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Alchemy Arts

Colours of COVID: Shabana’s Story

Colour of COVID is a place for people from all backgrounds to express themselves through creative expression in light of the pandemic and recent events.

That can be done in a variety of ways, including painting, music, writing and photography. Recently, we caught up with past contributors, Dr Amir Burney and Khayra Meghraoua, to learn more about their passion for the arts.

Today, we will be talking to Shabana Baig, who works at Greater Manchester Rape Crisis and has added to the project with some wonderful textile art.

How has art impacted your life?

I feel like it has always been there. At primary school I won an art competition and was always encouraged by teachers, I went on to do a degree in textiles in Liverpool. I worked as a designer for a couple of years after graduating then changed career. However, I kept my hand in and have dabbled over the years, making pieces for friends, card designing and incorporating [art] into projects at work. I bring creativity into every setting, because I believe it helps with everything else I do and is a form of relaxation.

I work for Greater Manchester Rape Crisis where I have also brought creative projects into group work. I’m always keen to develop ideas around creativity to support the clients in grounding. It’s well proven how much it can support mental health for everyone.

I love photography too, especially nature, capturing moments in different lights. I’ve walked a lot over lockdown and have been mesmerised by the colour in nature and the changing seasons – it feels like I’ve just discovered it all over again. It has really helped me in lockdown, the process in itself is so soothing and satisfying.

Why do you call yourself a ‘Scruffy Sewer’?

I call myself a scruffy sewer because compared to other pieces I see, some people’s work is so elegant and delicate, hence I think mine is scruffy. However, I think its important to say that it really doesn’t matter as I’ve learned through this work from my sewing teacher Taslima that every hand tells a story. I think its because I’ve got a heavy hand and I pull on the fabric that gives it that look. Sometimes its neat, other times it’s not.  I guess what is interesting is what’s going on at the time for me. Sometimes I’m in a rush, sometimes I’m angry, sometimes I’m trying to think things through and the sewing really reflects it. The sewing itself helps to slow me down and create a sense of calm. I think we often get caught up in the aesthetic, whereas actually it’s more about the process and the enjoyment and relaxation it brings.

I have been attending Zoom sewing classes over lockdown with CDM UK (Creative Design and manufacture). Through these classes I’ve done a lot of sewing and developed some ideas of how I can use it in design and creativity. Its worth checking our their sewing classes which have been so accessible over lockdown.

How has the pandemic affected your mental health – has sewing helped you?

I’m generally healthy and resourceful and have a really good self-care routine, but like most others the overload of screen working and phones has an ongoing impact. I’ve made a conscious effort to have chunks of time away from the screen.

The sewing, taking walks in nature and photography have really helped. Often I will listen to a podcast or something interesting while walking or sewing. Perfect combination!

Has your creativity developed through lockdown?

Yes, I now don’t get rid of old clothes, because I’ve learned to use them in my artwork. The piece I’m working on is just using old scraps of clothing. It has really made me think about waste and what we can use to create new things instead of discarding as I may have done in the past. Through the CDM UK project we are currently working on designing peacocks [pictured below]. I’ve really enjoyed designing and developing it and had a few laughs with it as it does look like its been in a fight due to my scruffy sewing! I’ve made a bag for my niece and thinking about creating bookmarks and a wall hanging. I collected leaves in the autumn and created lots of artwork with them – the colours were glorious. The possibilities are endless.

Nature – is that where your inspiration comes from?

Partly, yes. I love the colour blue, I’m mesmerised by it. It’s proven that when you look at nature there’s a shift in your brain. I love all the natural colours, the golden trees, the layers of colours, the vibrancy of colour in autumn, the different shades against each other. I’m often astonished when I look out of the window in the mornings or as the sun is setting, witnessing a painting being created before my eyes. I love looking through doorways and windows, through the side of a tree and seeing what’s beyond, sometimes struck by that glimpse of light or beautiful colour that only nature can produce. I love the funny and the unusual and try to capture this in my photos too.

As a Pakistani I am also inspired by our culture, design, clothes which I’ve grown up with. I’m inspired by my rings with beautiful stones and colourful scarves. I love Islamic art – its symmetry creates a sense of calm. I love pristine white scarves [which] I wear for praying and prayer mats. I’ve travelled a lot and have been especially inspired by Morocco – its colours, warmth and vibrancy.  I’m currently watching a Turkish drama serial ‘Uyanis’ about the history of the Seljuk state based in Iran in the 11th Century. The palaces, the fabrics, the colours – wow.

Is there a personal meaning behind your artwork?

As a Muslim I pray five times a day so one of the pieces I’m working on reflects this. Its a reminder to pray on time. As well as using my old clothes I may use bits of fabric given to me by other family members. I have some from my mum and sister, so when I create something with those pieces they will be really meaningful as they are no longer with us.

How would you encourage people to get creative to deal with their mental health?

Just give it a go. You can be as scruffy as you like, whether it’s sewing or painting. It’s not really about the aesthetic. See what happens when you get lost in something that isn’t a mobile phone or a screen, using your hands and just letting go. What have you got to lose? You can find a class to do on Zoom. Pick one, start, and see where it takes you.


Show us your creative response to COVID-19, either by emailing ColoursOfCovid@alchemyarts.uk or tagging us in your work on Twitter and Instagram.

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