1. Tell us about yourself.
Assalamualaikum, I am Irana, founder of ‘Irana Afroz Art’, a visual artist, a business & fine arts instructor. Established my art school and teaching since 2008. I am known as a Contemporary Abstract Expressionist, specialized in mixed media, resin, oil, ink, water color & acrylic paints. Pursued BBA, MBA & PgD Degrees from home & abroad. Being extremely passionate about art since childhood, started learning art at the age of 6. I used to draw on everything, no walls were spared from my drawing! My art journey begun in elementary at “Chorcha Art school” with Rina Apa. I used to receive highest marks in art exams and a lot of appreciation from my art class teacher Rawshan Apa, at Viqarunnisa Noon School. Apa used to encourage me to pursue an Art career asking me to apply at Charukola. Later, after finishing high school, I got enrolled into ‘Nandan Art Academy’ of Swapan Chowdhury, where I was able to learn art techniques in a very professional and detailed manner. That’s where my interest and roots for modern art began. Learning a lot of art history and how everything evolved in each revolutionizing art era had a great impact on me. Availed the privilege of exhibiting my artworks in many renown art galleries in Dhaka, Bangladesh and in my current city Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
2. What inspires your artwork?
Most of my paintings are insightful, subtle in colour exhibition and intuitive with an aesthetic sensibility depicting the wonders of nature and life. I find immense joy drawing, sketching, painting light and shadow tones, creating numerous brush strokes, palette knifed lines, assembling paint layers & textures to express unique art compositions. The divine beauty of Rocky Mountains, lakes, sky and other elements of nature, inspires to explore my creative process which turned me into a Mountaineer Artist of Alberta. Most often taking art supplies, I travel into these beautiful sights and starts creating a master art piece. I get inspired by the human intuitions, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and merge them with nature. I am fascinated by the intangible senses, spirituality, religion. As a Muslim artist, I like to add elements from my religion into my art as well. Many of my paintings has a little message from our Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), a concept from Islam, a symbol of the holy kabah or a calligraphy of a Quran verse. I try to amalgamate my passion for art with my faith which is one of the greatest ways I can represent my perceptions
3. You have studied in the business background and worked in managerial positions with MNCs like H&R Block Canada and Walmart Canada. What pushed you to pursue the field of arts?
There are two sayings which matched with my story, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” and “Make time to make it happen”. Two major things have influenced to pursue my art career. First thing is Time and the other is my Dream. By time I meant time for myself and my family. Whatever we do in our lives, at the end of the day, what really matters is how content our hearts are and how we spent our time while on Earth. Now that I have become a mother, I understood that it was crucial to be able to up bring my child being consumed by a full-time job. Hence, I prioritized my son over my corporate career. Children grow up so fast and I didn’t want to miss the chance of watching mine grow in front of my eyes
Moreover, becoming an artist has always been in my passionate dream. I always wanted to become an entrepreneur and start something for myself. The determination drove to get myself registered as a small business in Canada, where I can live a creative life and be the vendor of my creations. My Art works are on display at Apik Fine Art Gallery at Down town Calgary, where we have year round Art Exhibitions & Art events. I take pride being an Art curator and a board director of the gallery. I refrain to regret not pursuing my dreams by doing what I love. Till now, I have no regrets leaving the corporate life. It’s true that, whatever is destined for you, will find its way to you, we have to be patient and grateful for each of the blessings bestowed upon us and be content with that.
4. What do you enjoy the most about being an art instructor?
Received an incredibly positive response when establishing my 1sr art school in Edmonton, Canada back in 2008 and it has been an amazing journey since then. My students starting from the age of 5 to teens & adults, participate in so many art competitions national and international levels, bringing awards and prizes. I love when they get appreciated and I love watching their talents grow, I feel so proud. Every summer I teach an art session consisting around 74 students at the University of Calgary. Many of them at first, don’t believe they are creative but after getting lessons, their enthusiasm and confidence increases ten-fold. As an art as well as business instructor, if I can bring out their potentials, passion and belief in themselves, then I can rest easy knowing I’ve done my part guiding them in the right direction.
