Shany Ahmed, or fondly known as Manje is a Maldivian visual artist and art entrepreneur who is based in KL. For Manje, creativity means taking the first leap of courage and a whole lot of persistence in order to do what she truly love in life- art. Heavily inspired by nature and feminism, the self-taught artist brings us through some of her experiences behind her work in hopes to inspire aspiring artists out there to never give up for the love of art.
1. Hi Shani! Please tell us more about yourself.
Hi everyone! Most people know me as Manje. I took up the artist alias Manje (which literally translates to “young woman” in my native language Dhivehi) when I first started showing my work to the public and on the internet back in the year 2004. Though I’ve been drawing and painting all my life, its only been my full-time career for about 5 years now.
2. We have seen your work and we have to say they are all beautiful! How do you come up with ideas for your art?
When I was still a young kid, I watched the animated movie The Last Unicorn. I think something in my brain changed forever that day. I’ve since been obsessed with fantasy and mythology and have found a way to incorporate my love for nature and feminism in my art which also involves a lot of research on history, folklore and cultural rituals.
I like the idea of showing people a different side of the story they may have read or heard about, a viewpoint from an unimportant character’s interaction with the flora and fauna in the tale perhaps.
3. Tell us more about wearable art, and why is this a better medium to display and appreciate art.
As someone who appreciates all things art, I always wanted what I wore or used to make a statement. And art is the perfect way to make a fashion statement, don’t you think? I think it also helps art transcend from the walls of galleries to a wider audience and become more alive. In order to promote wearable art, I began hand-painting shoes and bags. I’ve now a range of wearable art options available from shoes, tote bags, tees and even baby blankets.
4. As a self-taught artist, are there any particular things which have happened in the past that reassured you on your decision to pursue art as your career?
Pursuing art has never been an easy decision for me. When I finished highschool, I was told art is not a suitable higher education option. So I studied art on my own and pursued it as a hobby. I went on to further my studies through a scholarship in the field of Urban Design and Town Planning. However, towards the end of my university final year, I faced several issues with my scholarship funding authority that ultimately led me to the decision turn my hobby into a full-time career. It has been the best decision I have ever made about my career.
5. Name 3 artists you look up to.
There are so many I am inspired by, love and respect. But if I were to pick just 3 names i’d say James Jean, Hannah Yata and Ajim Juxta.
6. Starting a career as a self-taught artist in a foreign land must have put you through various trial and tribulations before getting a taste of success and recognition. What kept you going when the going gets tough?
There’s still a lot of stigma attached to the word ‘self-taught artist’, though I believe that we are all teaching ourselves everyday when we make art, regardless of whether we possess a professional university education in fine art or not. In my quest to be more recognized in the art community within KL, I faced rejections by galleries and possible clients when they learnt I had no formal training in fine art. However discouraging that was, I persisted and began showing my work in art bazaars such as Art for Grabs and Fuyoh regularly, which led me to meet many amazing creative individuals and people who genuinely love and appreciated the art I made. It is truly the support I get from fans of my work that fuels me to become a better artist everyday.
7. Pursuing a career as an artist is not the most practical career choice to many people with conventional thoughts. What are your advises to those who do not have the courage to pursue art due to the lack of support system in their lives?
Very true. Many artists feel alone in their journey to pursue art as a career choice. While you may not have the amount of support you wish you had from loved ones, ask yourself this: Can you see a future where you have absolutely nothing to do with art? If you are truly passionate about art, never ever let go of art. Keep pushing through and show those that don’t believe in you enough that art can be a rewarding career choice as well.
8. Can you let us know how your approach towards art has changed over the years?
I used to just draw and paint what ever that came to my imagination. Often times I would opt not to reference anything and just try to put the picture in my head on to paper. Over the years, as I’ve come to watch and learn from other talented artists and their ethics, I have a newfound respect for doing research, conceptualizing and practicing more techniques to improve my skills, and painting artworks that mean something and can connect as much or more to the viewer as myself.
9. Art is an abstract subject. In your own words, how can art impact a society in a positive way?
In today’s society, social media has become the go-to tool for anything, including art. There are so many artists now who are spreading love, kindness and awareness through their art. If we continued to do this, it would surely make the society a more tolerant, accepting and healing environment for all.
10. What’s your favorite artwork that you have done so far?
My favourite piece at the moment is called ‘Medusozoa’, it’s an artwork depicting the final moments of a heroine amidst jellyfish accompanied by hummingbirds. It’s inspired from one of my favourite folklore stories from the Maldives.
11. Any final advice for aspiring artists out there?
Never STOP doing art. We all were beginners at some point. And most of us, including myself can’t paint masterpieces everytime we pickup a pencil or brush. It takes months and years of hardwork. If you aspire to become a great artist, always keep painting, even if you fail or get discouraged, keep painting regardless. And it would help you improve your skillset faster and understand your strengths better.