An interview with Nilupa Yasmin. Nilupa left JCC in 2014 and after graduating from Coventry University with a 1st class degree, she’s now a successful artist and activist.
Which subjects did you study at JCC and what was the most useful thing you learnt here?
I attended JCC between 2012-2014 and studied A levels in Art, Photography, Business studies and Maths. I had a very diverse range, so I learnt to adapt and apply each subject to one another.
When did you realise you wanted to go into art and photography and what did you do to get to where you are today?
I studied art in schools and left with and A*, which was a big personal achievement. I initially intended to study a maths degree and was almost ready to sign up on UCAS for that, but I’ve always had a very big passion and interest in my arts subjects. My photography teachers, Laura and Deborah, played an immensely important part in me pursing my passions further. I guess they saw something in me and my work that I didn’t, and I’ll forever be grateful for the push I received from them. I went on to receiving an unconditional offer from Coventry University, and conditional offers from Leicester De Montfort, Nottingham, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. My art teachers, Debbie and Shaun, and photography teachers played a really big part in where I am today, and I don’t think I would have made it into university without their support and encouragement. They’re still following my journey many years after I’ve left JCC. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get here, it’s easier said than done but in this field, you have to give your 100%. Not caving in and giving up has been the biggest struggle but I’m really glad about how far I’ve come.
Do you have any advice for students considering a degree in photography?
I do have a few words of advice! You need to be passionate about the work you’re creating, whatever it is, big or small- you need to want it. I highly recommend you read up on the course overview as not all photography courses are the same. Many specialise in different themes or areas of interest, so find one that best suits what you enjoy. I studied A Level Photography and found myself on a course with students who had studied BTEC, diplomas and foundations, yet undergrad was a whole different level and way of working for us all. So be prepared for that! I would recommend doing a foundation in art and design if you don’t feel like you want to go straight into university, it helps in honing down your skills and allows a different environment to work in. I say this from first-hand experience; prepare to be challenged on what your idea of photography is, the type of photographer you want to be and even how to take a photograph.
How has your career developed since graduating from Coventry University?
I graduated with a 1st class degree with honours and I’m still making and exhibiting work, which isn’t something I thought I would be doing. I’ve had some great opportunities that have allowed me to really grow in my practice. I’m an artist (feels crazy to say that) and I create work relating to culture, self-identity and anthropology. I’ve been involved in community based participatory photographic projects where I’ve worked with groups in order to educate them in a new way of working.
What are your main career goals for the future?
I’m really enjoying the work I’m creating right now and would like to continue to do so. I mean the dream is to make art all day every day and exhibit it all over the world. Maybe own my own gallery someday or just a giant studio and darkroom for now. I’m keen to always try new things so I don’t have a set plan on where I want to go. As I’m a mixed medium artist, I’d like to see how and what other materials I start working with. I do want to do my master’s which I have been looking into, just looking for the right course and place to do it at.
South Asian culture features heavily in your work, what is it about your heritage that inspires you?
It was through my university work I discovered that I have many unresolved questions about my culture and heritage. I use a lot of hand weaving in my work and later discovered that my great grandmother was a weaver in Bangladesh, which I didn’t know till that point. As a British Bangladeshi, I’m constantly dwelling between my own identity and its very evident in the work I’ve been creating. I also explore many ideas surrounding, what it means to be a woman and more specifically a south Asian Muslim woman. There is very little representation for this in the arts and I want to bring about that change, where we can speak about what it truly means to have these labels associated to us. When people look at me, they will form their own preconceived notions about who or what I should be. These ideas come from what they are taught to believe, to generations of culture embedded in them and I’m working to create a conversation on that through my work.
Do you think art is an important part of activism?
Yes! Art has been a tool of activism for centuries. Specially with the society and culture we live in, art has become a direct reflection on the things that surround us. I consider my Art to be a form of activism. It’s a big ask, but I’m working towards creating work to bring about that social change, starting with representing the underrepresented through my art.
How did you get involved in public speaking and lecturing work?
Public speaking started from university; Whether it’s the process or the contextual references, we were always encouraged to talk about our work. For me, I found that my work interested people, I was exploring ideas that intrigued people thus they wanted to hear about it. I’ve spoken about my work, through artist talks, in various settings as well as sitting on panel discussions and symposiums. My first lecturing opportunity came from Coventry University which is where I’m currently a HP Lecturer. I started that in early 2018 and have since taught on modules such as photography and the narrative, participatory practices, professional futures and creative development. I really enjoy lecturing and see myself continuing in the academics.
Are you working on any exciting projects at the moment?
I have a few things lined up for spring/summer:
- Exhibiting a set of self-portraits exploring my identity from my ‘Grow me a Waterlily’ series at the first Asian Woman’s Festival in March, Birmingham.
- Exhibiting at the Herbert Art Gallery in April as part of my commission with the Photo Archive Miners for Coventry’s 2021 Culture. The project is based on Foleshill Road in Coventry and I’m exploring the diverse multicultural community residing there.
- Exhibiting in West Bromwich as part of my commission for their Blast festival. The project looks at personal life and livelihood through markets and handcraft.
- Currently a member on the advisory board for Coventry biennial and working on exhibiting some work in November with them, to be confirmed.
Its sounds like a pretty busy year but I’m also on my Postgrad in post compulsory education specialising in arts, so I’m working towards completing that.