On a Saturday afternoon, I interviewed remotely an artist named Madiha Siraj, well known for her large-scale installations and sculptural work in polymer clay.
Madiha Siraj is an American Muslim artist from Southern California. Her journey began when she was very young. Being always interested in art, Madiha always asks herself: “If I weren’t an artist, what would I be doing? And the answer always comes down to she can’t really imagine doing anything else. When she was younger, she continued to explore her path as an artist and eventually focused on non-traditional mediums and the abstract presentation of artwork.
At the University of California, San Diego, Madiha studied with Kim MacConnel, a prominent artist in the pattern and decoration movement who used non-traditional materials and bold colors in contrast to the minimalists of the time. The tactile and artisanal quality of her work has greatly influenced Siraj’s practice. His “Oyster EB-12” installation is Siraj’s attempt to create patterns with inexpensive everyday materials like paint swatches. The artist reverses the banality of these objects by creating an environment that alters space, allowing the viewer to enter a pixelated reality. “Oyster EB-12” was exhibited at the Craft Forward Symposium in San Francisco in 2011, and her work has been featured in publications such as Design Milk and Hi-Fructose Magazine.
Madiha also started using polymer clay when she was an undergraduate, but it wasn’t until after graduate school that she started to devote herself to this medium. This widely available craft material is used in all college art classes, but is rare in the works of most professional artists. According to Madiha, many people in the ceramic community have more prejudice towards polymer clay. One of the reasons she loves polymer clay is that it is a mass-produced commercial material. “I often think, why not? Why do we have to equate fine art with expensive studio decor and materials? »
Madiha Siraj’s polymer clay works have a wide range of sizes, from a one-handed size, up to 35 inches. They are all sculptural relief paintings made of countless small pieces of colored clay. She handcrafts every little piece of clay in her works, some pieces are made using molds, but most of them are hand sculpted. “A lot of people don’t like tedious work, but I like it a lot.” She said with a smile. Some of her works are also dazzled with pearls, sequins and microbeads. They reflect his love of bright colors and tactile patterns, but are presented as a playful experience, leaving audiences more room for interpretation. “I was inspired by the idea of aniconism, which means the rejection of any image using figuration or animals in my work.” She explains, “When you take all the characters, comics, or animal genre out of your work, you realize how difficult it is to create something that is immediately beautiful, powerful, and interesting to watch.
His abstract works are free of interpretation. Coral reefs, seas of flowers, ocean waves and even colonies of bacteria, they can be anything you think. For Madiha, when creating the Gradients series, she thought of the cosmos. Countless small pieces of clay were laid out, fired and then glued onto a huge 35 inch wooden panel. It’s my personal favorite series.
Some of Madiha’s polymer clay art has a direct reference to her own culture, which in this case, Islamic geometric patterns. “I am a first generation Pakistani American and have been fortunate enough to have visited my native country of Pakistan, the Middle East and Turkey many times.” She told me that from an early age she was inspired by Islamic architecture, calligraphy, rugs and carpets, paintings and tapestries. In Islamic art, shapes are repeated to represent the perfection of the universe and the design of God. By using these models, artists imitate the perfection of God’s universe but end up failing due to human error. This concept inspired Madiha to celebrate the inevitable imperfections that appear in her work.
Being Muslim definitely has a big impact on Madiha’s career as an artist as well as her choice of subject matter. In her ongoing series 99 Names for The One, so far she has over 80 small pieces of polymer clay art, she still has a few more to do to reach 99 pieces in total. In Islam there are 99 different names for one God, in this way Madiha uses the same pattern and interprets the same pattern in 99 different ways. However, she said, “I don’t consider my art to be very religious, as I feel it can be difficult for people who have no knowledge of Islam to approach work that might to be outside of their knowledge base, it’s just a guiding principle that I follow in my own practice” I think that’s the charm of art, it’s a way that artists manage in the world.
I think it’s very fascinating that there is so much detail in Madiha’s pieces. Looking closely, the overwhelming detail seems like it could engulf the viewer. However, when you step back and look at it from afar, it all comes together. It’s like maximalism and minimalism, chaos and harmony in the same place. For her, she thinks the details are the most important part of her job. She said, “I feel like the more detail there is, the more I can get into it. Each little piece of clay is like a little cosmos to me. I would like to think that every piece is necessary and every thing is taken into account in my work. When someone sees my work or buys one of my pieces, the details are my love letter to them.
You can see all of Madiha Siraj’s work online at www.madihasiraj.com or see photos in progress at @madihasirajart on Instagram. She is always interested in taking orders and working with people.
For young artists, Madiha Siraj offers them to go to their studio every day, even if they do something other than create works there. “It’s a habit that is formed,” she said, “in order to have a lasting career as an artist.” Another suggestion from her is to engage with a community of artists: “I knew from an early age that I wanted to be an artist. But it wasn’t until I went to college that I began to realize that the art world was bigger than anyone’s contribution and that we each had a fleeting role to contribute to. a collective body of artwork that would exist forever.
“I hate to say it because it’s so cliché, but finding your tribe is very important. Finding other artists you look up to who are positive and generous with their time can really help you grow. There are a few artists who exist in a vacuum, but most of us need this community to help us grow.
Cassie Liu lives in Union County.