In this week's episode, LaChaun speaks with Sobia Ahmad, an interdisciplinary artist whose work explores how our deeply intimate struggles of belonging can inform larger conversations about migration, the tenuous notions of home, personal memory, and cultural porosity. While exploring her ancestral knowledge, Sobia reimagines craft rituals and intergenerational storytelling as acts of liberation. Sobia has exhibited internationally, at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art (Ithaca, New York), Craft Contemporary (Los Angeles), Queen Mary University (London), Museum of Craft and Design (San Francisco), and the Women Filmmakers Festival at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in (Washington, D.C.). And we are so lucky to have her as an artist in residence and guest on the podcast this week.
Landmark II, 2018, Hand woven paper dyed with India ink, 24x76 in.
Sarah Resnick: I’m Sarah Resnick.
LaChaun Moore: And I’m LaChaun Moore.
Sarah Resnick: And we are the hosts of the Weave Podcast, a project of the weaving yarn shop, Gist Yarn & Fiber.
LaChaun Moore:Hello. Hi, everyone. I hope all is well and that you’re having a lovely holiday season. In this week’s episode I’m speaking with Sobia Ahmad, an interdisciplinary artist whose work explores how our deeply intimate struggles of belonging can inform larger conversations about migration, the tenuous notions of home, personal memory, and cultural porosity. While exploring her ancestral knowledge, Sobia reimagines craft rituals and intergenerational storytelling as acts of liberation. Sobia has exhibited internationally, including at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, New York, as well as the Women Filmmakers Festival at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
We are so lucky to have her as an artist in residence, as well as a guest on the podcast this week. Hello, Sobia. Thank you for joining us today.
Sobia Ahmad: Hi, LaChaun. Thank you for inviting me. I’m really excited to be here.
LaChaun Moore: And we’re so lucky to have you. Can you start out by telling us a little bit about your background and where you’re from?
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. I was born in Pakistan, and I grew up there until I was 14, and then my family moved to the U.S, and I went to high school and college in Maryland. I am an interdisciplinary artist and currently based in between Pittsburgh and D.C.
LaChaun Moore: Nice. And you are currently one of our artists in residence for the Gist Weaving Residency, and we’re gonna talk a little bit more about the project that you are working on while you are in residency with us, but I really wanted to kind of dive into your art practice, the way that you work, the materials you use, as well as what has inspired your art practice.
Sobia Ahmad: Sure. Yeah. There are many things that inspire my work and my practice in general. I guess I should start by saying that I studied public health and that’s what my bachelor’s degree is in, and a lot of my practice is informed by my experiences as a public health worker, as an education outreach coordinator in Maryland, and a lot of my projects are socially engaged. And that is informed by my experiences going out into various communities as a public health person. I’m currently working on a few weaving-related projects, but I wouldn’t really consider myself a weaver in any way. I will say I’m an enthusiast, and a learner, and a trial and error kind of person, if that makes sense.
So, my overall practice right now is concerned with slowness and silence. I’m thinking a lot about how slowness and contemplative practices can inform our inner world, and how I can translate that in the process of making for myself, and then invite others into some sort of collective making process. And I did study art as an undergrad, but I didn’t go to an art school, so my experience is mostly informed by my cultural background growing up in Pakistan, my family’s traditions around a lot of practices, and then also just thinking about making in a collective setting.
LaChaun Moore: That’s interesting. So, would you say that your experience working in these different fields is what kind of made you someone that started working in art and started to integrate these different practices? And that is what informs the interdisciplinary aspect of your artwork?
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. I mean… So, when I moved to the U.S., I felt like that was a very disorienting experience for me as a young person, as a teenager, and as someone who was going through this massive transition I felt like art became a place for me to really process for myself what I found to be a very foreign environment. And transitions are hard as a teenager. Going straight into high school, I was really challenged.
So, I started mostly focusing on grounding myself emotionally through art. But when I realized that it had more, like had this power that I could sort of channel for myself, I felt like that was something worth holding onto. So, I would say that for me it mostly started with just wanting to express myself and ground myself in certain ways. But then as I grew a bit older, I realized that it had these really immense therapeutic qualities.
In college, I started taking art classes as a way to relieve stress, and then I realized this is something I want to pursue. So, yeah, I would say that a lot of the inspiration or the drive to become an artist actually came from the need to express, and not knowing how else to do that either in language or in other ways, but something about attending art shows or looking at artwork really pulled me in another sort of way to experience the reality I was faced with.
