West Springfield resident Meher Yousuf Imam has loved painting ever since she could remember. As a very young girl in Karachi, Pakistan, she used to go to the market with her father, holding his finger as they walked, to buy little boxes of paint cakes.
Once home, Imam would happily paintthen dry the papers outside in the sun. “From the beginning, since I was little, I learned painting but didn’t have any idea or passion to paint people and animals, so I didn’t practice on that,” said Imam, the youngest in her family. “There are a lot of things I can paint instead.”
Imam explained that she does not paint human and animal figures because it is prohibited by her religion of Islam that begins it annual month-long fast of Ramadan Aug. 1.
Meher explained the prohibition simply by summarizing a saying from the Hadith of the Prophet Mohammed: If someone paints a living being, it gives the idea that they are copying Allah’s creation and it could affect them on their day of judgment.
One may think that this rule might stifle an artist’s creativity but Imam’s home shows quite the contrary.
From peacock feathers to the prophet’s tomb in Medina, Saudi Arabia, Imam’s sunroom is filled with canvases of every color waiting to find wall space. She describes each one as she flips through them, striking abstract imagery or detailed studies of lotus flowers, teakettles and mandarin oranges at her fingertips.
“When I have the time, I paint. When I was studying at college, we were taught to think for our inspiration and to go outside and see things that we could include in our paintings,” said Imam, a former second grade teacher who holds a fine arts degree from Pakistan Foundation Education College, PECHS, in Karachi as well as certificates in floral design and interior decorating from the Professional Career Development Institute.
Imam paints in her dining room, near a big picture window that generously lets in natural light. She has two easels and works on the canvases in tandem. The theme of one painting revolves around nature while the other focuses on Islam.
Imam uses acrylic paints and her favorite color is green.
“After the Rain,” one of Imam’s much-loved paintings, features mesmerizing detail in the variegated silver, white and yellow verdant leaves of a Chinese evergreen plant.
Her favorite artists include DaVinci, Picasso and Sadequain, a master Islamic calligraphic artist. She also paints fabrics and creates decoupage boxes.
Imam has shown her paintings in local fine art exhibits at Elms College in Chicopee, the Chicopee Public Library and in a solo show at the West Springfield Quality Inn. Her calligraphic paintings have been displayed at the Mississauga Muslim Community Center in Toronto, Ontario, and the Amostown Road Community Center in West Springfield.
Each time, Imam donated the paintings to the centers.
Growing up in religiously observant home and living in Muslim countries until moving to the States, Imam didn’t focus on Islam’s prohibitions on what can be created in art. She says that when cultures learn about each other and find things in common, they can come together in harmony.
When the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts’ held their first community open house this past May, Imam was responsible for organizing the arts component. The idea was to welcome new friends to learn more about our Muslim community, including our religion, food and arts.
“No matter if some of us are born American or came from our home country, we are all a part of the American community now and we are working hard to take care of this country,” said Imam, a little choked up as she thought about her oldest son, Fouad, currently serving in the U.S. Navy.
Imam and her husband, Arshad, have four children, including a younger son, Osman, and twin daughters, Mona and Sara. The family lived in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain before permanently moving to the United States in 2001.
“I hope that one day my paintings can connect people from all different places and create a nice balance for everyone in the world.” SOURCE