the artful muslimah – The Professional Artist – Nadia Janjua

“Artist” is a loaded label, with many possible connotations. Struggling, brooding, and solitary may fit Nadia Janjua at small intervals, though vibrant, multi-faceted, and innovative are better ways to describe her and her work. Maybe hustler is most fitting. Nadia is constantly on the move, hustling to make, sell and often give away her art for charity. A vast archive of her activities and work spans from her own blogs and websites to profiles on several professional artist organisations, a handful of social network pages with thousands of followers, an Etsy shop, a regularly published newsletter, and a Deviant Art account. Browsing her online photos, one can find her architectural works, fine art paintings, and jewellry, as well as her travel shots from all over the world and photos of the artist at work in her studio and on the road.

Nadia’s flurry of activity shows not only in the quantity of her work, but the global reach and size of her contributions are quite impressive as well. Like many artists, Nadia’s interest in art started very young and her parents were able to give her “a lot of independence and space,” in which she ultimately found making art to be her natural calling.

  My art work is my strongest tool for giving charity, for sadaqa jariya (continuous charity), and for spreading beauty and remembrance of Allah; it’s an obligation for me to use it in the best of ways.

“My conviction and dedication to my craft and (the) creative process from an extremely young age didn’t allow my parents to see what I was doing as frivolous.” Though they naturally have concerns about their daughter “choosing a life of financial risk and uncertainty,” Nadia is thankful for their support. “My parents have attended nearly every art exhibit I’ve ever had, and they’ve helped fund my creative pursuits when I’ve needed it, which is tremendous and I’m grateful for it.”

Nadia’s main areas of work are traditional canvas painting, architecture, and personal adornment, such as earrings and key chains; all of which she has somehow or another been able to donate to charity. “My art work is my strongest tool for giving charity, for sadaqa jariya (continuous charity), and for spreading beauty and remembrance of Allah; it’s an obligation for me to use it in the best of ways.”

Nadia has had the opportunity to work with several charitable organisations, including Habitat for Humanity, Architecture for Humanity, Islamic Relief, CARE for Haiti, Children International, CalEarth Pakistan. “Any time there is a natural disaster in any part of the world, I am quick to respond in whatever small way I can

by raising money and researching reliable sources to donate to.” In late 2011 she had planned a trip to Turkey following her completion of the Hajj, and arrived soon after the devastating earthquake. Before leaving the United States, Nadia got into gear: “I started a fundraising campaign to sell my art work and collect a percentage of that to distribute directly to those in need, or buy immediate supplies for earthquake victims.” Once on the ground, she wasn’t able to reach Van to distribute the funds as planned, but she was still able to give the funds directly to homeless individuals in Istanbul, and another reliable relief group operating in Turkey.

Though Nadia plans her annual trips as best she can, forced flexibility is one of the many challenges and lessons she appreciates about travelling. “This sense of adventure and fearlessness is important to me as an artist; art can be so risky, and so controversial – if you don’t have faith in your moves and in yourself, you’ll never get past that blank canvas. The same goes for travelling – if you choose to stay in that resort and not mix with the locals for fear of being in uncharted territory then you really haven’t travelled. And travelling is hard! The physical act of sitting in a plane for hours, of uncomfortably squirming in your bus seat on an overnight trip, of trying to buy a ticket for the train and not knowing a single word of the local language – it’s all very challenging but it’s the triumph of experience over all of the other stuff – that’s what it’s all about. Same with art – my personal philosophy is to never focus on the end product as much as I do the journey. If I’m so distracted by the outcome, my process will never be in harmony. It’s when I can let go of how things will end that I truly come to realise my potential, and the beauty of the process – and in the end, that’s what keeps me very grateful.”

Through the many events Nadia has participated in, opportunities for exciting collaborations and new directions have opened up. In particular, being invited to the IMAN Artist Retreat in April 2011 exposed Nadia to the range of talented Muslim Artists and creative thinkers who currently exist. “The experience was phenomenal – it was intense and mind-opening and heart-breaking and simply a blessing to be surrounded by such talented Muslim artists from all over the world!” Among her long-term plans, Nadia says, “I know that I really want to work with my art in therapy settings and I want to keep working to help build awareness of the validity and necessity for the arts within the Muslim community.” She is also interested in expanding the way she uses her larger scale work – architecture. Nadia, still a ‘young architect’, is most interested in residential work, “and exploring the unique ways in which we live our daily lives,” however architecture is yet another avenue for the artist to recognise her appreciation and give her work and talents for the sake of Allah I. Nadia is also involved in architectural relief efforts: “The post-disaster recovery and rebuilding process is one which I feel architects are not as involved in, and yet we have the capacity to contribute so much to this field.” Art to live in, art to look at, art to wear, art in “everyday life” is Nadia’s goal when creating. “All in all, there’s nothing I consider unreachable or off-limits for myself as a creative individual – if there is joy and honesty in the process of making it, and if it contributes to the greater good of spreading beauty and encouraging consciousness amongst people, then I consider it within the scope of my work.”

Most of Nadia’s work can be viewed on her main website www.njartitecture.com, and you can also find her works on Facebook, Etsy, Deviant, Tumblr, and at various art fairs and showcases, such as an upcoming Community Café event hosted by IMAN; and a solo show at BloomBars, an inspiring non-profits art community space in Washington, D.C.

Brooke Benoit is an American artist who is home-educating her 5.5 children in Casablanca, Morocco. Her current most-used mediums are dirt, seeds, worms, balsa wood, and glitter paint.

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This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of SISTERS Magazine– The magazine for fabulous Muslim women.

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