Does that make sense?
LaChaun Moore: It does. It makes so much sense. And I think that that is such a beautiful space to create artwork from.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. You know, I remember being in college and having a really challenging time, and realizing that… Not knowing that I could be an artist, really, because it wasn’t modeled for me. I didn’t really have any family members who practiced art, or I didn’t grow up around artists in any way, so for me it was very much a foreign thing, both as a career and as a practice. So, I would say I mostly stumbled through that and just realized for myself that there was something there, and I also… You know, my parents were really encouraging in many ways. I don’t think they thought that their encouragement would lead me to be a full-time artist, so I don’t know what they would say now.
And I also had incredibly supportive teachers, so I would say a strong sense of community. People just encouraging me, pushing me to try things, and experiment. Yeah. And I remember, like even as a child I would have all of these ideas. My family and my cousins would all be playing, and I would just be inside trying to make what I thought was a masterpiece at the time, you know? So, I kind of had to go back to that sort of way of just being with my own inner world.
LaChaun Moore: It’s so interesting that you mention that you didn’t necessarily foresee yourself becoming an artist, because I have a similar background, as well. I didn’t even really have a concept of fine arts or contemporary art until I was in college. Before that, especially growing up, arts was singing and dancing. It wasn’t so much art galleries, and art spaces, and objects, and sculpture. I was introduced to these things, but it wasn’t in the way that I’ve come to understand and know art now, and so it’s so interesting to hear you talk about how you found yourself in this space, and then it also kind of puts me in the space of thinking about how much of art is just context. You know, how much of art is just where we see it and how we view it, and so that’s a whole other conversation.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. Totally. I mean, I feel very similarly in terms of arriving at art. I didn’t actually know anything besides I had grown up seeing copies of miniature paintings in Pakistan in people’s homes, you know? And miniature painting is a very specific kind of a painting originating from India and Persia at the time, so again, without any exposure of really any context around that either, I just… That’s what I had grown up around, seeing that as art, and I don’t really remember going to museums or galleries as a child. So, I had no idea of what contemporary art was. I remember seeing a video installation for the first time in college and just being blown away that this is art too.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. Absolutely. That is literally how my first introduction to contemporary art went. It was very much me seeing it and being like, “This is amazing, and I think I can do something like this,” but also it relates. It has so much reverence to me in this moment. And it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Yeah.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. Yeah.
LaChaun Moore: And I’m also really curious about how fiber began to play a role in your work and how you integrated it into your practice.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. I wouldn’t say that there was one specific moment where fiber became part of my practice. It pretty much has been a material I’ve experimented with for as long as I can remember, from starting to use… I used fiber in a lot of my paintings early on and would collage them right onto the paintings, like pieces of fabric. At times, I would also print on fabric, but never really engaging with it in this way of considering myself a textile-based artist. But more so just one of the mediums that I used along with sometimes video work, and performance, and painting, and other things like that.
So, it’s only very recently, in the last three to four years, is when I’ve started really considering the feminist histories embedded within fiber art, and also how it really helps me slow down in my practice in ways that I’ve been wanting to for a long time because I was really tired and exhausted of this constant productivity culture that I had find myself very engrossed in. So, for the last few years I’ve been thinking about what are ways for me to use mediums to actually address the concepts that I’m interested in directly. So, that’s when fiber very intentionally entered the work.
I think the most recent work that I can think of besides the project that I’m working on during the residency is the collaboration with my grandmother. So, her and I were working with rice bags, and I was weaving some maps and images into these collected rice bags, and although it’s not fabric or cloth, it is a fiber material which became really exciting for me to experiment with, and that kind of led me to other projects.
LaChaun Moore: And is this project charpai?
Sobia Ahmad: No. That one is called Wherever You Are Is Called Here, and that is a series of what I call non-flags, counter flags, anti-flags. But this was also actually connected to… You know, the material of rice bags actually did come from my family history of rice farming. Both sides of my family are rice farmers. Both parents’ sides. So, that was pretty much a nod to the ancestral ways around that way of life. But I was also thinking about the idea of home and how…
So, actually, let me take a step back and I can sort of just talk a little bit about the process of arriving at that work if that’s helpful.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. Absolutely.
