We were lucky to catch up with Nikhat Qureshi recently and have shared our conversation below.
Nikhat, appreciate you joining us today. Did you always know you wanted to pursue a creative or artistic career? When did you first know?
After my full-time employment ended in 2018, I started working on shifts as an exhibition host. My work shifts were constantly changing. They needed me to work over the weekends, and as a single parent, I couldn’t see myself taking time away from my son to work and not being able to be there for him. I became unemployed in March 2019, and as I was looking into finding something sustainable, I saw a call to apply for affordable housing for artists in Richmond. I feel grateful to be accepted. This opportunity made me explore my creative path professionally, and I registered my art business, Islamic Art of British Columbia.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
Born and raised in Pakistan, I moved to the Canadian city of Montreal, Quebec, to join my husband in 2003. A year and a half later, in 2005, we moved to Dallas, Texas. I studied law (Bachelors in Law and Legislation), though I was born with the artistic talent which intrigued me to teach myself art professionally. My passion for artistic expression pushed me to delegate focused time; even amidst my busy life, I continued to paint my inspirations with a desire to share my work with the community. That is when I combined my creativity with the spirit of working for the community. Islam is about peace and teaches us to greet and treat each other with kindness, warmth, and humility. I felt fascinated by how Islam as a code of life provides us with prayers (duas) for every possible occasion during the Quran learning classes at the local Islamic center. I decided to channel the art towards making Islamic greeting cards and gift baskets for all occasions, connecting them to relevant Quranic verses and Ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad PBUH). I launched my Islamic code of dress-inspired clothing label ModEast in 2006. It turned out to be promising, with an overwhelmingly positive response. My art and art-related activities were continuing in Dallas with exhibiting my work at several local spaces, I also got the opportunity to serve as the volunteer program director for the Islamic Art Revival Series from 2012-2014, whose dual mission is to bring awareness and exposure to Islamic Art and to build cultural bridges between the Islamic world and North America. In 2016, my painting entitled Faith and Hope received The Rosemary Cheney Outstanding College Award by the Richardson Civic Art Society at the 50 annual Juried art exhibitions in the city of Richardson, Texas.
I have an open mind when it comes to creativity. I love experimenting with different mediums and trying new ideas. The element of unpredictability in life keeps us on the edge of curiosity; though I am not a big fan of suspense, I love surprises. I enjoy working with oil, acrylic, ink, wood, canvas, paper, stamping, and all that glitters.
I am moved by one verse in the Holy Quran, from Surah (chapter) Yaseen, (verse 81), which ends by saying that He is the skillful Creator. Each time I can draw and define something on the canvas, I am humbled and admire how we reflect God’s attributes in human form. One of God’s attributes is ‘Al Mussawir’ (the Creator, the Maker, the Giver of Form). As human beings on the earth and as Allah’s vice-gerente, we are born with some of his attributes, and I believe having artistic abilities may also be an extension of it. Painting anything that inspires me and comes from within, I call myself ” Ana Abdul- Mussawir (servant of the
creator/maker/giver of the form).
My work has been part of exhibitions in the USA, Pakistan, and Canada. I believe that the most selfless way to make a difference in the world is to serve as a volunteer and help give back in any form in our capacity. One of our Initiatives of a Ramadan window display at the Children’s Medical Hospital in Dallas continues to put smiles on the faces of each passerby for the entire month of Ramadan every year since 2006. Now we have started the window display in Richmond, BC too. With my artistic expression, I support social justice and raise awareness about causes such as gendercide, domestic violence, literacy, and sexual abuse. A few projects I have been honored to support include Gendercide Awareness Project in Dallas, the Sahara services society in BC, Baal Dan Charity International, The Citizen Foundation, and Seplaa Hub in Pakistan.
What do you find most rewarding about being a creative?
The ability to express without words and create profoundly soulful connections
Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?
I am a law graduate from Pakistan with a post-graduation certificate in dispute resolution and Conflict Management at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. My passion for volunteer services invoked me to join Dallas Casa as a volunteer advocate for neglected children in foster care.
I decided to pursue my career working for foster care children in Canada, but my life had other plans.
After living in Dallas for ten years, my husband’s work moved us back to Canada.
I also started exploring employment opportunities there.
After the first five months of our move to Vancouver, my husband has suddenly diagnosed with stage four renal carcinoma.
He had just traveled to Alberta for work and ended to be in the hospital for emergency treatment.
We dropped everything within 24 hours and moved to Edmonton to be with him.
After five months of battling cancer, he passed away in March 2017.
My then 8-year-old son and I traveled back to Dallas to be with our family.
I had no work and had no idea what life ahead had in store for us.
As I was working on consolidating everything after his passing, I learned that ShariaPortfolio, an Islamic Financing company that had some business in the US, was looking to expand in Canada and open its office in Vancouver.
I applied for the admin position.
Thankful to my family that I could travel for an in-person interview and training in their office in Orlando. I got hired for the job.
It was Allah’s way of protecting and watching over us. He sent people like angels who helped us navigate through those critical times.
In August 2017, I traveled back to Edmonton, signed my lease online, scheduled the movers, and drove for three days for 1400km from Alberta to BC through the Canadian Rockies with my son and our cat, Toffee.
It was a giant leap of faith as I had no idea what the City of Richmond looked like and what kind of place we would be living in.
Prophet Musa’s (Moses) prayer during the desperate times of his life to God, “Oh my Lord, I am in absolute need of any good you send my way.” was my prayer day and night, and I called to God for help and guidance.
I asked God, I put myself, my son, and all our affairs in His hands to take care of, and HE the Almighty did.
My son started school.
I began working from home, which allowed me to allocate some time to my art again.
It helped me navigate through life’s darkest moments.
Self-pity and falling into the depression are easy, but I decided to say no to feeling sorry for myself and allow anyone else to do the same.
Along with the counseling, art therapy, grief and loss writing workshops, my son and I started traveling around locally in BC.
We wrote and made videos of our travels just for ourselves.
We discovered a new spirit for life and positivity.
I got a chance to join a digital storytelling class offered by Voices Of Muslim Women, a local nonprofit organization in Vancouver.
Meeting with other women, learning about their vulnerability, and stories of resilience breathed new life in me.
I was able to create a little video clip of our life journey, which helped me process my struggles with even more positivity.
Here is a link to that video: https://youtu.be/Goqdxc5RL8w –
I also started an online support group for young Muslim widows.
To lend some Comfort & Connection with Grace in the everyday life struggle. However, with my experience, I feel people have a lot of reservations in talking about challenges.
I hope people can be more involved and open to sharing their stories and struggles so we can mutually uplift spirits even more.