Artist Shahina Jaffer: The Link between Health and Art

DESIblitz looks at British South Asian artist Shahina Jaffer. In her current work, she focuses on the link between health and art.

Artist Shahina Jaffer: The Link between Health and Art

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see"

Shahina Jaffer is a British South Asian artist based in London whose areas of expertise lie in observation and abstract art.

Although Shahina’s artistic vision is diverse, her key focus presently is on the connection between health and art.

It is widely perceived that appreciating or observing art can improve a person’s physical and emotional health/well-being.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, in particular, the role of art and crafts in helping our mental health has been emphasised.

The COVID-19 Social Study, led by Dr Daisy Fancourt from the University College of London, tracked arts participation and mental health in  72,000 UK adults aged 18+.

Data from the study suggests that people who spent 30 minutes or more each day during the pandemic on art activities had lower reported rates of depression and anxiety.

In addition, the findings also suggested that these people had greater life satisfaction.

Gavin Clayton is the executive director of the charity Arts and Minds, and one of the founders of the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing.

In a news article for The Guardian Gavin stresses that:

“Our evidence shows that taking part in creative activities has a positive impact on people’s mental health.”

Here, DESIblitz provides a snapshot of British Asian artist Shahina Jaffer, and the importance she puts into the link between health and art.

Artist Background

Artist Shahina Jaffer: The Link between Health and Art

Shahina is a St Martin’s School of Art graduate who actively works to promote diversity in art.

Learning to work with a screwdriver before she could write, thanks to her engineering father, art entered her life unexpectedly.

She found herself using art to heal from an accident at age five. Shahina states:

“I was in a terrible car accident, which I was fortunate to emerge from physically unscathed.”

She goes on to stress:

“Painting helped me heal from what I had witnessed by conveying what I couldn’t articulate in words – it was a wondrous, non-judgmental companion.”

Thus, Shahina Jaffer felt the link between health and art from an early age.

She experienced the role of art as a medium through which one can heal and support the burdens and stresses of life.

What’s more, Shahina’s experience in consumer marketing has helped her develop a deep understanding of human nature and action. As a result, she finds herself strongly relating to the following assertion:

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Overall, her artistic work aims to encourage and explore the interaction between the artist and the viewer.

Overtone Exhibition: The Link Between Health & Art

Artist Shahina Jaffer: The Link between Health & Art

Shahina’s Overtone Exhibition took place between October 13-15, 2022. It was a partnership between Just Art 247 and 101 Harley Street.

Her collection of artworks, Overtone, was deliberately crafted to “foster social interactions, encourage calm, and inspire wonder while remaining accessible.”

The residency investigates how engaging with art in a typical treatment and counselling environment improves the experience.

Shahina, living in the hustle and bustle of London, recognises that city living can be stressful. People can forget to just be, to pause and relax.

Thus, the usage of 101 Harley Street as a site for her exhibition was strategic and reflects her need to explore how health and art are linked.

In addition, the location of the exhibition reflects her wanting to explore the role art plays in maintaining and improving health and well-being.

Indeed, this is one reason Shahina Jaffer is working on producing a documentary looking at the same themes and emotions.

The twenty-one art pieces in her exhibition are located throughout the building, in hallways, in treatment rooms and in the staff break room.

For her, art allows people a moment of peace and quiet. She feels this is true for both those who create art and those who view it.

Shahina’s position as a South Asian female artist can also inspire others.

Consider the words of 26-year-old British Indian Gujarati Anisah Bhayat, who viewed Shahina’s art online:

“It’s awesome seeing an Asian woman kicking ass as an artist. She’s got and had her own exhibitions. People buy her work.”

Anisha then says:

“Art is that thing a lot of parents, Asian and others say is something to do as a hobby – if you’re lucky.”

“But she [Shainina] proves that it can be a proper career.

“And it shows things have changed, especially for Asian women.”

For Anisah, there is significance in being able to see South Asians, particularly women, pursue careers in more creative industries.

Diversity In Art

Shahina Jaffer desires to support and promote diversity in the arts. In addition to helping artists be visible, she included four guest artists in her Overtone exhibition.

Three of the guest artists were; Jajal Alwan (pictured above), Omer Altaf and Jie Dang.

The fourth guest artist was nine-year-old Charles (Charlie) Brennand (pictured below).

Supporting fellow artists and collaborating are integral to Shahina’s professional/work ethos. For her, this should be the goal of all who are in a position to do so.

In turn, for Shahina, art is a medium through which diversity can be embraced and encouraged. Speaking on this, she states in her own words:

“Colour and shapes are hard-wired into our consciousness and art’s fundamentals and symbolism are universally understood…

“…which is why it has such a great capacity to bring people together, cross boundaries, and speak volumes without saying a word.

“Pictograms and, more recently, emojis reveal how we respond to colours and shapes.

“As a pantone colour scheme, diversity would be the shades in between or the bold outline that highlights a point.”

Shahina goes on to maintain:

“Culture and the arts are inextricably linked; images have been used throughout history to reflect society.”

“Without diversity, we are looking in a broken mirror and unable to see the big picture; diversity in art is comparable to Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken pottery with gold.

“It is through diversity that we can learn from one another and broaden our own perspectives.”

These views explain how art is an important avenue through which diversity can be championed in a variety of ways.

Is it Important for South Asian Artists to be Visible?

The South Asian region and diaspora is a rich cauldron of diversity, multiplicity and variety.

Thus the art produced is equally diverse and eclectic. Often these pieces are tied to ideas of identity, belonging, culture and so much more.

South Asian art and artists are more visible than they once were locally and internationally. But does such visibility truly matter? Art is art. Does who produced it matter?

According to some South Asian individuals, yes it does matter. For them, there is importance in South Asian artists being visible and in the mainstream.

Ruby Begum* a 34-year-old British Bangladeshi teacher in Birmingham states:

“I loved painting as a teen, but my parents said I needed to focus on courses that would mean a job in the end. I wasn’t allowed to do art as an A-level.”

For Ruby seeing South Asian artists thrive professionally matters:

“I love that the internet means I can see Asian artists actually be successful. It’s got me painting again.”

However, she does add that seeing such artists: “makes my heart pang for what could have been.”

There is a need to revitalise how South Asian art and artists are depicted, promoted and made visible.

Although, with artists like Shahina Jaffer continuing to trailblaze the industry and promote such exhibitions, a surge in Desi artists is likely.

Somia is completing her thesis exploring racialised beauty and shadeism. She enjoys exploring controversial topics. Her motto is: "It's better to regret what you have done than what you haven't."

Images courtesy of poloandlifestylemagazine.com, Somia R Bibi & Shamima Begum.

*Names have been changed for anonymity.