This interview also aired on the second episode of the Voice and the Shark’s podcast, Welcome Home. Click here to listen.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught junior Sumeya Ali anything, it’s that she is an artist.
“I was like wait, I don’t actually care about anything else,” the sociology student said. “That’s creating; being honest with yourself, and self-expression.”
Ali, who can be found on Instagram @sumithecreative and on her website sumicollective.com, said before the pandemic, she didn’t even have a website or print shop for her art.
Now, more than six months into the pandemic, her business has been taking off– last month, she was able to donate half of the profits made from print sales to the Dorchester Community Fridge.
“Not a lot of us can sit here and say ‘yeah I’ve got money through my art,’” Ali explained. “So I feel like the only way to honor that was to give it back to my community, and to give it to people who need it more than I do in the moment, especially through something like a community fridge.”
Although Ali has always been a creative person, she got her start as a painter with the Boston non-profit Artists for Humanity, where she first saw that art could be a career for her.
“That’s how I got started with art, being connected to that community of artists,” Ali said. “My bosses and my mentors were people who were selling their paintings for $20,000 a piece. You can imagine what that got me to thinking of; a kid, in my freshman and sophomore years of high school just being amazed at the fact that people can make a living off of what’s inside their head.”
Community is everything to Ali, who prefers to look to what people in her community are creating for inspiration.
One such person for Ali is Mithsuca Berry, a Boston-based artist who can be found on Instagram @mythsooka, who Ali has been drawing inspiration from lately.
“Mithsuca is an amazing example of art that’s being created in the community, by the community, for the community. I’ve always thought about Boston as a grounding community and a rooted community, so I’m excited to see where Boston fits into my art.” Ali explained.
“I like to look to my community for inspiration rather than some dead old white guy in a museum, you know what I mean?” Ali said with a laugh.
When it comes to her own artistic style, however, Ali would sum it up in two words: visual language.
“This is going to sound weird but I talk through color essentially; I communicate through color.” Ali explained. “Blue doesn’t always mean the same thing every time I use it. Sometimes dark blue really reminds me of when I was at the ocean; or navy blue like someone’s hoodie. There’s different emotions I tie to the colors and they’re not the same every time. But that is what my artistic process is like; it’s very emotional in a sense, so I use it as a form of expression.”
Right now, Ali is working on several projects. The Muslim Justice League, an organization that works to counter violent extremism against the Muslim community, reached out to Ali over Instagram offering a photojournalism project for her. Ali has been loving photography, and the chance to flex different artistic muscles than when she paints.
“With painting, it’s different because you can go in and be like okay I’m done painting for now; you can decide when to leave,” Ali said. “But with photography you have to be very thoughtful. What do I want this shoot to look like?”
Ali has also been wanting to branch out into multimedia projects, specifically exploring Black Muslim women as divine feminine beings. She has a vision of taking a photo that represents this idea, and printing it on a large canvas, then going in with watercolor or ink and transforming the photo into a multimedia piece of art.
“That’s the thing about being a creative, you have all these great ideas, it’s hard to pin down just one,” Ali said.
In the age of COVID, Ali has found social media to be both an advantage and disadvantage.
“There’s always the aspect of comparing yourself to other people as an artist on social media.” Ali explained.
On the other hand, seeing people interact with her art is a feeling like no other for Ali.
“Every time someone leaves a comment for me on my art, or leaves a message saying this painting made me feel this way, it’s crazy. Someone actually took the moment out of their day to perceive my art and engage with it, and express how it made them feel. It makes me feel ten times as amazing,” she said.