Crystals & Photoshop: A Conversation with Collage Artist Sara Shakeel
If you could grab the warmth of the sun and put it in a jar, you’d probably have Sara Shakeel in the jar staring back at you. The Pakistani-born collage artist is as much a ray of sunshine as she is an overnight success. She began playing around with pixart on her samsung last year, and already, she’s exhibited in Los Angeles at the She Loves Art Event. We caught up with the honest, down-to-earth girl with an undying love for science, Van Gogh and the human spirit.
[This article was originally published in Issue 01 of Roundtable Journal]
When I see your work, I think of daydreams, nostalgia and surrealism. What inspires you?
To be honest, I find inspiration in everyday things. It could be something I’ve watched, or someone I’ve met. It’s quite simple really: I get inspired by extremely random stuff from daily life. I also get inspired by my emotions! I’m an emotionally driven person. In terms of influence though, I have to say Van Gogh. The moment I see his work, I’m moved. I think I have a slight crush on him– super weird, I know. But my work has a lot of starry nights and makes references to his paintings quite a bit. Also, Isaac Newton is a huge source of creativity for me. I’m inspired by the old scientists who were champions in many different fields, not just one. I try to do that in my work: one day there’ll be a lot of weed in a piece, and the next day, there’ll be a Bible or Qur’an.
At one point, your Instagram bio was 'dentist'. With 75k followers and counting it's easy to think you've been doing this for ages. When and how did you get into collage?
I was going through a really rough time at Dentistry school, and I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted. At that time, I had no idea about photoshop. I had always had a thing for crafts; I used to make lamps from champagne bottles. But one day, I used my Samsung Note 4 and downloaded pixart. I added a few pictures and just played around with them– cutting and pasting. I was uploading about eight of these mini collages a day to my Instagram and with each one, my emotions and creativity were flowing. Eventually, quite a big art magazine took notice and posted one of my pieces on their page, and since then, it’s pretty much been history. I never set out to become big– and to be honest, it will always be like that. I’m just here to share what I do with people, and the reception has been great so far.
If I’m being honest, I know there’s a lot of artists out there who are better than me. Their work is cleaner, sharper, and maybe a bit more technical. But I think it’s the rawness of my work that attracts and connects with people. We live in a world where everyone is obsessed with perfection, and we forget about the beauty in authenticity. For me, as long as there’s authenticity and my message gets through to others, that’s what’s important.
You add a lot of distinct features to your works– like crystals. How did that come about?
They’re shiny (laughs). When I first started out, I went to the Swarovski page and used bits from a couple of their images. I was just playing around at the time– which I enjoy. I love the effect crystals have; they work well combined with various things. I also really like bling, gold, planets and galaxies. I guess I have a thing for bright, shiny, things. It all just came about very naturally and I think I’ll always keep it that way.
I also get bored really easily– maybe there’s something wrong with me. I’m always in competition with myself and I try to play around with different things all the time: that’s sort of how the crystals came about. But then I realised that a lot of people were already doing that. I get quite a lot of hate from huge artists who think I copied their work because I work with crystals when really, I’m just experimenting and trying different things.
If you could collaborate with anyone, an artist or even a publication, who or what would it be?
I’d honestly collab with anyone, as long as I feel a connection with their work. Sometimes, I’ll find inspiration in the oddest things. It can be an artist who’s not well known or even a little girl who’s just learned how to paint. Like I said, I really don’t go for numbers or big names. If I see an amazing piece by an artist that makes me feel something, then I’d love to collaborate with them.
What issues does your work try to address?
Kindness. I’ve always been the sort of person who’s been odd: the black sheep of the family, and people have always told me I’m different. Whenever I see someone being rude or egoistic, that’s where I come in. I want my work to neutralise that and to get to those people. I want my art to always push for love. Once, I created a piece where I incorporated Trump with some diamonds. People were outraged. Of course, I’m not in favour of him or anything he has to say but I thought, the change also needs to start within each of us individually.
Does your home country influence your work, and if so, how?
This may be controversial, but I don’t consider myself to be ‘Pakistani’ necessarily. I consider myself as a citizen of this world first. I’m muslim and in my religion, there’s actually no concept of divided countries. My dream is to make money from my art and to change things in Pakistan, yet I have the same feelings and respect for each place and nation.
Where do you see yourself and your work in the future?
I don’t know where I see myself per say. I just know that I want to be able to touch people’s lives through my work. A lot of people don’t know how to thrive as their best selves, and they’re unaware of what they’re capable of. All I want is to be able to help those people and ignite a spark within them. Like they say, put a little match stick in the forest and watch it burn. Essentially, I want my work to be that little match stick.