Featured Passionista #5
Zahida Jaffer holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and a Bachelor of Education from the University of British Columbia. In an effort to hone her artistic skills, Zahida has pursued a number of art courses at UBC and Emily Carr. Zahida’s curiosity of the world and love for working with people has led to her current work with Go Global’s International Service Learning team. Her passion? Art.
T: In four words, describe what art is to you
Z: Art is my fuel
T: How did you discover that art is your passion?
Z: It’s hard to say because I’ve been drawing and painting since I can remember. I was definitely inspired by an uncle of mine who is an artist. He used to do these beautiful landscapes from back in Kampala – amazing paintings portraying Uganda. That really inspired me at a young age and it also fuelled my curiosity of the world. I wanted to aspire to that. My mom also took a lot of art courses when she was young. Through seeing the role art played in their lives, it slowly evolved into doing art for myself because I realized I enjoyed it as well. So, I think I’ve been the one with all the crayons, moving up to paints since before I could write and before I could read. It has always just been about creating things.
T: What is it about art that inspires you?
Z: I’d say art inspires me because it’s a way of expressing yourself that you can’t do with words. You can do so with images, with colour, with texture, with brush strokes; whatever medium you choose to use, there are so many ways of expressing how you feel about a particular subject or moment that you can’t do with words. It inspires me because even though I do talk a lot, I’m fairly introverted and so I sometimes find expression with words a challenge. Art is something I can do privately and express myself fully but then show it to others later. In this way, it’s a more accurate representation of what I’m feeling or how I’m thinking about a particular thing.
T: With your artwork, is there a particular focus?
Z: There are a lot of artists out there who really focus on one theme and go with it and I’ve never been somebody who could do that. I don’t want to feel trapped by a particular subject or by a particular media and so I kind of dabble everywhere. I think this is because art, for me, is a form of expression rather than something I just create for the sake of production so whatever is inspiring me at that moment, I’m going to go with it. I have artwork that ranges from a representation of places and people that I’ve encountered from travels around the world, to people I know personally here in Canada, to pictures about sports, to landscape and wildlife, to complete abstract images that have nothing to do with anything except emotion. So there’s no particular theme, it’s just kind of what am I feeling at that moment when I feel inspired to create something.
T: Would you say you experiment with a lot of mediums as well?
Z: Yeah, there are definitely my favourites – I really love acrylic paint and then I really enjoy doing pen and ink drawings but I definitely do experiment. I’ve taken courses from time to time on learning new methods and media and experimenting with those but you always end up of falling back on the things that have worked in the past because you can perfect a skill. Right now, I’m really working a lot with acrylics.
T: If there was one thing you try to capture in your artwork regardless of the medium or the theme, what would it be? And for someone who is receiving your artwork, what do you want them to take away?
Z: For me, regardless of what I want to express, I try my best to make it pleasing to the eye as well. I feel if you do that, somebody will look at it twice and then they may ask a question about it. So it isn’t strictly always about me and expression; I want someone to look at my art and say, “Wow I like that, now why did she create that”? I always want to take it to the next level…I’ll stare at something for ages before I say it’s done. I have to be 100% satisfied with it and I really want people to ask questions and understand why I created what I did. I’ve tried to capture some of that by blogging about what I’m working on as I’m doing it so people have the ability to go back and read about the project. I want my art to be beyond just looking at something.
T: How would you say your artwork has defined who you are?
Z: I think whenever I’m creating art or I’m sharing my art, I feel more alive. When I am wrapped up in reality, working hard and unable to make time for art, I feel as though there is a piece missing. I feel I can exist in the most meaningful way when I can express myself in my art. I feel like I’m more grounded in what I’m doing and I have a better understanding of where I am at when I can process things through art. For me, it’s about gaining perspective, grounding myself, and reflecting on experiences through my art.
T: What has been one of the most meaningful projects you have done so far?
Z: The most meaningful art project I ever got involved in was when I was in Namibia about 6 years ago. I was there only for a short time and it was something that inspired me to work with Go Global and learn more about what it means to do International Service Learning. But while I was there, I realized I was powerless to actually make a difference in the short time I had and I really wanted to do something lasting. So I worked with some of the community members I was with –they were running a children’s shelter, but the kids weren’t playing in the backyard because it wasn’t really a nice place to hangout. So I designed a mural to go around the area, while I had some friends who did the landscaping, and then I turned it into a paint by numbers so that anybody could fill in the lines. By the time I left, the whole thing was painted and it just looked incredible! That was probably the most meaningful. It was hard because it was outside what I was expected to do so I was waking up at the crack of dawn everyday to get out there with my charcoal and draw on the fence. Luckily rain was not a problem so yeah, I was able to make it happen!
Locally, I’ve been trying to get more involved in my community on the North Shore. I just recently moved to North Vancouver and became a member of the North Vancouver Arts Council and had my first exhibition during the Olympics. It was all themed around winter sports. That was really meaningful for me. I originally didn’t think I was going to be around in Vancouver during the exhibition but I ended up being here. Being a part of the opening exhibition and hearing that hundreds and hundreds of people went through and saw the expressions of art was so incredible and exciting. One of my pieces was about the women previously winning gold…and we did again so that was really awesome! I’m just trying to stay involved locally and have something to look forward to with my art on a regular basis.
T: What is the coolest thing you have ever done? And it doesn’t have to be related to art…absolutely anything that takes the cake with regards to cool!
Z: I think it was…again, I’m going to go to an overseas travel experience! I was invited to attend a conference in Columbia back in 2005. The conference ended up being cancelled but I had a non-refundable plane ticket. I went despite all the warnings that it was a scary dangerous place. I mean come on, people live there and I’m not an idiot! How bad could it be? It was the most incredible experience – I followed my heart and gut instinct and connected with some really cool people and initiatives and then I learned Spanish!
Z: Yes! There’s this really awesome organization in Columbia called Fundacion Rayuela and they do a number of things, one of which is the theatre initiative. Basically, it’s this idea that theatre is everywhere and not necessarily in a theatre itself and they use this approach to help youth speak out about their rights and violations. If youth speak out they can sometimes put themselves in danger in Columbia but this was a way for them to collectively make a statement that wasn’t actually conveyed in words or pinned to one person. So people couldn’t do anything but stop, watch, and listen. Once, there were hundreds of youth, dressed in all black, with white masks just walking around on the street. The idea behind this was just to say that sometimes people try to ignore youth because they are young, but when they make themselves anonymous, they cannot be ignored. It was a really collective and empowering movement.
T: What is the one-thing that will always, and I mean 100%, without a doubt, guaranteed, make you smile?
Z: If my niece phones me 🙂 She’s two and a half years old and she has the sweetest voice and talks about the silliest things. And when she calls me it puts the biggest smile on my face regardless of what she’s saying!
T: That’s so cute! Gosh, I just love kids! Ok, just before I let you go, is there anything you’d like to mention that we didn’t quite cover in this interview?
Z: Sometimes we get wrapped up in reality and sometimes we ignore the important things that help us exist in this world in a meaningful way. My career work brings a lot of purpose and meaning, but there’s more to life.
There’s what makes you happy and grounds you and you have to find that one thing in life that you are passionate about, that gives meaning, and you have to run with it no matter how little time you think you have. When I’m creating art, I’m a happier person, and everything else just falls into place!
I couldn’t have said it better – everything else really does fall into place when passion is part of the equation.
In Peace and Passion,