Samra Bashir is a Pakistani artist based in Chicago, Illinois. Her work, which is influenced by traditional Islamic patterns and designs in general, pays tribute to her roots and celebrates her Islamic heritage and Pakistani culture.
Samra is a recent honors graduate in fine arts (painting) from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. She chose glass as her creative medium, and her exquisite glass paintings depict stunning Islamic art while shining a spotlight on Pakistan's rich and diverse culture. Her artwork incorporates Islamic geometric patterns, biomorphic patterns, Arabic calligraphy, and abstract designs. Additionally, she also teaches glass painting workshops as a way of giving back to the community.
We talk to Samra about using glass as a creative medium, spirituality and finding inspiration in Islamic pattern.
What made you interested in Islamic geometric patterns?
Born in Kuwait and raised in Pakistan, I was continuously surrounded by these patterns in the form of art, architecture, fabric, and carpets. Aside from that, I have a strong interest in mathematics and geometry, and I have always enjoyed drawing geometric patterns. Also, it was the spiritual and peaceful qualities of Islamic geometric designs that helped me to temporarily escape and with the help of books, I liked getting lost in the process of constructing these designs. However, I would say that I truly comprehended the meanings of these when I attended online classes through the Princes School of Traditional Arts and others and explored and discovered their significance.
Incidentally, I began incorporating them into my glass paintings a few years ago when I did a group exhibition for a township event. They were celebrating American Muslims, so I painted a series of geometric and biomorphic patterns from various Islamic countries. I was also invited by various public libraries to teach children and adults classes on glass painting that included presentations on these patterns. Sharing and representing my own heritage and culture with others was such a rewarding and enriching experience that I continued to do so. Since then, I've been doing workshops in which I teach participants not only how to paint these patterns, but also their origins, significance, and what they symbolize.
Your patterns are constructed using traditional tools and methods. Can you tell us more about your process?
I've learned to construct these patterns through books and online classes and tutorials and i continue to do so. Once they are constructed, I transfer them without construction lines onto my sketchbook. I then edit these drawings to fit my compositions, sometimes using photoshop or illustrator. The designs are then transferred on glass for painting.
Why did you choose glass as a creative medium?
I chose glass as my creative medium for a few reasons. The first is its reflective quality; the transparency of the paint and the reflected surface of the glass help in communicating my message. The glass's reflective surface allows light to bounce off painted areas and pass through unpainted areas, resulting in a range of variants on the same surface and a delightfully unexpected outcome. Light is the non-physical medium of my work. It has the characteristic of having various colors, textures, and depths; as a consequence of the vibrancy and intensity of the light, the viewer is transported to a new place and time. Again, I find the reflectiveness of glass and the translucency of paint to be incredibly spiritual and meditative, particularly when light flows through them or generates reflections. In addition, the magnificence of stained glass from around the world serves as a major inspiration.
How do you come up with your colour compositions?
I absolutely love color and its symbolic significance. Before beginning every project, I consider how I can use color to evoke the desired tone for the project. Colors, like patterns, have significance, therefore I use colors that are representative of the theme of my compositions. Since most of my art has a spiritual and mystical element, you will notice a lot of blues and greens.
What has been the most challenging work you have created to date?
My recent BFA thesis exhibition was the most challenging work of art I've ever attempted. During this time, not only did I learn a great deal about art in general, but also about myself. Almost two years ago, at the onset of the pandemic, I chose to return to school and earn a second bachelor's degree in fine arts. Going back to school in my forties was not easy, but after graduating last month, I now consider it one of the best decisions of my life.
Liminal Dialogue: Navigating transitions in Liminal Spaces was the title of my thesis exhibition, which featured a unified series of paintings that explored and addressed the concept of liminality. "Liminality" refers to a state between two stages that is often ambiguous. It was challenging for me for a few reasons: I was sharing my own narrative, I chose glass painting instead of oil painting, which was my BFA emphasis, and the works in this exhibit featured a wide variety of drawing and painting techniques, including Islamic geometric patterns, biomorphic, and abstract designs, in addition to glass painting techniques.
The exhibit was a huge accomplishment for me, not just because I earned award, but also because sharing and discussing my heritage and culture was incredibly gratifying and taught me a lot.
Which artists inspire you?
There are too many to name, but I would want to highlight a few from whom I have learnt a great deal, not only their artwork and studio practice, but also their dedication, uniqueness, and passion for art.
I've drawn a lot of inspiration from Samira Mian for geometry, Esra Alhamal for biomorphic patterns, and Maaida Noor for calligraphy, and my most favorite Mobeen Ansari, whose incredible photographs have been a direct inspiration for my recent paintings.
What do you hope audiences feel or think when they encounter your work?
I've used my art to connect with my own heritage while also supporting other immigrants to appreciate their own cultures and histories. Through my art, I help people reconnect with their origins and reintroduce them to their cultural heritage. Consequently, I hope that when people view my artwork, they are reminded of their own heritage and feel proud of who they are.
Is there a spiritual element to your work?
Certainly, I believe it was the spiritual element that inspired me to begin painting. My art focuses on celebrating my Islamic heritage and Pakistani culture. My work is greatly influenced by traditional Islamic patterns and designs in general; most of these patterns have a spiritual component, and for me, the process of making them is similar to meditation.
What are your aspirations as an artist?
I intend to continue experimenting with new techniques and to hold glass painting workshops in order to bring more awareness to the incredible Islamic art in North America. I aspire to study more traditional Islamic art skills from qualified teachers and institutions; I aim to make Islamic art more accessible to a wider audience and create opportunities for Islamic art education through mainstream educational institutions.
What does the future of Islamic art look like to you?
It is becoming increasingly popular, and many people now have at least a basic understanding of what Islamic art is. As more individuals become interested in learning about and utilizing Islamic art, I am optimistic about its future. I believe that the next generation should be provided educational opportunities to practice and experience the arts. I believe Islamic art should be offered as an elective in schools and art institutions.
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