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Meet Artist in Residence Noormah Jamal

1/9/24

Interview

Meet Artist in Residence Noormah Jamal

Pakistani artist and educator Noormah Jamal on sculpting Polly Pockets as a child and incorporating acts of play into her work.

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Across the boroughs, CMA's three Artists in Residence are currently implementing ambitious arts curriculum at each of our partner sites throughout New York City: Hudson Guild in Chelsea, Sid Miller Academy in Crown Heights, and Children’s Workshop School in the East Village. Come spring, our residents will showcase their students' work through exhibitions and installations across the city.


Below, meet Pakistani artist and educator Noormah Jamal, who works with fifth grade students at Children's Workshop School, a progressive public elementary school and leader in welcoming Asylum Seeking families to the East Village community.



Niousha as a young artist


Tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you.

My practice primarily is about the personal baggage that people carry. It's about existence, marginalized existence, overlooked existence, neglected existence, non-mainstream existence — with all the joys and sorrows that are intertwined with existence.


Children are incredibly honest and adventurous. I found that to avoid hesitation in creating or second guessing myself, I started approaching my practice through the lens of a 7-9 year old me and how she saw the world. The symbolism from my childhood. Incorporating acts of play while I create. Being a Teaching Artist keeps me inspired. It keeps me connected to that version of me. So I don't forget that way of experiencing and looking at the world.



Masharaan, oil pastel on arches paper, 12 x 16 in


Do you have any memorable experiences of children interacting with your artwork?

I had an exhibition back home where I had made magnetized ceramic tiles like fridge magnets. It was an interactive installation where people could move the tiles and change the composition of the work. The adults in the space were hesitant, but everything changed when these two kids accompanying their parents started “playing.” They went on to narrate the tale they were illustrating by moving the tiles. I'll never forget the conversations I had with them. Now, with much of my 3D work I always think, “how would I play with them?”


When did you first know you were going to be an artist?

It's been pretty on and off. I wasn't 100% sure I wanted to pursue art as a career until I was 18. I flirted with the idea of being a vet, lawyer, or psychologist, but creating and making art was always a constant. Many called it a “hobby.” Being told that I should pursue something “stable” as my undergrad major made a switch go off in my head. I knew I wanted to pursue being an artist.



Manzil Kareeb, acrylic on linen, 56 x 58 in


In your words, what does it mean to be an artist?

When you feel it's a “necessity” to create.


What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?

Don't stop making and creating. Make work for yourself, not for what you think people want to see.


Can you describe a fruitful childhood experience that influenced your practice?

I didn't play “gentle” with my toys as a child. I remember having Polly Pocket sets with all the small dolls missing. The replacements weren't easy to find and were very expensive, and my mother had made it clear I would not get more. A lot of my early creation came from necessity or a “need,”' and I started making my own miniature Polly Pockets out of plasticine from the age of 7. I made close to 100 by the time I was ten. A lot of the androgynous faces I sculpt and the root of the 'sacred bust series' in my practice stems from those tiny figures I made all those years back.



Sacred Series, acrylic on air dry clay


Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?

YES! Making giant cityscapes with cardboard and old cereal boxes.


Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?

Having a creative outlet is incredibly important. Art is a great medium for self expression. Through the years I feel there has been this notion of art being for a certain class, environment, or group of people. There should be no gatekeeping in art. There is so much good it can foster.



Weeds of Cantonment, glazed ceramic, 9.1 x 3.7 in


About Noormah

Noormah Jamal is a Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist originally from Pakistan. She earned her MFA in Painting and Drawing from Pratt Institute (2023) and holds a BFA in Mughal Miniature painting from The National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan. Her work centers around identity and the personal baggage that people carry. Heavy in symbolism, she approaches much of her practice through a child's lens.


Support Noormah's work at Children's Workshop School by donating to CMA's Emergency Arts Education Fund, which provides free arts education to NYC schools that need it most.

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Noormah Jamal at Children's Workshop School

Directional Coloring

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