“Coming here is a lovely trip down memory lane as I did foundation course here. My practice has encompassed painting, printmaking and photography. At 19 I wanted to be a painter and this lasted until the final year of my degree. As students we are encouraged to concentrate on the area we want to go into but as a practitioner you have to wear other hats. Working in the cultural sector you need to have other ways of making a living. So now I do photography, new media and film.
We are all chameleons depending on what role we are playing. I graduated in 1995 and 6 months later I landed a role in a theatre company as a performer and artist/facilitator. I was playing a 14 year old girl at 24 and I was still doing this when I was 8 months pregnant! I was also photographing scenes and working with community groups on participatory artwork. Just because you are working in a community setting doesn’t mean the work should not be as finished or as valued as that done by a professional artist.
I worked on a production of Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and recalled the burning of The Satanic Verses in Bradford. One of the opening lines of his book was “Black smoke poured out of the chimneys of the sadness factories and hung over the city like bad news.” On this production I started to look at colour and used video imagery to bring all the colour and vibrancy.
My work is about giving myself and others voices and pushing the boundaries. I am also interested in creating accidental screens for projections and films, for instance, a series of shields held by the performers. I like playing with layers to make something quite simple in look but which took series of processes.
I worked for 8 years with theatre, puppets, masks and performance. Using masks makes it not about the face but more of a physical performance and gives more of a creative input. I used photographs manipulated through chemicals. I am interested in bending rules without touching a computer (If I had stuck to my own rules I would still be painting in an attic!), so I took slide films put through photography and re-projecting back and then photographing again, so you don’t quite know what is real.
I was doing a lot of performance work at the same time, working for Bradford Festival on three jobs in one. This entailed three deadlines and a constant juggling act. This is the nature of work for those of us in the arts – it is all about juggling.
Another project involved working with photos of disadvantaged and troubled young people. I gave them a medium format camera which enabled them to take pictures of each other and got them to draw directly on to the image so they could conceal or show as much or as little of themselves as they felt comfortable with. I supplied bleach, OHP pens and lighting gels - simple tools which show what can be done on a shoestring budget. Some chose to hide their face partially.
I was lead artists on a project called the Little Room for the Big Question, creating a travelling classroom with each and every surface was covered. Like graffiti, we like to make any space we learn in our own. My job was to recruit 4 artists and facilitate their working with community groups at 4 venues in Yorkshire. The installations later on became the venue for performance of Ghost Classroom. Your work can have a life beyond your vision. The classroom travelled to Pakistan without me, and was shown there as an installation and theatre production.
In 2004 I started to make my films. I was one of three artists who went out to the Kite festival in Pakistan to take film and photographs and this work toured both nationally and internationally.
Pins and Needles looked at body piercings. I examined the lengths we go to make bodies ours. I wanted to show the beauty of piercings, so I wanted to make the images exceptionally beautiful in themselves and in the way the installation was shown. I created a boudoir draped in devore velvet and silk for viewing. Its decadence reflected how we choose to beautify ourselves.
I have been given some great opportunities but you have to make things happen. I find that 50% of commissions come from word of mouth and the reputation I have built through previous work. The other 50% comes from submitting proposals. For example, in the first 5 weeks of 2009 I have put in 4 proposals. This is a reality check for those wanting a career in the arts. You have to be constantly working and be ahead of the zeitgeist.
I worked with a group of twelve Asian transgender, transsexual, bisexual and lesbian women. They were marginalised from other women and their own communities. It took about 6 months for them to accept me. The project was to show their lives and raise their confidence to be in and exhibit a film and digital images to be shown at the Corner house in Manchester. We all play roles which change how others perceive us - codes that society gives us and roles that we put on each other. Art is never objective. After months of hard work, following the design brief, the BBC would not show the film.”
Shanaz then played extracts of the film, Sphere Universe, where the women’s silhouettes were filled with images from their lives.
“The BBC feared offending the Asian community. It was a presumption of those in control and the perception of those in charge of the commissioning process rather than anything offensive in the work. The decision made was unfair to the women. It was not about my ego. I knew my work would be seen. We did an installation for it in Manchester with cubicles and thirteen screens showing digital images. We got some amazing reactions."