Rubbena Aurangzeb-Tariq on surviving in art

 5 May 2016

Rubbena Aurangzeb-Tariq's art focuses on being an Asian Muslim deaf woman living in a Western world, and explores how deafness and disability affects our lives. Here is the story of how she worked twice as hard to be on a par with her hearing peers and the advice she has for future artists.

"I became interested in developing ways of helping deaf people manage their emotions"

Early days of art

Rubbena feels she was guided towards the arts in primary school, which she sees as a privelege. "There was a tendency for educational professionals to encourage deaf pupils to do something visually creative with our hands, whether we were interested or not."

When it came to drawing, she was interested. "I drew everything and anything that I saw. This may have been because my speech was delayed, so I was often left to draw. My art teacher in secondary school told my mother that I needed to get a sketchbook in order to continue it, and she thankfully followed this advice." 

Education and vocations

Rubbena started her art education by completing a BTEC National Diploma in Hampshire, obtaining a double distinction and being awarded Student of the Year. She had her first exhibition in 1989 and sold paintings even before taking a place at Central St Martins in London.

I believe it is essential for an artist to travel to expand their emotions and influence their creative visions.

She was approached by Shape Arts shortly after. "They offered me the opportunity to exhibit my work, which led to me being interviewed on the BBC and Channel 4. Although I was able to continue to sell my works, it did not provide a substantial or regular income to cover my cost of living or pay for my studio space." 

"In 1997 I secured a studio in Redlees, which I still use. It allowed me to develop large pieces, such as paintings, which was a dream come true! I was (and still am) inspired by established artists, which created a drive for pursuing my career." 

Completing an MA in Fine Arts, she didn't stop there, going on to do further study on an MA in Art Psychotherapy. "I became interested in developing ways of helping deaf people manage their emotions – in fact, I was one of the first deaf art therapists, trained at Goldsmiths University in London." 

Working, studying and family life

In tandem with art studies and my art therapy, Rubbena was working in management within the deaf community after completing an Arts Management Diploma at Birbeck.

"This was a full-time vocation for me, and when I had a day off or a free weekend I would plan and set up exhibitions of my art work. Life was extremely busy. On top of all this, I had become a married woman and started my own family!"

"I became self-employed and began working part-time in management in training and on the development of materials for an organisation called Deafax."

Rubbena has worked her way up to senior manager, responsible for leading the training that gets delivered across the UK, in a role focusing on personal, social, health and economic education. She also manages a small team.

"It's a creative role as I have to develop materials to make them accessible for deaf young people to achieve their learning outcomes. This allows me to think outside the box of traditional training methods to get the information across in order to make things work. Due to this expertise, I have become a mentor for Shape, working with young inspiring artists and training them to have the same confidence in pursuing their careers." 

Technology and travel

Rubbena feels fortunate to have worked at Deafax as it involves the use of a range of technologies. For example, she is encouraged to engage in social media through her art work.  

“I have learned how to use technology effectively in an advantageous way that benefits the organisations that I work with, and it has also enhanced my personal knowledge and expertise on how it can be used in progressing in your career.

“It also gives me more time, enabling me to get back into my studio, which is very close to my heart.

"I have exhibited internationally in America, Sweden, Paris, Korea and UK-wide. The flexibility of being freelance is that it allows me the freedom of taking on projects and manoeuvring my time to fit in with the art world.” 

With a number of art therapy clients around the UK, Rubbena is busy travelling as well as working. On travel, she says: “I believe it is essential for an artist to travel to expand their emotions, enhance what they visualise and influence their creative visions – which in turn enriches their ideas for work.”  

Since 2004 she has had two successful applications with the Arts Council and has been awarded funding for an art installations and exhibitions.

“I don't think I ever stop making art. Although I am not always in my studio, I am so often on long-distance journeys and use them as an opportunity to sketch away and develop ideas on-the-go.” 

On art work

“I am still a painter and hang my paintings on a wall, but I also create installations that bring the paintings off the wall and allow a viewer to walk around those emotions exhibited in my work.

It takes time for people to build a reputation, especially being a woman. And Asian. And deaf!

"This manipulates the normal thought process around what ‘art’ is, provoking people to consider what do they feel about the piece, as well as what was going through the artists mind, as they walk through the installation.

"My works have focused on being an Asian Muslim deaf women living in a Western world with Eastern influences and culture. In addition to this, I also explore how deafness and disability has affected our lives. 

"It is very difficult for people to read abstract and contemporary visuals without some explanations. In my work I believe there are seven cultures within me that are projected onto my artworks.” 

Advice for aspiring artists

1.       Be interactive with your audience

“Get your audience to explore art from their own eyes. The interpretations are fascinating and it encourages them to perceive the art world differently and offer respect. This is not something one is taught as part of a degree, but it is experience that I had to learn as I faced different and new challenges along my journey.  

“This was a springboard that led to the establishment of Deaf Explorer, which aims to support many more thriving deaf artists who seek to enhance their careers.”

2.       Keep on top of the global art world

“It is important as an artist to keep up-to-date with what's happening with other artists and in galleries around the world.

“This is useful knowledge to have, as you can then know the right time to contact galleries or artists to request exhibition space or gain access to funding.”  

3.       Attend artist networking events

“People need to know your name and you need to get your face recognised in the market! It's not been easy for me as there are limited BSL events for me to access, unlike my hearing peers who can just book and turn up! 

“You should commit your time and focus on attending these events and to studio time, as you need to have money to pay for materials so that you can continue to develop your work.”  

4.       It’s different for everyone

“It's a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it! At times it can be a lonely profession, but it depends on who you are. You may work well on your own or excel in joint ventures with other artists and have a healthy network.

"It takes time for people to recognise your professionalism and build a reputation, especially being a woman. And Asian. And deaf! Triple jeopardy they say, but if you're patient and keep going you will get there.”

This article is part of series of insights to help celebrate the 40th birthday of disability-led arts organisation Shape.


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