5. Tell us about the art lessons that you provide. What are the basic things you aim to teach your students?
First and foremost I want to teach them how to express themselves. Everyone has different skills and capabilities. As an instructor, I try to understand the students and teach according to their individual skill levels. Few kids are extremely passionate about art but they do not know how to draw basic shapes or even how to hold a paintbrush. I teach them from scratch, like drawing shapes, blending colours and from there, they slowly develop the ability to re-create still life images. A major benefit of this is their development of fine motor skills and explore their creative imaginations. These days kids are all about playing games, watching cartoons and being glued to a screen which might be hindering their overall development. Art helps develop their understanding of emotional intelligence, even patience and being able to express their thoughts. Art definitely requires a lot of persistence.
6. Are there any artists who have impacted your style of art work? What role do you think an artist plays in society?
I like historical artworks related to impressionism and expressionism. Among numerous, I admire Van Gogh’s art pieces. Many of his work represented abstract expressionism. Among recent artists, I like Scott Naismith, a Scottish artist, who depicts the sky and nature of Scotland using vivid colors and techniques on canvas.
In society, an artists’ role is heavily influenced by culture. Cultures can be merged. For example, I come from a South-east Asian culture. I was raised combinedly in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh and now I live in Alberta, Canada. There are many elements which an artist can combine from their personal experiences. If I can combine my religious expressions with culture, land, sky, seascapes, that aids to create unique artwork in itself. Artists can also help contribute to social awareness and medical welfare through auctions to sell their artwork and donate their profits to those in need. Artists can serve as a bridge between diversified cultures. Being an artist can be sometimes challenging as a career, but I believe art has universal language, art is capable of transcending societal barriers.
7. Have you ever experienced an artist’s block? How do you overcome it?
After the pandemic started, we saw our first Covid-19 case in Calgary during the first week of March. My art gallery was shut down for a while and I had to pause my art school as well. During that time, I felt so low and was so worried about everyone, I could not find my motivation. So I took a while and stopped. I didn’t want to stop creating, but I just couldn’t. 2 months into Covid-19, my father and my in-laws had contracted Covid-19 and I felt so helpless not being able to take care of them or do anything for them apart from praying. At that point I’ll definitely say my creativity hit a block. Gradually, thanks to blessings from above, everyone recovered and I was able to find my artistic stride.
8. How do you manage your time in-between family and profession? What is the importance of having a positive, supportive partner and family?
I receive full support from my family specially from my husband. Without whose support, I would not have come to this point. He encourages me a lot. Starting from day one when I began to consider opening an art school, leaving my corporate career and pursuing an art career, he was with me. My son also supports me a lot. It has become a family thing now! Sometimes he likes to critique my art. He really likes blue so he wants me to use a lot of blue in my art, which is actually why much of my artwork is blue these days! Family matters when you are pursuing a career, especially a career in art. When you have a positive family and a positive life-partner, it truly is a blessings. My beloved father and mother are two of my major support systems, who never stopped believing in me and always found a way to accommodate my art passion despite any difficulties. They always appreciate everything I do and take pride in them. I cannot ask for anything more than these amazing blessings.
9. What do you hope to accomplish, both professionally and personally in the next 5 years?
The future is something I cannot predict. But one thing I always pray for in this life and the next, may Allah make my journey easier and a blessed one. I want to be helped and guided by Allah to explore and develop the art world. The name Irana means ‘Peace,’ and I want to be one of the artists whose work is collected worldwide reminiscing the flag bearer of peace. I would want my artwork to speak for me. So hopefully one day, people will see my art and recognize that as an Irana Afroz creation.
Irana Afroz is a Bangladeshi Contemporary Abstract Expressionist. She has been featured on Daily Prothom Alo, CBC news Canada, WMI Western Muslim Initiative and CAD Calgary Arts Development’s Living a creative life web series.