Posted 05 May 2022
Interview by Lyla Johnston
Mention Fawziyah Rahman

Fawziyah Rahman is proof that there is still a place for you in the industry even if you didn’t study art

While studying for a degree in nursing, London-based Fawziyah Rahman found they needed a creative outlet to express the hardships of illness they witnessed day-to-day. Her art practice soon grew to become an integral part of her identity and Fawziyah has since found her place in the industry alongside good friends who form her community. They tell us about the turbulent journey leading up to this point, imparts some wise words of advice for anyone just starting out, and narrates how she’s learnt to embrace her own unique creativity.

Fawziyah Rahman

Job Title




Selected Clients

Jadé Fadojutimi, Oitij-jo Collective, The Rebel Dykes

Previous Employment

Homerton Hospital Accident and Emergency Department, Pxssy Palace, Imperial College NHS Trust, Jewish Museum Café, Itsu, Sahara Homes

Place of Study

PG Dip Nursing Studies (with registration), Kings College London (2016-2018)
BSc Anatomy, Developmental and Human Biology, Kings College London (2011-2015)


Social Media


How would you describe what you do?
I paint, draw and write, whilst juggling commitments that keep me alive in other ways.

I have a studio I paint in. I usually paint when I have no commitments the following morning so I can see where the night takes my work, and hopefully I won't have to go back to what I start. Drawing and writing is done anywhere and everywhere. I keep notebooks and colouring pens with me as essentials wherever I go. I make pictorial and written notes when a new or interesting thought pops in my mind, or if something perplexes me and I need to break it down to myself visually. It happens often! On the bus, overground, in a cafe, on a park bench, in my room.

As well as being a painter, you also work as an emergency department nurse. Would you say one role impacts or informs the other in some way?
I started painting during the final year of my postgrad nursing course. Perhaps this emerged from the responsibility and weight of what there was to learn; as it became more real, an outlet was needed. Oddly, I didn’t have close friends working in healthcare. I was living with two web developers and an accountant and never spoke about work to them, because it could be heavy and uncomfortable for people who aren’t exposed to the gore, pain and disease day-to-day.

“As a nurse, you have to put your own needs aside for 12-hour shifts. Painting keeps me sane.”

I think I separated my work life from my personal life as an attempt to rebalance the energy nursing consumes. This isn’t sustainable, however. As well as finding the process of painting therapeutic in helping me process events and feelings from work, I found it enabled me to articulate myself to others more clearly. I wasn’t imposing some kind of emotional burden through words. It would be up to the viewer to decide how closely they wanted to look at my paintings, if at all, and for how long.

Their reactions validated the work I was doing in silence on the emergency department floor, and elevated my sense of isolation. As a nurse, you have to suck it up and get on with it, putting your own needs aside for others on those 12-hour shifts. I’ve always said painting keeps me sane.

Fawziyah in her studio

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
Living in London and growing up here, I’ve been exposed to a lot of culture. It sounds terribly cliché and London-centric to say it’s a melting pot of diversity, but it’s true; the city has been built by diasporas from around the world, each with a rich history. A lot has been stolen by British colonialism (including my family’s history), so it helps to remember that as a child of migrants, the culture is ours. As a kid growing up I absorbed my early knowledge of the arts from the (mainly free) museums and galleries I went to with my older sisters and dad.

When I am moved or impressed by a piece, I subconsciously incorporate elements that stand out in my own work. I have noticed subtle developments in my practice after seeing works by Olivia Sterling, Rachel Louise Hodgson, Tomás Esson, Eduardo Navarro, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Amedeo Modigliani.

“Be it through ethnicity, class, gender, disability status, neurodivergence – we are different in the same way and the same in different ways.”

My biggest influences are the people around me. Firstly my two older sisters (who studied art) and also the people I’ve connected with through London’s queer scene. They helped me come to terms with my queerness as a baby queer university student. My creative practice enabled me to safely explore and express marginalised facets of my identity that may otherwise be rendered vulnerable.

I’ve learned so much from those who sit at various intersections with me. There is magnetism in how we are different in the same way and the same in different ways. Be it through ethnicity, class, gender, disability status, neurodivergence – we naturally exchange ideas as we learn about ourselves through others and give each other permission to simply be.

Firebird (2021)
What She Does (2021)

What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
Last year I bought some large rolls of paper and started upscaling the doodles from my notebooks. I got through two 150cm by 10m rolls in two months. I guess I was excited to get my studio space and also not be cooped up in my flat over lockdown. The studio is a shared 24-hour space and no one would be around at night. I spread the paper out all over the floor and walked over it, sort of dancing around as I freely painted doodles using my entire body, arms extended, kneeling, crawling or bent over.

The doodles were inspired by intense stuff that was going on at the time, for example, frontline pandemic work, isolation outside of work (both from reduced contact with people and PTSD), moving home and switching careers. It was fun magnifying the absent-minded, dazed out doodles, then blowing them up and magnifying them to analyse what I may have been disassociating from. The process was therapeutic and the outcome satisfying.

“I spread the paper out on the floor and walked over it, sort of dancing around as I freely painted doodles using my body.”

Inside Fawziyah’s studio
Inside Fawziyah’s studio
Inside Fawziyah’s studio

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
I’ve had several conversations with various people who went to art school, who have told me that they’ve spent a lot of time having to unlearn what they were taught after graduating and that they admired the freedom and originality that comes through in my work.

Being an autodidact [self-taught] artist means my work is completely me: what I chose to do comes from the questions I ask myself from the situations I put myself in (as well as the situations life puts me in). There’s a constant feedback loop. Creating work is an impulsive compulsion. My curiosity is insatiable and stubborn, always asking “What if…?” and then being pragmatic in my quest for answers.

