Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance (ROAR) chief executive SHARON GILL talks to artist Samira Butt
THERE has been a great deal of attention in recent years around everyday creativity, all those actions we may do naturally that we do not think of as being expressive. The Arts Council’s new 10 year strategy, Let’s Create, highlights this even further by embedding the idea into their three outcomes: Creative People, Cultural Communities and A Creative and Cultural Country.
Samira Butt is potentially the embodiment of that ethos, as a self-taught artist with no formal training beyond O-Level but with ambitions for a creative career.
I wanted to talk to Samira because she had just launched a new website – https://www.arimasarts.com/ – which is something many trained and mid-career artists do not do for themselves, partially because you need to generate an artist statement which is a challenging thing to do, to write about yourself.
We begin with the decision to move their family to Rotherham in 2004, from nearby Tinsley. Samira and her husband have three sons who at one time were in different schools, and due to catchment areas and a reorganisation of the school system, the school run became a trial, so moving to Rotherham helped to minimise the travelling time.
This also meant one of their sons could take the performing arts opportunities offered through Open Minds Theatre Company, which at that time was a thriving organisation. As supportive parents, this led to getting involved in the delivery of the Diversity Festival. In fact when I started at ROAR and began the journey with the Diversity Festival, both Samira’s husband and son were on the management committee.
Working as a teaching assistant, Samira recognised in herself a joy in giving back to her community and the sense of belonging which that gave her, and she recently began delivering art workshops for children through a local charitable organisation, Tassibee.
She said: “Rotherham is not huge, we can help each other.”
Having always loved being creative and being surrounded by creativity, with her father painting at home and wistfully recalling he won a design award for a ceramic tile and her mother sewing and crafting using techniques from her Indian childhood, it is no wonder Samira has creativity in her blood and has passed that down to her sons.
Like so many of us, Samira then threw herself into adult life, marrying young with a family to raise and any thought of a future in the creative arts was shelved.
If you have been reading these interviews you will have realised that engaging with the arts can have profound healing abilities and helps individuals face their trauma and distress. Samira is no different. A few years ago her mum fell ill and was hospitalised. Samira gave up her work and her own plans in order to look after her mum and her family, often not sleeping or taking the best care of herself. Then, almost embarrassed about it, she lets me in on her secret – it was Bob Ross on TV’s The Joy of Painting that got her started painting! Bob Ross had recently come back into my sphere through my own children, as he seems to have taken on an almost cult status. He is regularly on our screens and of course readily available through online channels. Samira said: “He made it look so easy. I always thought I couldn’t do it, but that day I decided to do it.”
Not having any equipment she ripped up a cereal box, raided the poster paints and immersed herself into painting. The relief, from the concentration that requires you to be in the moment, with the worries about her mum briefly absent, meant she had found respite. Her family were so positive and supportive, telling her she was awesome. “I realised I had talent and went out to get paint and canvases,” she said.
If you visit Samira’s website you will notice that much of her subject matter is symbolically depicting escape. She said: “I love the outdoors and nature, it calms me. I like to paint the landscape. I exist there during the painting and imagine myself being in that place.”
Having ended any formal art training, Samira turned to the internet and different channels to research techniques and equipment, all free and easy to find.
There are no particular artists that she follows, but rather binge watches when she finds someone of interest. Samira is then able to bring the cultural influences from her parents’ homelands, India and Pakistan, as well as Britain to make her style unique to her.
You can see these influences through her series in folk art, mixing styles, patterns and colour with a landscape tradition, bring East and West together. She said: “I love experimenting with colour.”
She finds inspiration from everywhere, sitting in a cafe, out on a walk, the patterns in a curtain. It is no surprise that one of her favourite artists is Leonid Afremov, a Russian-Israeli self-taught artist, who only sells his work himself over the internet and uses colour in his own way.
Samira does not have a studio either. She has to find time and space in her kitchen so she can only dedicate a few hours a week to her artwork. This has not deterred her though, and she is developing her skills and branching out into plaster of Paris reliefs using found natural objects.
Samira began to show her work at the Diversity Festival some years ago, which like all artists she found quite scary. She has shown her work in different places, such as an holistic shop in Manchester and has sold several pieces too.
It is this potential to earn back some income that inspired Samira to set up a website to showcase and sell her work through. She is aware that without the digital skills of her husband and the technical intricacies of developing a user-friendly website given by her nephew, creating the website would have taken even longer than the months it has. They would spend several nights a week working on the design and content. It had to be a priority for six weeks, meaning her creative practice was on hold for much of that time. It had to be the priority or it would never have been completed. It needed to look professional to highlight the work and show it to its best advantage.
Samira included a blog section on her website, which she enthusiastically contributed to each day initially. Now it is much more ad hoc, writing when she feels she has something to say.
It is necessary to find a balance between the inspirational and creative side of your work and then being able to be your own business manager, marketing guru and social media expert to keep your profile active and engaging. It’s hard work and requires a broad skill base.
Samira’s daughter-in-law encouraged her to use Instagram too and this all takes up time.
But with a new positive attitude of saying YES to new opportunities, a website is the best way to drum up interest, especially when there are so few physical places to exhibit in Rotherham. It is also never finished.
Looking to the future, Samira would love to run creative workshops for children, to have her own studio and inspire the next generation to express themselves to see that art is everywhere and makes our world beautiful.
Samira firmly believes that if you find your passion and talent, nurture it and you can do amazing things.