Sobia Ahmad: So, around 2019, 2018 and 2019, I was thinking a lot about the idea of home, and how it never seemed like satisfying to think of home as only through geography, but home as an immigrant, how one creates home through memories or shared rituals with communities, either in cultural settings, or religious settings, but also how memories play a huge role in creation of home and how that constantly transforms. And as I was thinking about that and the story and the experience of migration for my family, I began talking to my grandmother, who calls India home, because she was born in India and had to migrate to Pakistan when India was partitioned into Pakistan and India in 1947 after the British left the colonies they had created there.
So, after colonization the continent, India’s continent was partitioned, and so the idea of home became even more related to nationalism and more contemporary conversations around orders of nationalism, especially in my family history, so I started thinking about the role memory plays in that, and as I was talking to my grandmother these stories began to emerge around how this longing for home is actually an ancestral one and not just mine. An experience of migration has been part of the family for a while, so I kind of wanted to explore that. So, rice bags became the material through which I started exploring how these stories are woven together and sort of taken apart.
So, I collected images from my family photos, and maps, and things like that, and I started weaving them into these rice bags to create that large installation, and then these rice bags… I hung them as flags because they were white rice bags and I started thinking about the idea of a flag as a really powerful symbol of a nation for sectarianism and division, but what would it mean for us to reimagine the symbol of a flag into more of a projection of personal or communal identity rather than a national one?
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. The thing about your work that is so striking even when I think back to your proposal for the residency is how much it feels like you are letting us into your world in this very intimate way that I think is really unique, but also so powerful, and at the same time very subtle. There’s something very almost gentle about the way you are making these very sort of like powerful and impactful statements, and just hearing you talk through this project kind of really reminded me of how much when I was reading through your work, how it made me feel.
And it brings me to one of the pieces that you previously mentioned entitled Wherever You Are, and in that series you prayed in public on the streets of Washington, D.C., and you documented it on a video. Can you go in depth, one with describing this project, and also your inspiration and process around making the work?
Sobia Ahmad: Sure. Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you. Yeah. Every time I think about something deeply personal or intimate, I feel like there’s always such a political dimension to that, so the personal and the political feel inseparable because no matter how personal or intimate something like one’s immigration story or experience feels, I think there’s larger power structures at play often when one dissects that experience, and that’s actually what I’m interested in exploring through the work. So, I think that’s what you were mentioning earlier, and the video praying in public on the streets of D.C., I think that one’s called Endure, actually, and that was in November of 2016. So, I think again, like you were saying earlier about the context of artwork, that’s the context of when I was in D.C., as a young person, still in college, trying to process the social and the political upheaval, and the conversations around the 2016 presidential election.
So, I think the moment was very charged, and being in the capital also at the time was a very disorienting experience as someone who was still trying to process so much. As a student, as a person who is an immigrant, as a woman, as someone who looks visibly other, I wanted to explore this idea of endurance. And prayer is something that’s very close to me and I think a lot about prayer both as a ritual of approaching the divine, and a communication with the divine, but also an expanded notion of prayer. So, in that moment I actually wanted to pray the Islamic prayer on the streets of Washington, D.C., and I had a friend record me discreetly while I did that, because for me it was more of an exercise in endurance and experiencing my body moving through those streets right where the rhetoric, the anti-Muslim rhetoric, and anti-immigrant rhetoric was sort of being built and disseminated.
So, that was a very early work in November of 2016, and I think back to that time, and I don’t know if I was a bit naïve, or I don’t know if I would do that now, but there is something powerful about that, that sense of just being young and naïve, to just try something because you feel compelled to do it.
LaChaun Moore: Absolutely.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah, so I’m glad I did it, and looking back now I’m kind of shocked at my own courage.
LaChaun Moore: Yes. You know, I understand, because I wish I could have some of the courage of being new to something and just kind of starting again.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. I mean, honestly, that’s how weaving feels to me, you know? I’m not… Because I consider myself an interdisciplinary artist, I don’t really have a medium that I like to call my own. I’m always drawn to just experiment and play with new things, but also going in as a very naïve person, not knowing a lot about how something is done. As someone who just… That work that we were just talking about, I didn’t really know what performance in that context meant, but I just wanted to try that, you know? So, I think sometimes that can take away the barrier of starting, being naïve and being new to something allows you to play in a way that’s exciting, and there’s no hurdle in between you and the work in that way, so you don’t feel like you have to carry a lot of history around what you’re doing. If that makes sense, you know?
