Spotlight: Najma

Najma is a 23-year-old university student and a freelance artist. Najma is making a name for herself online by redrawing popular anime characters as Black Muslimah’s. Her creative focus lies in painting (digital and hand-drawn), drawing, making videos, photography and more. Her artwork has been commissioned by the BBC, Nike and ASOS.

Name: Najma

Occupation/Role: Artist 

What did you want to be when you were growing up? 

There were two things I really wanted to be when growing up. One of them was being an actor. I have always dreamed of being an actor or having my own talk show as I always make people laugh and smile. I wanted to use that ability to my benefit and become an actor. I didn’t manage to become an actor because I never fully got to pursue my creative aspirations in that field. The people in my life had a lack of understanding of what creative jobs entailed at the time, so mostly it was refusal from others to not pursue a creative career as it was not considered a proper job. Thankfully, now this notion has changed and my work is being taken more seriously. I also wanted to become an artist, which is what I do now, but full-time. It would be amazing if I could do what I love as my ultimate career.

Who were your biggest role models growing up?

Majority of my biggest role models are my family members. I am so grateful to be surrounded by such inspiring and amazing individuals. My mother especially. She is such a strong, confident woman and a beautiful person in and out. She is truly my inspiration. 

What is one thing that you would like to tell your younger self?

Trust in your process. Don’t be afraid. What you are doing right now is valid. I had to fight to prove my passion for art and prove that my work was legitimate. It sounds baffling but honestly, I went through a lot of hardships with my art and proving myself to others. I am glad that I did I prove myself. I don’t need to prove myself anymore but I have been doing this ever since I was 5-years-old. Art is in my veins.

What was a life-changing moment you experienced that shaped you into the woman that you are today?

My experiences with maintaining good mental health. I think it is very important to take care of your mind and your body. I often would work hard to finish project deadlines for photos. In the past, I would start working from 7 pm and finish editing at 6 am. This was very damaging because I was not looking after myself. I was worried about the end product but not caring about my health. What I have learned is that although we may not have enough time, art is always there because art has no time. With this, I mean that I can take my time and work at my own pace (only if it is not a commission) and my artwork would still be the same as when I’m not taking care of myself. I am making it easier for my mental health so I don’t feel stressed or annoyed at myself. Art truly has taught me patience and has shown me both sides of the spectrum when it comes to working hard. I can use these skills and understanding with my degree and in my everyday life. I start work earlier and I manage my time better. I still get the same results and I am stress-free.

What made you pursue your current career?

I wanted to showcase my artwork to a wider audience as I could see the type of positive responses it elicited from my friends and family. The more I connected with others through social media because of my work, the more it made me want to keep creating. I can feel people’s emotions and gratitude for my work through their responses, which is honestly such an amazing feeling. Creating my Instagram page 149lanets in 2017 gave me great exposure to businesses and people. This meant that I got to work on cool art commissions and collaborate with businesses like BBC, Nike and ASOS. The driving force comes from the responses that I get and also my work ethic which made me continue to pursue my artistry.

What is a typical day like for you?

This is my schedule for every other day: 

  • Creating video content
  • Editing video content
  • Watching videos
  • Drawing animations
  • Digital painting
  • Sketching
  • Cooking
  • Doing my makeup (I find this very therapeutic. Even if I am not going anywhere, I love doing my makeup )
  • Studying Korean

What has been the biggest obstacle in your professional life so far and how did you manage to overcome it?

My biggest obstacle was discovering how common plagiarism is. I have learned in my professional life that I have created a unique art style that people now recognize. This has given me ease that if someone does copy my work, people will be able to attribute it to me. I have also learned to watermark my work to discourage others from taking credit for my art.

People have also tried to get me to work for free. I have had numerous clients telling me that my work is amazing (which is a lovely compliment!) and following that up with “the work is free but you will get exposure”. As much as I appreciate the compliment and as much as I might need the exposure, I should still be paid for my labour. I have learned that I should be compensated appropriately because my art has high value. I would only be willing to work for free to benefit a charity or cause that I believe in.

Which Somali woman inspires you and why?

All the women in my family. They inspire me. Everyone has their own personality of course, but it is a certain quality from each of them that I think makes them impactful and inspiring to me. I learn a lot from them all. 

What advice would you give to a person pursuing your chosen career?

Do you! Keep Creating. Do your research. Ask other artists for advice when needed. Your artwork is enough. Your artwork is you. At the end of the day, you created that art for a reason. Some artwork can be shared if you want to and some artwork is personal and that is totally okay! Be comfortable. You’ve got this!

How would you like people to remember you?

I want people to remember me as a remarkable artist. We have Picasso and Van Gogh, and I want to be as valued as them in the future. I would like to be able to showcase my art in the National Gallery in London in order to expose my artwork to a wider audience. I want people in the future to look at some of my art and be able to recognize that it is mine.

You can find more of Najma’s art on her Instagram page 149lanets. 

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