by Sonia Azalia
I felt a certain curiosity when I came across Nazneen Suleyman’s mystical and metaphysical world of paintings. It compelled me to learn more about the stories that inform her art…
When I asked the 38 year-old artist, teacher and single mother why she pursued the arts, she told me that art has always been one of the biggest loves of her life. This is something that every passionate artist would say, but the choice to follow her dream wasn’t that simple. She was torn between pursuing the arts and her other love, the sciences.
She flourished in science throughout her school years and proceeded to study for a BA (Hons) in Multimedia Design at university. Her immiscible love for both the arts and sciences led to the concept of her artwork- the combination of physiology, metaphysics, the human condition and the intelligence of the heart.
There is a series which caught my eye the most. It features two figures, seemingly male and female, beaming out brilliant electromagnetic-like strokes conveying the interaction of mutual energies. The series is inspired by the knowledge and understanding that Naz has gained over the years about the intelligence of the heart.
“For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated and passionately intrigued about the heart and its nature. For years, it just seemed like an odd thing to have love for. After over 15 years of reading, learning, experiencing, reflecting and analyzing, I am now even more amazed by the effects that a pure, sound heart (well nurtured in the physical and spiritual sense) can have on the quality and clarity of how we perceive, live and love in life. My current research in my artwork deals with the hearts ability to physically affect the hearts of others. In this series of artwork, I am seeking to express how the intelligence of the heart has the capacity to affect not only its host’s physical, spiritual and emotional aspects of life but also that of others. I guess, essentially, this symbolism is what I am exploring and trying to express in my artwork with the two figures. In essence, the bigger picture of all my research and art is about the connections between the heart, Quran, sunnah and modern science and how this can elevate one’s spiritually.”
With her art leading her through these experiences and giving her a spiritual insight, I could imagine how the self can be truly transformed through explorations like this.
“My beautiful struggle has humbled me. My artwork has allowed me to really get to know myself again. It has sparked an unbelievable amount of inspiration, thirst for more knowledge and confidence. These aspects have helped me to connect the ‘dots’ in both dimensions of my existence. These aspects have reassured me that my heart is intelligent and is forever guiding me towards what is good for my soul and that it has the ability to resonate and provoke a positive awakening in others. It has sparked inspiration in me to inspire others in the many different forms that one possibly can.”
Although she has always been quite observant of the world around her and the diverse forms of human interaction, she feels that madrassas (educational institution, often religious) are not giving children in-depth lessons about the heart, its diverse conditions and intelligence.
“I feel there is a lot of scientific knowledge and wisdom out there that if invested in and taught in an effective way can benefit today’s youth in an extremely positive way.”
As a secondary school art teacher who has been teaching for nine years, her approach to implement this subject is tangible to not only the logical mind, but to the entire realm of her students’ consciousness.
“Having knowledge is one thing. However, we cannot implement any knowledge effectively and consistently until we clearly understand how it will benefit us. For example, if I knew that a 20 second hug releases the happy hormones in a person and relieves stress levels, I probably would have hugged my mother more often rather than taking things so personally, just an example! It’s this kind of information related to the heart that could be good for a child’s understanding of their teachings from an Islamic madresah, as well as from their educational state/private school. It would enhance them more effectively morally, socially, physically and emotionally. ”
“I currently have a form class of about thirty student aged 15 to 16 years old. I am the main person in their secondary education who will support, mentor and guide them through the five years of their secondary education. As a form tutor, I have had the opportunity to teach them about the intelligence of the heart in many different ways at different points of their time at school, when relevant and appropriate. For example, regarding their character, behavior, mannerisms, communicating with other people of different backgrounds in different environments, time management, dealing with emotions, bullying issues, discrimination, antisocial behavior, anxiety, depression, preparing for work experience, preparing for college interviews and the list could go on.
Sometimes, I will implement this subject simply through nurturing, for example if a student is not functioning, it might be because they are regularly missing breakfast before they come to school- through an explanation of how scientifically this affects their brain, immune system, heart and ultimately their behavior, they then understand and can make a positive change. Having this kind of knowledge helps me to understand students better and as a result can make their learning more effective. In this way I have helped students to deal with anxiety, low self esteem, asthma, self harm, anger, depression, health, poor behavior, diet intake, poor attention/concentration spans, relationship issues and so on.
I would like to see today’s youth grow into strong, confident individuals that will question everything, even their own teachers as opposed to just accepting things. And what a better way to embark on this life journey than with getting to know yourself, exploring the capacity of your own intelligence that lies within the heart.”
I am definitely in awe of her immense dedication. In fact, our conversation felt more like a consultation than an interview. Every time she gives out her scientific and spiritual insight about “the intelligence of the heart”, it made me contemplate deeper on how my heart is navigating my own journey. To choose kindness, dedication, forgiveness, humility, and resilience is to open a door leading to a uncovered higher sense of the self.