LaChaun Moore: Absolutely. That’s one of the things that I learned early on in this journey of doing things that aren’t necessarily a straight path, I guess you could say, is that you kind of have to be naïve in order to get it started, because if you could see how long it’s gonna take, or the journey, or the hard times before you start, you will most likely be discouraged, unfortunately. So, you kind of have to go into it being fresh, and naïve, and full of faith in order to really see it through, and then I think the real challenge is staying inspired, staying happy, and staying or finding that place of security where you’re like, “Okay, this isn’t something that is going to be easy, and I won’t have the sense of relief as if I would if I was doing something a little bit more conventional.” You just kind of have to learn to go with the flow of things.
And so yeah, I absolutely feel that. 100%.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. Yeah. I relate to that a lot too. But I think there’s… I mean, I’m curious to know what you think about this, because I think we kind of take on this pressure to actually succeed a lot, and I wonder what your relationship to the idea of failure is, because even framing something as failure is really discouraging. It’s like, “Okay, what’s the worst that could happen? I could fail.” But we never acknowledge that there’s an element of play and learning even in that “failure,” you know?
LaChaun Moore: Yeah.
Sobia Ahmad: So, there is that.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. I mean, I would say my personal relationship to failure is that I think I feel failure a little bit differently now than I did initially. I think when I was younger and I was getting started, I felt… I understood that failure was inevitable, and failure was how you learned. And to this day, I think most of the things that I’ve done, I’ve learned through doing them wrong first. And just even with farming, I’ve been in farm programs, I’ve learned things here and there, but nothing prepares you for being in the field and getting the work done. And I had to fail a few times in order to get it right.
I mean, even this season, I haven’t done another update since the last one, but I feel like in the last episode that I recorded where I was talking about how things are going, things have gone drastically different by the end of the season than they were then, and I had a couple failures, but the failures taught me things. An example is I started off using a bio mulch as opposed to my usual growing technique, which is mulching with paper and hay. Basically, weed control. Because I’m organic, I don’t spray anything, so I literally go out there and I pull up the roots. I don’t even use a tool most of the time. And I’m growing on a much larger amount of land.
The goal was to do an acre, but I had to size down, but I grew in more concentration than I would have if I would have used the whole acre, and I also ended up going back to my old growing practices because there was no reason for me to leave them. And so, I had to waste the money that I did to till and to get the bio mulch and to do it in this way, just to learn that I was already doing it how it needed to be done. So, that was a failure, but it ended up being a success, and I think that’s also in my art practice. I’ve learned how to do so many things through failing, and I think one of the things too, maybe a little bit of advice for anyone listening who’s getting started in art or maybe getting started on a weaving project, a beginner weaver, I notice that I get so much anxiety around getting started. Something for the first time, like starting a project, doing a new style of something, trying out a pattern, anything. I get so much anxiety that I don’t just get in there and get started. And I’ve learned that allowing that anxiety or that fear of getting started really is not constructive because whatever it is is what it’s gonna be.
And so, if you get started and you do it, it’s probably gonna be just as good as if you were to wait for whatever it is you’re waiting for to try to make it perfect. You know what I’m saying?
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. Totally. Oh, I relate to that so much.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. I mean, even with sewing, garment construction, like when I first started design school, I remember my first two years just being afraid of sewing seams because I wanted them to be perfect, but the more that I saw clothes in stores, and I mean like expensive clothes, luxury clothes, even looked at some of my professors’ garments, it’s like everything has a hand to it. You can see maybe what we would call an imperfection. I would just call a personal imprint, you know? It’s like everything… Nothing is exactly perfect.
The only time I see perfect lines are when they’re digital, you know what I’m saying? But in life, and in the world, and in physical objects, and the things that we make, there are imprints. And so, don’t be discouraged by…
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. Oh, everything you’re saying really resonates with me. Actually, especially about the project that I’m doing during the residency. You know, the charpai project, something about the imprint, the idea of the human touch, and the imperfections and everything feels very relevant and present, and something I actually have to work through and get over in my process in many ways.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. And I also… I wanted to say too, because when I first saw your images for charpai, just saw the structure, which I’ll ask you more question about in a few, but I remember thinking like, “Wow, this is so beautiful,” and it’s interesting because you were saying like, “I’m a beginner weaver. I don’t know much about weaving.” But when I look at the images, which anyone listening, you will see on the website when this episode goes up. It’s a beautiful woven structure. Very beautiful. Very beautifully woven. And so, I would love if you could talk about the materials used, the history behind it, as well as literally how you make it.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. Thank you. So, the project that I’m working on, and I have been for the last almost year now because it is a very slow process, is this woven structure that… It’s a wooden structure of a daybed upon which a webbing, a cotton webbing, is woven. And it’s called a charpai in Urdu, and I grew up around this object. It is a woven daybed, but it is also many other things, and that’s exactly what really excites me about it and pulls me towards it is the ways this object transforms to meet the needs of the moment. I grew up around it watching my grandmother clean rice, or dry chilis, or hosting people and using it as a place of gathering, a place of storytelling, and I’ve seen it used in countless other ways, like stacked up to become storage space, or put it on its side to become something else, like a divider in a space.
