Featured Artist, Rashidah Salam
Interviewed by Janice Hayes-Cha
Tell me a little bit about your path as an artist.
Growing up I had never thought about becoming an artist or teaching art and design as a profession. Where I grew up, it was the dream for every kid to pursue knowledge in math and sciences and hopefully later, find a decent job with a good income. That would be considered as a measure of success! But I knew I was creative earlier on. I was born creative! I went to a different field of study in my life but in the end my path ended up where I am today and I am proud of it!
I dedicate my success in this journey to my mother and to the people and the surroundings where I grew up. My mother was a stay at home mom raising seven kids. My mother was just like other stay at home moms who would create and make everything on her own; baking, cooking and sewing. My aunt made her own woven floor mats using natural leaves. She would go into the forest to cut down the leaves, bringing them back home and place them underneath her house. She removed the thorns from the leaves using her special thorn remover, then soaked, dyed and dried them. She would then weave them to make a large floor mat. I remember attending wedding ceremonies where neighbors were active in every aspect of the planning, from cooking to decorating to making the wedding ceremony eventful and beautiful. Almost everyone was good in creating hand-made products, from household items to items used in holidays and celebrations.
My earliest exposure in thinking creatively would be my experiences of being surrounded by the local beautiful handicrafts and learning about the creative process utilized. As inquisitive and curious as I am, I decided to further my interest in the visual arts by going to the art school for my undergraduate degree. I earned my master’s degree in the U.S. and learned more about western art, painting and world art history. I applied the combination of techniques and processes I’ve seen and learned into my own art.
What was it like growing up in Malaysia– were you encouraged to pursue art?
Malaysia is a beautiful country! I grew up in one of numerous villages in a rural area situated on the southern part of Malaysia near to the border with Singapore. It’s a peninsular country surrounded by the sea. The life that I remember back then was pure and simple. Everywhere you go, you’ll see art. I lived in one of the villages where most of the houses were built on stilts using timber with many windows. It’s hot during the day and breezy by sunset. We would open the windows during the day after the sunrise and shut them after sunset to avoid mosquitos getting into the house. The houses were surrounded by orchards, streams and intense vegetation. There were cattle, goats, ducks, chickens and roosters roaming around each house. On some lucky days we would see families of monkeys passing by. We would go into the woods to climb up the trees to pluck fruits from the trees and swim in the ditches. We would ride our bikes around or play roundup, which is similar to softball.
Although, we were involved in making arts and crafts we were not encouraged to pursue a career in the arts. There was no talk towards considering or pursuing study in art. Arts and crafts were more about creating utilitarian functional objects.
When I was in high school I was more focused in studying business and economy and anything of that nature. When I realized I couldn’t go further with all the numbers and figures due to minor migraines and a little dyslexia, I diverted my direction of study to art and became more interested in the arts. I got myself into the most prestigious art and design school in Malaysia.
How did you wind up in the US?
After graduated from college in Malaysia, I applied for a teaching job at a university in the town of Kuching on Borneo Island. I was awarded a scholarship “Young Lecturer scheme” by the university and the Malaysian government to pursue my master’s degree in Fine Arts. I went to Memphis College of Art in Memphis, TN where I met my future husband. After completing my master’s degree, I went back to Malaysia to serve my contract in teaching and then I moved to the United States to be with my husband.
What are the major themes in your art?
My inspiration arrives from so many different places (people, events, moods, etc.). I don’t follow any specific style but derive ideas from historical to contemporary art. I react to the events, people, good and bad things that have happened in my life and in the life that surrounds me. These things get channeled into my artwork through the use of intense layering of images, motifs, patterns and vibrant colors. I let my emotions dictate the concepts of my work each time I am working on a particular piece. This is my way of recording and re-telling events that have touched me, by re-writing the stories in colors and shapes. My interests are in painting, sculpture and mixed media and have always been intrigued by working with collage and layering techniques.
How do you think about color?
I remember when I was in Graduate school in Memphis, my professor used to say to me that I can hide myself but my works speak about who I am: colorful and ornate. Yes, I am very much influenced and inspired by my culture, my roots, my origins and also my surroundings. I love color, especially the bold and bright ones! Colors in my work represent life and events. My use of color in my work is based on the mood, events and the stores that I want to capture.
What do you love the most about teaching?
I love teaching! My late father was a teacher. It was he who sparked this noble cause in me. He taught me about life, facts and any knowledge you could imagine. My father used to say knowledge is more valuable than wealth and to pass it on whenever and wherever you can. I enjoy every class that I am responsible to teach. It doesn’t matter what class. It always brings joy to me to get the chance to teach and help students since my specialties are in studio practices and problem solving and just being able to share my knowledge with anyone who is hungry to make art.