Woman This Month meets the artist and designer Karima Sharabi for a chat about her new jewellery collection and the creative process behind it.
All artists have a high level of sensibility, but not all of them show it off so subtly as Karima Sharabi. After just a few words you can feel that she exhudes tranquillity and positive energy besides loving what she does. The easy flow of the conversation means our chat could last for hours. Co-founder of The Generous Light Co, she just launched the company’s first brand, Chamkana. The collection offers a selection of jewellery inspired by her Arabic calligraphy art, and T-shirts for men. We found out how she expresses her beliefs through her creations.
Woman This Month: When did you realise that you had the artistic vein?
Karima Sharabi: I have always loved painting and drawing ever since I was young. In high school I studied art IB at the higher level and got a seven in my exams, which is the most you can score. I then went to Parsons School of Design in New York but was overwhelmed by the city, so I left to study political science at McGill in Montreal. However, in the back of my mind I always knew that I was an artist.
WTM: How did you discover that you wanted to work with Arabic calligraphy?
KS: I always knew I wanted to be an artist and be recognised for my work, but I felt so frustrated by the lack of artistic outlets in Bahrain. I tried every art course and workshop I could find; I did sewing, pottery and screen printing. However, I noticed that my spiritual growth went hand in hand with my creative development. It was my longing, a yearning for an understanding of me, which led me to my calligraphy designs. A creative block that seemed to last for years slowly dissipated as I began to explore it.
I feel a sense of relief that I have finally found my path in some ways and now, instead of feeling worried, I can flow with it more easily and let it take me to my destiny.
WTM: You started designing tattoos, what is the story behind that?
KS: My journey with Arabic lettering began when a childhood friend messaged me from Peru to ask me to write his daughter’s name in Arabic to have it tattooed on his skin. My imagery has always been quite fluid and the flow of calligraphy came naturally to me. His daughter’s name is Azul, which means blue in Spanish. Beginning with a few abstract designs, I shaped the letters of her name into a symbol that has significance for him as her father – a Piscean. The resulting symbol was a boat.
This bore relevance to him as he felt that her birth helped him move forward in life in the same way that the sail of the boat – guided by a universal wind – led him on his path to self-discovery.
WTM: Do you have a tattoo? Would you like to have one?
KS: I don’t have any tattoos. I actually really love looking at tattoos on other people, but my preferences and aesthetics change so often that I can’t commit to having one design etched into my skin forever.
WTM: You have a unique way of working with words, how important are they to your art? And how does your creative process take form?
KS: I love the spiritual poetry of Sufi masters like Hafiz and Rumi and Farid Uddin Attar’s work called Conference of the Birds and I often look to the writings of Khalil Gibran, Osho and Thich Nhat Hanh for ideas. My inspiration also comes from studying the beauty and flow of classical Arabic calligraphy. Calligraphy is a technique that is often associated with Islamic design and I love juxtaposing it and incorporating it into symbols from other cultures. My designs don’t follow traditional calligraphic rules so I can’t really be defined as an Arabic calligraphist, which is why I decided to call my art form ‘mystical Arabic writing’ because of its consistent allusion to oneness. All the elements come together to bring form to life, but also don’t abide by rules of form or structure.
WTM: You created, in partnership with Noora Al Zain, The Generous Light Co, what is your aim and the projects under it?
KS: We want it to be a platform for likeminded artists and designers to be able to showcase their work on a large scale. The Generous Light Company believes in viable, sustainable and ethical business practice with the aim of supporting commercial organisations that reflect our ethos. By investing in and encouraging the development of commercial ventures that practise fair trade, support charitable causes and encourage the creative community. In essence, we want to offer a new way of thinking about commercial business and merchandise – our view is holistic and our business model is inspired by a collective consciousness.
WTM: Chamkana is one of the brands you have, why jewellery? Are you planning to expand the collection to other areas?
KS: Noora saw my work and commissioned a design from me and then said: “It would make great jewellery”. She works for Al Zain Jewellers, her family business, and has an extensive knowledge of the industry, so we started designing a collection together. Although we are starting off with jewellery we want to be more of a lifestyle brand because of our very strong philosophy. At the moment we also have T-shirts for men, gold temporary tattoos, mugs and prints all based on the 12 tattoo designs which form the Chamkana line. We will eventually have a wider range of products based on my designs, but also have the collaboration of other artists.
In Urdu, Chamkana means “to radiate or to shine” and the Chamkana symbols are all formed from words that radiate positivity, love and tolerance. The jewellery, like the tattoos I design, acts as a totem to each of its owners – a permanent reminder of their strengths and virtues.
WTM: You are a businesswoman now. What are the biggest challenges you’re facing?
KS: I am definitely an artist first and a businesswoman second. I find it difficult to be organised and keep track of spending and receipts and all the meetings and tasks we have to complete. Sometimes, I am too laid back. All I want to do is draw! But that is why Noora is such an amazing partner; not only do we have the same taste and aesthetics but she’s organised, energetic and has an extensive knowledge of dealing with clients and deadlines. She really keeps up the momentum. We make a great team.
WTM: How do you manage your professional life and family?
KS: It’s not easy to have a business and spend a lot of time with my kids. I have to be more organised. I try to administer my schedule and get all my work done to then spend quality time with my two kids. I really believe that you don’t have to spend all day with your children to make them happy. Spending small amounts of time when you really listen to them and give them your full attention makes them feel important and loved. Also, I love my work and a happy mummy has happy children! I hope that I can be a good role model for them and show them that you can find success in what you love to do.
WTM: What are your future projects?
KS: I will continue working on my tattoos and mystical Arabic designs, while coming up with new collections for The Generous Light Co.
We would also like to create pieces of jewellery for charity, the proceeds of which would go to
a good cause. We want to continuously give back to the community and broaden our message of love and tolerance, spreading the generous light.
Products can be found online at www.thegenerouslightco.com or at Mimosa, Aali Mall.