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Artist Interviews: Azraa Motala

Azraa Motala

We discuss creative processes and discover the diverse references that Azraa Motala uses to produce autobiographical pieces as an exploration of her own identity and place in the world, empowering and uplifting women of colour through her work.

Q: Can you tell us about your Artistic background/education?

I’ve always loved art, as a child I’d spend countless hours drawing and painting. At school I was always left to my own devices when it came to my creative work, I remember staying behind during my lunch breaks to finish whatever I was working on that day - I was very dedicated. My parents are both quite creative too, when I was younger I hardly used a conventional colouring book instead, my dad would draw out landscapes, cars and cartoon characters for me to colour in. I’d also find envelopes dotted around the house covered in intricate henna patterns my mum had unconsciously doodled on whilst jotting down shopping lists or phone numbers- which she would then translate into delicate patterns using mehndi across my palms. In 2017 I graduated from the University of Central Lancashire with a first class BA honours degree in Fine Art. I later completed the MA Fine Art program at the Chelsea College of Arts where I received the Hoyland scholarship. I have been working as a freelance artist since then.

Q. Do you work in a studio or from home?

I’m currently working from our spare bedroom, it’s not huge but it’s got everything I need at the moment: an easel, paints, brushes and lots of books.

Q. Who are your Art Influencers? inspirations?

My work is very much autobiographical – an exploration of my own identity and place in the world. Untangling culturally inherited expectations, and the overlapping aspects of my identity; providing an intimate narrative on the many cultural blankets making up the social stratum. Utilising both photography and painting to self represent in a society where the bodies of South Asian and Muslim women are often considered pawns in political discourse. Essentially empowering and uplifting women of colour through work which touches upon the mutual struggles of many second and third generation immigrants. My inspirations are quite diverse ranging from 17th- 19th century French and Italian painters for the way they would manipulate paint and for their ability to tell stories through painting such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Delacroix, Ingres and Jean Leon Gerome - some of whom painted a lot of orientalist imagery, a narrative that I try to dismantle through my own work. I also appreciate the work of a lot of contemporary artists such as Titus Kaphar, The Singh Twins, Sarah Maple and Frida Kahlo.

'I beg you to define me'

Q. What helps get you in "the zone’ to create your work, music? out in nature? quiet?

I tend to listen to a lot of podcasts on art and history, there’s a podcast on BBC Sounds called ‘you’re dead to me’ which is a combination of history and comedy which has been a pretty good listen, as well as the Amaliah Podcast and Ted Talks of course. I listen to music whilst I paint too which helps me to keep focused especially during prolonged painting sessions, this can range from the likes of Dave, Khalid, The Weeknd, J. Cole, 2Pac and a lot of Bollywood playlists too.

Q. Do you keep a sketchbook? How often do you use it and do you travel with it?

I’ve bought some really pretty leather-bound sketchbooks that I would love to use but I haven’t been able to bring myself to write or draw in them yet. I usually have a lined notebook on hand and also use the notes app on my phone a fair bit which is full of random ideas that I add to whenever inspiration strikes.

Q. Where does a piece of work begin for you? Can you describe your process?

I find the process of creating to be very innate, my paintings usually develop from a thought or idea which I build on by researching about British and Indian history, paintings and stories. This then feeds into the photographs I compose which in turn creates the starting point for my paintings.

Q. What technique do you prefer to use?

I remember in sixth form I really loved using watercolours until one lesson my art tutor encouraged me to use oil paints (I really didn’t want to at first) however, as soon as I started working with the medium I fell in love with it and have been using it in some way ever since.

Q. What are your most important artist’s tools?

Brushes, oil paints, laptop and coffee machine!

Q What are your favourite materials?

Michael Harding and Old Holland oil paints – they’re incredibly smooth and very lightfast. As well as good quality Belgian linen and filbert brushes.

Q. What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on an exciting new project as part of the British Textile Biennial program which will be exhibited in October 2021, supported by the Harris Museum and Art gallery and The National Lottery Fund. I will be creating a number of new works centred around the stories and multi-layered identities of Lancashire based British South Asian women. The series will challenge the ongoing narrative of “otherness” and provide a platform for an overlooked community of young British South Asian women from Lancashire – too often invisible and unheard – to express how they want to be represented.

Q. Where can we see more of your work online or in person? 

My work will be exhibited across Lancashire as part of the wider British Textile Biennialprogram which will take place throughout Blackburn & Darwen during October 2021. You can also find my work online via my website and Instagram.

Instagram: @azraamotala

Catherine Peters
Catherine Peters

1 Response

D V Wheeler
D V Wheeler

May 11, 2021

A very inspiring interview with a great photo of the artists work in a different context printed on fabric!

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