So, for me, a lot of memories, personal memories and cultural histories tie to this object, but also what I am interested in personally at the moment about this is the ways it can change depending on the context it is in. And I, having really zero knowledge of both weaving and woodworking, decided that I was going to attempt to create this here in my studio, and I learned that it is a very hard process, but the idea of embodied knowledge is becoming very present, because as I was starting I was asking my cousin back in Pakistan to send me videos of the process, because my grandmother there was having one woven for her. So, I started looking at these videos to try and replicate that process here to create charpai here. But it felt very… It was very challenging.
Yeah. And I did create a wooden frame myself here in a woodshop, and that, going back to what we were just talking about, it definitely has my touch in it. Actually, the frame even as I’m weaving it is kind of… The legs are warping a bit, and there’s fractures in the wood, it doesn’t really fit as beautifully as a traditional structure would. But I’m finding that interesting and powerful in ways that I didn’t think I would. At first, it felt like a failure, but now I’m starting to think about it as like what happens to an object. How does it transmute through migration? And how do I recreate it in a space where that knowledge that is embodied is not available to me?
So, I also actually traveled last winter, traveled back to Pakistan, to my ancestral village, to learn how to make it. And now I am almost done weaving, but the challenge has been that it’s woven with at least two people at the same time. Someone has to pull the rope from the other side for it to even actually work, so there’s this poetic collaboration process that happens. Unless somebody’s in my studio, I actually cannot weave it.
So, that at first was a challenge, but then I started thinking about this as the work itself, because it is something that has to be made with another body, another person present, so I started inviting people into the process of making it with me, and now I am hosting gatherings around it to sort of talk about the things, themes that are emerging the work. It’s allowing me to extend invitations and create situations in which intuition, and embodied knowledge, and sort of collective improvisational rituals can become alternative ways of knowledge sharing and generation, so I host weaving circles, or storytelling circles, and the idea is to propose collective making as an expanded notion of prayer, or slowness as an ethos for engaging with our inner lives and experiencing various spiritual dimensions of social engagement.
And also thinking about larger issues, you know? Even though the work comes from aesthetically, or materially I’m drawing on a lot of my family history and cultural history, but within the work are larger themes that I’m experiencing both through making on my own, and thinking, and writing, but also in these gathering spaces that issues like politics, rest, and labor, global feminist histories of craft, and strategies of resisting overlapping systems of oppression. Like I mentioned earlier, productivity culture, or even intellectual hierarchies and Western logic.
So, the work, even though centered around this object, is actually becoming a lot about proposing a different way of thinking, knowing, being, and sharing.
LaChaun Moore: Wow.
Sobia Ahmad: Sorry. That was a lot. I threw a lot out there.
LaChaun Moore: No, but it was… I mean, again, I think it speaks to what I was saying before about how well your work really translates. It’s so beautiful, and it’s again, that really sort of gentle expression of something that is incredibly profound and powerful, because it’s so deep to me. That’s when art is really beautiful. Congratulations to you.
Sobia Ahmad: Thank you. Yeah. I have to say that it’s taken me a very long time to figure out, “Oh, this is what the work is telling me.” And I don’t have it all figured out. I mean, there’s lots of loose threads here. But I’m really becoming more and more interested in and embracing the processes of learning as it’s happening. So much of learning is taking place for me even in these gatherings that I’m hosting that each iteration is informing the next one. And you know, something that’s very new for me, also, is that I’m figuring out what the actual work is as those things are happening, as communication about it is happening, as experiencing in community setting is happening.