If you could sum up your job in an emoji or meme, what would it be and why?
(Below left) This me when I'm overwhelmed by an emotion I haven’t expressed yet.

(Below right) This is me in the Emergency Department. I gravitate to the intoxicated or confused patients more than most of my colleagues. I think my neurodivergence gives me deeper compassion for those with mental health and substance misuse issues. Self-medication is sadly very common amongst us to cope. Steve Irwin is a legend. I love him.

How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I am dyslexic and my GP believes I have ADHD and am on the Autism spectrum. All of these are neurodivergences that determine how I take in, process and respond to information. I’ve realised that all the doodling I did throughout lectures was an attempt to stay focused and a way of making sense of communication structures that weren't built for me. It’s like maths, instead of showing workings out or calculations, I do that visually.

To fit into a neurotypical society, we learn to override our natural behaviours and reactions to present as more socially acceptable. This is known as masking and can take its toll on mental health. Depression and anxiety are common. Since becoming more aware and learning about myself, I have found that sharing and exhibiting my work has been instrumental in the process of unmasking, as it’s showing the world who I am – a portrayal of me by me. Perhaps my work compensates for the masking I am still in the process of unlearning.

“To fit into a neurotypical society, we learn to mask our natural behaviours. Sharing my work has been instrumental in the process of unmasking.”

I think the motivation behind my work was seen more than ever by my artist friend Jadé when the pandemic hit. It sparked our professional relationship and she hired me as a studio assistant despite me having no formal training. It’s strange how we tie our validity as artists to monetary productivity, though this was certainly a leap in finding my feet in navigating the contemporary art world.

Forgotten Names (2021)
Who Needs To Dream Anyway (2021)
Success (2021)

How did you go about landing your first clients and commissions?
I helped out my artist friends with bits and they would share any opportunities they could put me forward for, like doing this interview! I also had a few people reach out to me on social media to do group shows and panel discussions. From there the chain reaction goes on and your name gets out there. People want to work with you based on what they've seen of your previous collaborations and press appearances.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?

Imposter syndrome. It took a bit of convincing from my friends – who saw the value of my work more than I did – in order for me to take it seriously. I was taught by my parents to not do art as anything more than a hobby as it was deemed an unstable and insecure career path. They’ve always worked from pay check to pay check and did not have the means to support me financially.

I had to challenge that voice that insisted I keep my work to myself, lest I overshare and embarrass myself. In the end I knew my art practice gave me a sense of satisfaction, a purpose that I didn’t get from anything else. I knew pursuing it meant doing the right thing for me, even if it was just to see where it leads.

Fawziyah rahman art creativelivesinprogress 20

Sketchbook drawings by Fawziyah

Fawziyah rahman art creativelivesinprogress 09

Fawziyah rahman art creativelivesinprogress 08

Fawziyah rahman art creativelivesinprogress 29

Fawziyah rahman art creativelivesinprogress 05

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
My friends who are artists: Hayley Wall and Jadé Fadojutimi, have proven to me that a career in the arts is fulfilling and viable, dispelling my mother’s disapproval.

You and Me: Let’s Talk about ADHD, a podcast by Nora Nord, has shown neurodivergence in a positive light. It’s a superpower!

The patients and service users I helped throughout my healthcare career have inspired me with their resilience. They make me appreciate the power and privilege of having a platform, of having my voice heard.

“I had to challenge that voice that insisted I keep my work to myself, lest I overshare and embarrass myself.”

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
Instagram has been instrumental in starting out as an artist. It was the first platform I ever shared my work on publicly. Looking back, I may have started as a way of getting over some post-break up blues and to show my friends an introverted part of me. I got some lovely, encouraging feedback that kept me sharing. It was a good way of challenging and overcoming the self-consciousness that comes with the vulnerable, open and revealing process of sharing, as my viewers were at a distance.

As my content and followers increased, I had new people reach out to me for collaborations and shows, which have since solidified my standing as an artist. It’s a great way to connect with people and create a fan base of followers but in no way replace connections IRL. I would add a word of caution to be wary of doom scrolling away for hours as it’s designed to keep you hooked. Get your endorphins and dopamine from other things too!

While it can be good for inspiration, try not to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others – it’s all curated, edited and not an accurate portrayal of reality.

At the Helm (2020)

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
I started out using materials that my siblings no longer had use for and let me borrow. Having limited access, I had to be resourceful and inventive. I started buying new materials on my nursing salary when the others ran out.

It was when I made my first large orders for art supplies and started paying studio rent (a large fraction of my income) when I knew I was doing was something more than a hobby. Putting your “money were your mouth is” can be hugely empowering and allowed for a greater sense of ownership and pride in my work. This pushed me to seek out and take up opportunities to share it. I felt I deserved them.

“I started out using materials that my siblings no longer had use for. Having limited access, I had to be resourceful and inventive.”

My practice is self-funded through part-time work as a studio assistant and continued emergency department nursing. Being independent and self-funded gives me the explorational freedom to create whatever I feel like without the pressures of it having to appeal to a particular audience.


My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
This isn’t necessarily career-specific, though these words have helped me a lot:

Trust yourself. Follow your instincts.
Let go of perfectionism and a scarcity mind set. You get out what you put in.
Spend time with those who see you and make you feel whole.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Just because you haven’t studied art doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for you in the industry. Your talent, enjoyment and self will come through much louder than any credentials ever could. People are at their most creative when relaxed, so never underestimate the value of vibe setting.

When it comes to making connections, remember, people usually want to simply enjoy themselves and have fun. You have to take yourself seriously before others can take you seriously. Leave imposter syndrome at the door. Your work will speak for itself.

Interview by Lyla Johnston
Mention Fawziyah Rahman