traditional such as calligraphy, and using it structurally, ie. ‘Declaration’ by eL Seed in Downtown Dubai is a prime example of the art fusion between traditional and new art.
Presently, I feel Arabic calligraphy and Islamic geometry have been embraced. However, I still feel that there is room to incorporate a strong appreciation of the architecture in our lands, including the skill to build and restore historical and religious buildings.
For more information about Salwa Najm check out salwanajmart.com
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