The Soul of an Artist: In Conversation with Zainab Dahiru

The Soul of an Artist: In Conversation with Zainab Dahiru

Cover art by Zainab Dahiru

“My husband and my family know the amount of work I put into the pieces I create despite my busy schedule, I pour my heart into what I am creating, so it saddens me to see someone posting without giving me credit, or worse commercialising my work.”

– Zainab Dahiru

In the age of social media, it has become easier than ever to access the work of artists and view them on a public gallery as open as Instagram. Muslim women are at the forefront of showcasing their artistic sides, creating magic from elements we couldn’t have explored artistically. These women, however, cannot create from the soul of who they are unless they cultivate love and faith in something larger and more powerful than their own imperfect selves. Looking into the workings of the mind and soul of artists has therefore piqued our interest as we try to explore the intersection of art, identity and religion. We came across the breathtaking work of Zainab Dahiru, a Nigerian-based artist and Illustrator, and chatted with her about her practice, inspirations, motivations and what is coming next for her. Here’s everything she had to say:

TMWT: What would you say inspired your interest in art and how did this evolve over the years?

Zainab Dahiru: I can’t really point at one thing in particular that inspired my interest in art, because I have been good at art for as far back as my childhood. I used to draw and compile my art into stories, I was also involved with a lot of crafting (then, I used to make envelopes and sell to my dad). In fact, when I was in primary four, I was chosen to participate in an art competition in Lagos for which I emerged as third-runner-up. But this didn’t really stretch out into the years as I didn’t actively follow up on my art skills through secondary school. I have also been told that I have got a good eye for details. What reincarnated the artist in me recently, was a sense of overwhelming clutter I felt during the pandemic, and it was during that period that I realized that I could express myself through art. I also realized that I loved creating and designing beautiful pieces.

Art by Zainab Dahiru – A Yoruba Woman From the South Western Part of Nigeria.

TMWT: How easy was it for you to choose this career path? Did you have a mentor to guide you? 

Zainab Dahiru: Haha! This makes me giggle because a few people I have met through Instagram have thought me to be a full-time artist. I am actually a 5th-year medical student at Ahmad Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria. Digital art is my part time gig and I have never been mentored.

What reincarnated the artist in me recently, was a sense of overwhelming clutter I felt during the pandemic, and it was during that period that I realized that I could express myself through art. I also realized that I loved creating/designing beautiful pieces.

– Zainab Dahiru

TMWT: Would you say that your religion and African Identity has made your work stand out?

Zainab Dahiru: I don’t think my African heritage has played a role in the type of art I produce. I draw inspiration from a lot of things I see in real life and online. But over the past months, I have increasingly become fascinated by some parts of the African culture, so maybe I’ll incorporate that in the near future inshAllah! In terms of religion, I would say yes! Because I used to illustrate women who wear the hijab, but I have recently drifted towards a drastic reduction in drawing animates. I now mostly design lettering pieces, plants, and generally anything that comes to mind.

TMWT: You have mentioned that your art is a representational tool, uniting and empowering women. In what ways do you think your art can inspire Muslim women to build a sense of community?

Zainab Dahiru: Art is a form of communication, allowing people across different cultures to experience different yet similar things just by looking at a piece. As a Muslim woman who loves designing pieces, my art could be used to portray some experiences peculiar to us. That could foster unity among us.

Art by Zainab Dahiru – A Fulani Woman Hawking Fura Da Nunu

TMWT: What has been your most challenging experience as an artist and how did you overcome them?

Zainab Dahiru: Honestly there are some challenges I have faced here and there. Some are common to artists generally while some are peculiar to Muslims. But the most challenging ones are artist-block and copyright issues. My husband and my family know the amount of work I put into the pieces I create despite my busy schedule, I pour my heart into what I am creating, so it saddens me to see someone posting without giving me credit, or worse commercialising my work. Drawing inspiration is allowed but copying another artist is just wrong. I have just learned to accept it until copyright laws are fully developed in Nigeria. There is also a lack of support from people: I have been fortunate enough to be supported by close family and friends and that makes the whole process more enjoyable, but not as much as I would have liked. I was caught up in the religious dilemma of drawing animate objects (Drawing animates is an issue of dispute) and so over the past few months, I have gravitated towards abstract and lettering. I feel at ease staying away from doubts.

TMWT: It may be difficult to pick just one but if you could pick the first one that comes to mind, which achievement in your career or personal endeavours holds the most sentimental value to you and why?

Zainab Dahiru: I think it would have to be a hand lettering and abstract piece I designed for a friend who wanted to gift it to her mother.

TMWT: What will be your advice to any young woman who wishes to follow your path?

Zainab Dahiru: Art enables me to express my creativity and add beauty to the world through beautiful designs, and every time I look at my art, I reconnect with it in a beautiful way. My art is what it is at that moment and what it will be thereafter. There are challenges, and there will always be, especially if you are trying to monetize your work and trying to get yourself out there as an artist. But don’t get deterred by these challenges. If a particular thing displeases Allah, stay away from it as much as you can. Don’t compare yourself to other artists. Take your journey one mistake at a time and immerse yourself in the joy that your beautiful piece brings to other people.


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