So, there is this letting go. There’s an actual unlearning happening as a new skill is being learned and something is built together. I actively find myself unlearning productivity culture that I had internalized in so many ways that are harmful, I was finding, for myself. When I started the work, I thought I was… You know, “All right, I’m gonna get this. I’m gonna learn this pattern. I’m gonna learn how to do this. I’m gonna probably be done in a few months.” And almost a year later I’m still working on it, and it’s not done, and actually the slower I work on it, the more emerges from it. So, when I’m thinking of it as almost like a bed of unlearning, that’s what I’m starting to think of it as. Like, “How can I unlearn everything that I had taken upon myself that wasn’t helpful to my process and how can I let this project teach me the ways I want to exist in the world and who I want to be as an artist even,” you know?
LaChaun Moore: Absolutely. And I think or I wonder, and you can chime in on this, as well, but I’m curious if you feel like this is something recent, and if it could be one of the things that is influenced by just the world in general, and coming off of the heels of the pandemic? Because for me, 2020 was a huge turning point for me. Emotionally, mentally, physically, everything. I think 2020 just put me in a much more existential space. And I too feel like I have been unlearning the idea of productivity in the sense that for me, I worked, worked, worked. I had my dream and I wanted to do this, and I wanted to learn this, and I wanted to go here, and then being forced to stop forced me to really look at myself and the things around me in a way that I never had the time or space to do, because I always had to be doing something. There was never a moment where it was like, “Okay, you can just be here with yourself for this time.” I didn’t have that.
I think when I moved to South Carolina initially I had that, but immediately it was like, “Okay, how are you gonna make money? How are you gonna afford this? How are you gonna fund this farm? How are you gonna get to production and this and that?” And so, I think the pandemic, that whole moment, spending so much time with my family just made me really look at the things that I value differently. I do care about being successful still, but I only want it… I don’t want it at a certain cost, if that makes sense. I care a lot more about being present for my parents, and spending this time with them, and having memories with my nieces and nephews, and the art will be what it’s gonna be, but it’s like almost like I don’t want to be a machine. I don’t want to focus on… You know, I hate to admit this, but I remember I was talking to one of my friends about how I had always hoped I would make it on a 30 Under 30 list or something like that, and now I just actually don’t… I’m not particularly motivated by that as much anymore. I think I just want to do the work, and learn, and I hope to leave things for other people who are interested in things like me.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. That’s really beautiful. And you know, what doesn’t get talked about a lot is that there is actually a level of pain involved in that process of unlearning, and distancing yourself from this way of having been in the world, right? Because we’re trying to create for ourselves a new structure that does not involve the sense of urgency that we have sort of internalized, right? And yeah, I think capitalism in general just that we all suffer from it. There is really… Under capitalism, there is really no other way to exist but to be involved in patterns that are harmful in some way to us, both as humans, and artists, and every other way.
But yeah, I definitely actually relate. I relate to that a lot. I remember when the pandemic hit there was a lot going on. There was a lot of processing happening. But I distinctly remember feeling relieved that, “Oh, I don’t have to do this. Thank goodness.” Like, “Oh, yes. I actually don’t have to run around and constantly be hustling in a way that actually doesn’t feel good.” And that got me thinking about what exactly was feeding me as an artist in my creative process, and what parts of the practice needed to go, and how can I imagine for myself a long view of time in this whole journey?
And you said something earlier, how can I be here? You asked yourself that question. And I asked myself the same question and I remember when the pandemic hit I was in D.C. I was at a residency that was cut short. And I couldn’t see my friends or family. And around that time there was a lot happening in D.C. Actually, all over the country. Because George Floyd was murdered. There was this really immense pain people were experiencing collectively, and also there was internal emotional and very personal things people were struggling with. So, I started actually processing that through just mindless paper weavings. That, for me, was a way to just quiet the mind and just work with my hands. And I realized in that moment I had missed so much of just putting the intellect on the back burner and just focusing on the body, and just letting the body sort of guide the process of making. So, I remember just realizing in that moment that I cannot keep going at the pace that I was before. And it sounds very much like you went through the same thing. To what end are we doing this, right?
LaChaun Moore: Right.
Sobia Ahmad: We don’t really stop and ask ourselves. To what end? What is the end goal here? And then when you ask, all of a sudden when you ask yourself that question it just becomes so clear that if something isn’t serving that process of learning, playing, and connection, then why are we doing it?
LaChaun Moore: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.
Sobia Ahmad: Absolutely.
LaChaun Moore: And I think, too, we deserve that. We owe that to ourselves to ask that question and then answer it.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. And give ourselves just the space to not know, right?
