The visual life-journey of a South Asian artist

Creativity is part of building an identity and coping with mental struggle, says Faria Firoz about her current exhibit The Shape of Our Memories. Firoz explores globalization, cultural diaspora, displacement, and adjustment to new cultures. The Shape of Our Memories starts Feb. 25, 2023 and is presented by Coquitlam Heritage.

“Expressing who we really are, without using words,” says Firoz, “leads to the authentic connection with oneself.”

Her artistic goal is to explore the correlation between creativity and mental health.

Creativity and mental health

Firoz, a Bangladeshi born painter and illustrator, is a multidisciplinary artist whose art is her personal journey of self exploration and assertion of her true voice.

Painting by Faria Firoz | Adorned (2019).

“[Art is] a way to find one’s own voice and feel connected with mind, body, and spirit to family and peers,” she says.

In Bangladesh, Firoz led the restricted life of a Muslim young woman struggling to be heard. Now in her adoptive country of Canada, she faces the challenges of adjusting to a new way of living and feeling, which impacts her mental health. Her works investigate social, political, and cultural issues by utilizing pictorial expression as a form of poetic meditation.

“In Bangladesh, my voice was not heard and as [a] Muslim woman my lifestyle was restricted and oppressive,” she says. “Now that I am in Canada, I begin to find myself. It is a slow journey of self expression and freedom of speech.”

Artistic approach

Moving to Vancouver in 2016, Firoz experienced a culture shock.

“Knowing that I am sometimes treated as a newly arrived South Asian woman, I am trying to find the best way to respond and adapt,” she says. “I get so many questions: ‘Why do you wear a hijab?’, ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Why did you come to Canada?’ – It is unsettling!”

Painting by Faria Firoz | Glance (2017).

For Firoz, her creative art reduces her anxiety, her sense of misplacement, and facilitates her social adjustment.

She uses pattern making and repetition throughout her art. Many of her paintings are portraits.

Some of her pieces are very personal and somewhat controversial, but always true to her mind, soul, and heart. In a word, her voice. Hers is not only a journey of self discovery, but also a journey of expressing what is in people’s hearts.

“I paint in oil. Sometimes in acrylics,” says Firoz. “In Dhaka, I worked on textile art. I painted on fabric, but fabric is very expensive in Canada so I turned to oil painting. Oil allows me to go back and forth with my brushes to retouch the canvas. Sometimes, I embroider with the beads and the beading hooks that I receive from Bangladesh.”

Part of what makes Firoz’s portraiture original is her ability to derive her inspiration for her paintings and her sketches by talking with members of her predominantly South Asian community, and asking them how they would like to be represented. Their response is where the artist finds the visuals for her works.

Wearing a hijab is, for Firoz, a sign of respect for her religion, a sense of modesty, and also because of her desire to belong to the South Asian community.

“Now it’s a continuous struggle to adapt to the new ways of living,” she says. “I strive to make my voice heard on equal terms, and not only as a second-class citizen.”

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