KHAMSA talks to the ARTrepreneur.

Sara Shakeel (@sarashakeel on Instagram) is a multidisciplinary artist, known for her famous artworks made with crystals. Raised in Pakistan and based in London, Sara Shakeel wasn’t initially destined for art. After dropping out of dental school in 2016, she decided to create her first collage artworks and publish it on Instagram. Immediately, her artworks garnered fame and discussion within the community and beyond.

Today, Sara Shakeel is an internationally recognized artist who exhibits in several regions of the world and wants to leave her imprint on it. KHAMSA went to meet this iconic crystal artist for a detailed interview.

١. How, and why, did you end up using crystals in your artworks?

Back in 2016, I was in my final year of dentistry school, and unfortunately, I didn’t end up being a dentist. I had nothing else to do, so it may have been a happy accident, but I started creating collages. I had no experience in art, I didn’t even know what collage art was, but I had a phone and I started blending and putting images together. I remember that it made me so relaxed to create artwork; I used to create four or five artworks a day and post them.

One day, I accidentally came across this image of lipsticks, and I decided to replace the lipstick with a crystal pattern, I put it on Instagram. The next day, many people messaged me, magazines like Cosmopolitan, Glamor Magazine, asking me where they could buy the lipstick. Of course, I had to get it clarified that it was a piece of artwork and not a real product. I started getting recognition for having a very unique taste and signatures, especially with crystals. I used to highlight the most ordinary things and bring them to light and let people look at it with a very different perspective.

It’s not just about aesthetics – of course it looks pretty to the eyes, but it has a lot of meaning as well. For me, every image has a story, a deeper meaning. When I did crystal lipstick, I remember it was a huge deal to buy cosmetics for myself. It was something that I wished for, and I made it into a good-looking thing. If I can’t buy it, at least I can make it look pretty for my eyes.

٢. How do you see your relationship with your audience?

I let everyone interpret my artwork to their own experiences and their own story. A lot of people don’t know my face, so I like to silently go into my exhibition and listen to what is being said. I just stand there and listen to a lot of feedback.

I enjoy all kinds of interpretations and all kinds of stories. I love how their eyes are wide open. The most interesting part of my career is when people make a story out of my artwork.

٣. How did you transition from a digital artist to an artist who exhibits in reality?

My first installation was a dinner table entirely made out of glass crystals. It was an exhibition that I did in 2019, and it was entirely covered with millions of crystals. I remember back in 2018, I got an email from NOW Gallery in London and the curator said to me that they loved my work, but (since) I was a digital artist, they wanted to know if I could do something more physical, and just like that I began to do exhibitions.

Recently, I’ve been awarded the Talent Global Visa, so that I can stay in the UK and do business. The UAE gave me, last year, the Golden Visa too. I’m truly honoured because all of this was done on merit. I’m blessed to have an audience which is worldwide. I launched my instant pot collaboration in Chicago, I had my Kerastase project at Palais de Tokyo, in Paris. In Saudi Arabia, I did the desert in crystals for the Saudi Cup in Riyadh, and I recently just made my profile on the Chinese social media ‘The Little Red Book’. So my world exists everywhere, and I’m very grateful for that.

٤. You are using artificial intelligence (AI) for your artworks. What do you think about this new way of creating art?

I believe that we can do anything wrong and right, that is up to us. It is very important that people can relate to me and my work. So, I make sure that whatever I create out of AI is a mirror image of what I have done in the past. When you are a collage artist, you take different images from different spaces, then, you either license it, or you get it from public domain. Finally, you recreate in such a way that at least 80% of it is changed or formatted. AI does it even better, because it does not create the exact same thing, it makes probabilities of the same image.

I believe that my job, as an artist, is to show people what they can do and learn to create something on their own. I want people to get inspired by my work, to create more art out of it in their own signature style. This is how you get inspired. That’s exactly what AI is doing – it’s taking images, it’s reconstructing it into a new one. For me, AI can never be a threat to any human being; we should be confident enough to believe that we are far superior to a simple computer or an AI. Using it ethically is up to us.

٥. You often use current events in your art, whether it’s Black Lives Matter, the Moroccan earthquake in 2023, or the recent situation in Gaza. What link do you made between your art and politics?

I don’t see it as politics – I see it as a humanitarian point of view. I remember I made an artwork out of the Moroccan flag, when the earthquake happened in 2023 – that was not political. With my artwork, I meant that we should be there for each other, regardless of ethnicity, religion or culture.

When it comes to Palestine, it was also a humanitarian point of view. Humans are far superior to wars. Children shouldn’t die, regardless of whichever side of the border you are. One side has suffered more than the other side, and we all know that.

I will always accentuate the narrative with my art as positively as I can, because crystals can never go wrong and this is my way of telling people how I feel, with the message of more love, empathy and understanding. I want people to be encouraged towards the image and then make their own conscious decisions.

٦. Finally, what advice would you give to a young artist?

When you love yourself, and you are positive about life, everything around you sparkles. I was in the darkest place of my life when I dropped out of dentistry school. I was living in Pakistan (and) I had the minimum things to create art, but I still did it, because I was hungry for more creativity and letting the world know what I was capable of. If a woman like me, from Pakistan, can create all of that and travel the world, I think anyone from any part of the world can do so. All you need to do is believe in yourself. I always say that in a dark room I am this little crystal, and even if there is a small tinge of light, I sparkle!

Get to know more about Sara Shakeel here.

Selma Chougar is a French independent journalist of Algerian origin who writes for several magazines based in Paris, London, and Dubai. Culture and societal phenomena in the Arab world are her areas of expertise. She contributes to both French and English-language magazines.