By Ruqaiya Asim

Ever since I was little, I’ve had a passion to be creative. From an early age I knew I wanted to go into art, however I didn’t realise how challenging this would be. Being a young person going through sight loss and trying to tackle the visual industry isn’t an easy task, but one I strive to triumph.

I don’t want any other visually impaired person to feel as though they can’t achieve something because of what society makes us think. I want to help the VI community understand that they can aspire to do what they like, without boundaries. My other goal is to educate the public and change stereotypical views.

One of the major obstacles I’ve encountered is people putting me down and not having faith in me, as if going into this creative field of work isn’t hard enough with my vision. This was a challenge that came up so often, I learnt that if people aren’t going to have faith in me and my artistic dreams, I’m going to believe in myself. To help me with this, I began creating art I loved. My favourite art pieces to create are abstract paintings or anything with texture incorporated into it. My favourite thing apart from the tactile nature in my work is when it consists of bright, bold and vivid colours. The reason why I make this type of art is because I believe it reflects my personality and it fascinates me how every individual person can interpret it differently.

After making plenty of art for myself as a hobby as well as for educational purposes, I decided I wanted to broaden my creative skills and began to get captivated by fashion. I like how fashion unites my love for texture with something creative. Due to this I decided to apply to a certain college for a fashion course, however it didn’t turn out to be the most uplifting experience. The teacher that interviewed me took one look at me and my cane, then told me I was too blind to do fashion and she ranted on about that for a good few minutes, without asking me any questions and giving me a fair chance. When I got home later that evening I felt down, hopeless and useless.

I’m glad I didn’t let that get in the way of my goal and ambitions, otherwise I wouldn’t know how much I could achieve. A year after that dreadful interview, I decided it was time for me to dabble into fashion a bit more. I came across a fantastic opportunity at the V&A. This fashion course only lasted a week, but I learnt so much and had an incredible experience!

At the V&A I participated in many artistic activities such as looking around some of the fashion exhibitions, embroidery, crafting embellishments and creating my own dress. This definitely came with its own difficulties but with some help I managed to find ways to adapt it to my needs. With the fashion exhibitions I had a small handling collection with a few items to help me imagine what the dresses looked like, this included gems, fabric samples and tactile diagrams showing the shape of the outfits. With the embroidery and embellishments I experimented with it until I found my best way of working. For example, I preferred using wool or thicker string while hand sewing as it made it easer to feel. As well as that, I liked to use contrasting colours.

While making the dress I stuck thick puffy tape to the base of the sewing machine so I could feel that the fabric was being sewn straight. I also wanted some contrast between the white machine and the guide line I was using, so I placed some black masking tape over it. I had supervision while using the machines, but everyone I worked with had faith in me, they said “with some more practice I believe you could be doing this on your own one day”.

This experience made me feel a lot more confident in what I could accomplish. Not only was I achieving all of this but at the same time I was working along sighted peers and keeping in pace with the fast speed of the work. I wanted to go back to that first college and show that teacher what I can do and prove her prejudice views wrong. I realised that I can do anything anyone else can, just with the right adaptations.

Throughout this journey, I had days where I felt extremely anxious and down, I felt like I was going through a rollercoaster of emotions. Something that helped me deal with this was art therapy. Before I get into my experience with art therapy, I want to mention that this is a method that worked for me personally and also may work for you, however this should not be used as a substitute for professional help if needed.

Using art as a way to help me understand what I was feeling was very important to me and still is. Most of the time I don’t know how to put my feelings into words but putting it into a form of art is something I can do and that is familiar to me. For example, I know when I’m beginning to feel worried as I’m drawn to dull or dark colours or even rough and coarse textures. Something else I have tried is talking to a therapist about a particular art piece I’ve made. This helped with figuring out what was going on in my mind, as well as having someone to help create a solution.

For those who are looking into any type of therapy, I just want to say that not all therapists are going to be compatible with you. This doesn’t mean therapy isn’t for you, it just means you have to find the right person, which isn’t impossible. Also, I know talking to a stranger can be daunting, but don’t let this thought put you off. I understand that it can be terrifying: I’ve been there myself, but that’s why it’s so important to find someone you’re comfortable speaking to and in the initial stages of meeting with the person you begin to build friendly rapport.

Mental health is very important as it has the ability to rule your life for better or worse. Keeping your mind in a healthy state will help you in whatever you want to achieve, also bringing positive energy to you and everyone around you.

Useful links

Here are a couple of organisations which helped me:

FAD (Fashion Awareness Direct)