LaChaun Moore: Right. Exactly. Exactly.
Sobia Ahmad: I’m tired of this obsession with knowing. I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t even know where the work is going. But that… It’s like just taking the pressure off has been the most liberating thing for me, you know? Giving myself this deadline of, “Okay, this has to be done at this time,” is not helpful. And just knowing that I don’t have to know is actually very powerful, you know?
LaChaun Moore: Right. Especially when it’s your own thing. It’s your artwork. This is your space. It’s so interesting that we can even find ourselves in that relationship to our things when we control it. So, it is absolutely something cultural, and I think I definitely felt it very strongly living in New York, and moving from New York, and then slowing down once I moved to South Carolina, and I think it was like a halt when the pandemic hit. It was like, “Wait a minute. What are you doing? Why are you just trying to just push things out?” But it was through that when I really think I found myself as an artist.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. I have to say in our previous conversations throughout the residency I’ve been really inspired by the way you approach your process, and your work, and the way you talk about it, and how you came to this point, so I just wanted to say that and share that with everyone, that you have been very encouraging in this whole process for me, as well. Because I think it takes a sense of community for us to be able to talk about these things, as well, as artists. To say I want to make less, and I want to make slowly, and I want to connect, and I want to build relationships, and cultivating relationships is where I feel like I’m emotionally and spiritually nourished at the moment. We need spaces and we need people to say these things to and discuss them with. So, I have been very encouraged by this residency, and in my conversations with you, as well.
LaChaun Moore: Thank you. Thank you so much. And I’m glad that I can provide a space or create a space that gives off that vibe, because I think in a lot of ways when I was thinking about how I wanted to structure the residency, I was thinking about things that I wish I had in the spaces, and the time that I wish that I was granted, and so a lot of having conversations with you all, which I’ve had so many beautiful conversations with each of you individually and together, I have also learned for myself, and grown for myself, and created space for myself, as well.
So, I am so appreciative of that.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. And I’ve also really enjoyed meeting all the other residents and talking about a lot of these common threads in our practices and our processes. So, thank you for creating for us the space that you, yourself were creating for yourself.
LaChaun Moore: Thank you. So, I am also curious if you have any new projects or anything that you’re working on right now that you wanted to share with our listeners.
Sobia Ahmad: Yeah. I mean, I’m working on film right now. I like shooting and processing Super 8 film and thinking about eco-friendly materials, and sustainability in my own practice, and I’ve been using natural dyeing materials to dye the rope that I’m weaving with, but also using caffenol and kitchen materials, like coffee, and vinegar, and lemon juice to process film. So, that feels like a very experimental and fun thing to be doing right now. Yeah. I mean, mostly just thinking about how can I really focus on materiality of the work.
LaChaun Moore: Nice. And is there a place on social media or the internet that people can follow your work?
Sobia Ahmad: Yes. I have a website, sobiaahmad dot com. S-O-B-I-A-A-H-M-A-D dot com, and I’m not very active on social media these days. It is actually one of the things that I took a step back from during the pandemic. But I do every now and then update. On Instagram, it’s sobia.ahmad.art.
LaChaun Moore: Perfect. So, it has been amazing talking with you and having you as a resident. As we do still have some time left together. But before we go, I do have one question to ask you and it is the question that we ask everyone that joins the podcast, and that is do you have any advice or words of wisdom to share with weavers and textile enthusiasts?
Sobia Ahmad: I feel like such an imposter answering this question. Full disclosure, I mentioned earlier I do not consider myself an expert in textile works or weaving. But I will say approach it with a sense of play. And just let go of the fear of failing if possible. And just immerse yourself in the process. These are things that I’m trying to tell myself every day in the studio, so they’re kind of affirmations for me. Process is the work.
LaChaun Moore: That’s so funny. Amazing. Well, thank you so much. It’s been lovely having you on the podcast today.
Sobia Ahmad: Thank you, LaChaun. It’s been great as always and it’s been a joy to again be in conversation with you. Thanks for having me and for your wonderful questions. Take care.
LaChaun Moore: That’s a wrap. If you’re interested in seeing images of Sobia’s work or to read a full transcript of this week’s episode, you can visit the show notes at www.gistyarn.com/episode-146. It’s such an honor to bring these conversations to this platform. I am so grateful for your support. I hope you all have a lovely holiday season and a beautiful start to 2023. Until next time, happy weaving!
Comments will be approved before showing up.