I first discovered Sidra Hassan-Brown on MilSpoFan (an amazing site showcasing military spouse artists), and I was blown away by the quality of her work. She paints both realistic and abstract art that is infused with an otherworldly essence, and I found myself completely immersed in them (and then purchased one for myself).
Sidra’s story is also especially riveting because she is a military spouse who is originally from Pakistan – and her cultural roots come through vividly in her art. I can’t wait to share this interview with you!
One of my favorite quotes from this conversation to inspire all artists:
“If I don’t love what I make, no one else will.”
Can you give us some background on your family? What branch of service is your husband in?
I am originally from Karachi, Pakistan, and came to the USA at the age of fourteen in 2002 with my mom and brother. My mom raised my brother and me as a single mother working multiple jobs. She is incredibly hardworking, but she always felt sad that she didn’t receive enough education. So coming here, I knew the importance of education. After high school, I enrolled at New Jersey City University, majoring in Accounting and Art. I went straight into accounting because it was a steady income, and I needed to help my family (and probably because I didn’t think I was good enough of an artist). In 2017, I met my husband, who’s currently serving as a major in the U.S. Army, and he encouraged me to take a break from accounting and pursue my art full-time.
I think so many creative people are scared to take a leap like that. What made you make that decision?
Changing careers, especially from accounting to art, is daunting. Even now, there are times when I have moments of doubt and experience fear about failure. For that, I have to give credit to my husband because he is incredibly encouraging, and in 2019, as he was getting ready to deploy, he convinced me to leave my job and give painting full-time a shot. I think believing in yourself is very important when it comes to such a transition. Because the journey of being an artist is not an easy one, since I am starting so late, mentally and emotionally it can be challenging. So I constantly tell myself to stay strong and stand true to my subject matter and what I am trying to create. Because if I don’t love what I make, no one else will.
When you paint, do you work from real-life images, or do you see an image in your head and work from that?
I almost always work from reference photographs. Usually, I will have an image, idea, or memory in mind, so I would have one of my cousins dress up to take reference shots. On other occasions, since I follow ethnic photographers, dancers, and designers, I would use their photographic work as a reference for a painting after asking their permission, and then I go from there.
You got picked up by a gallery in Paris, which is every artist’s dream. Can you tell us about that experience?
It felt pretty amazing! Singulart is a Paris-based online gallery, and they represent artists as clients all over the world. In December of 2019, one of their scouts got in touch with me and showed interest in my work. Their interest in my career was very encouraging because it was right when I started to paint full-time. Hearing from them gave me hope and confidence.
You are the daughter of an immigrant mother from Pakistan. Do you uphold any Pakistani traditions? Do you find this difficult or easy in military communities?
Yes! I do. My husband loves Pakistani food, so almost always, I am cooking traditional food. Traditional clothing and jewelry are part of the daily routine. I pray every day and fast for the month of Ramadan and celebrate our religious holidays. I speak/write fluent Urdu, so whenever I am around my family, you can hear our loud conversations! The importance of family, a massive portion of Pakistani tradition, really played a part when my husband got medically evacuated from his last deployment.
The lockdown due to COVID also affected him emotionally and physically. So that was a challenging time, but the mindset of supporting and honoring my family and relationships helped me be there for him. At times, I find it difficult because you won’t find a mosque or halal food options at a military base, or people around me are not fasting and celebrating similar holidays like me. So it can feel lonely sometimes. However, this absence doesn’t deter me. Instead, it helps me hold on to my traditions and beliefs stronger so I can pass them on one day to my kids.
Where can people buy your art?
- I have a beautiful series of abstract that can be purchased through Singular.
- In between my big projects I make these quick small paintings that are available on Etsy.
- My series of ethnic paintings are available to view on my site. If anyone interested in buying a piece, please contact me and I would be happy to assist.
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- How to Get Zen as a Stressed Out Military Spouse
All images courtesy of Siddra Hassan-Brown