Toronto-based Bangladeshi visual artist, Salbhi Sumaiya was drawn to the realm of art at the age of five. Astonished to see one of her random aeroplane drawings on a small blackboard, her parents wasted no time and enrolled her at a renowned art school in Dhaka.
Since then, she has been painting and making a living out of it.
"Sometimes the smallest things can have the biggest impact on someone's life. As a child, the painting was an instinctive way for me to express my ideas and creativity," said Salbhi Sumaiya.
"As I turned my passion into a profession, the medium became a larger platform for me to convey my artistic thoughts and raise awareness about environmental and socio-political issues that are important to me."
The artist moved to Canada in 2017. Initially, she was perplexed by the massive differences there regarding the weather, landscape, food and demography.
"I found it difficult to start off my career in Canada but enrolling in different courses helped me improve my skills. In order to pursue my passion for painting, I took a big step and rented a studio in the Kensington area in Toronto," shared the painter.
In 2019, she applied for the RBC Arts Access Award; an award designed to support newcomer artists to help create new works.
"I was happy to have been chosen as one of the twenty recipients for the 2019 RBC Arts Access Award, and got recognised at a reception at the Museum of Contemporary Art in February 2020," recalled the artist.
The themes of her artworks are usually based on raising awareness of the various contemporary issues in today's world. Some of the themes in her body of work are the mass extinction of animals caused by human interference and the plight of forceful displacement of Myanmar's Rohingya population.
Her overall artistic vision is to create art that celebrates nature. She also wants to build awareness about environmental concerns, animal rights and reminding people of their role as the most conscious being to take care of the planet through her works.
Though oil on canvas remains her favorite media to work on, charcoal sketching remains a close second. Over the years, Salbhi has developed a distinctive style, which uncannily resembles the works of renowned British artist William Morris.
Right before every Eid, she, with her cousins, would put Henna on their hands and create limitless patterns and designs. Ever since, she has been incorporating those intricate patterns and designs in her paintings.
"Every artist has different ambitions and motivations when it comes to creating art."
"I am driven by an innate and compulsive desire to create art. The art world has always had a very strong social undercurrent. My career path forces me to interact with people of different social backgrounds and mindsets, which in turn provides me with the opportunity to think differently."
There are various reasons why contemporary art is important to society. It often provides opportunities for reflecting ideas and concerns, rather than focusing on the aesthetics of things and beings.
"It is part of a cultural dialogue that concerns larger contextual frameworks such as identity, family, community, nationality and wildlife," explained the painter. "It can include depicting literally or figuratively any views on anything and everything from politics to pop culture."
Salbhi Sumaiya points out some fundamental differences between Western and Non-Western Contemporary Arts in terms of their techniques and mediums, culture, history, aesthetic ideals, religion, and philosophy.
"Culture plays a vital role in determining artistic products. Art can be affected by everything including food, language, social customs, music, literature and geographic location."
About getting a place in the contemporary Canadian art scene, Salbhi Sumaiya explained, "Despite the numerous contributions of the diaspora community in the cultural field to the city of Toronto, developing a career in art here is still a challenge."
"Major art institutions and galleries in Canada are rooted in colonialism, so naturally there remains a distinct hegemony regarding solo exhibition, media coverage and career development.
"But this is being reduced to a great extent due to government and NGOs' support to bring the immigrant population into the mainstream. The main obstacle remains - which is lack of recognition, experience and credentials from the home country."
About her upcoming art project focusing on the threat to wildlife, the artist said, "I have a demonstrated history of partnering with organisations related to social issues. Very recently I have participated in Canada's most competitive and biggest art festival, known as Toronto Outdoor Art Fair."
"Moreover, I have a few more projects in the pipeline in line with the Toronto Art Council, Ontario Art Council and RBC, to name a few."
Due to the on-going pandemic, options have been rather scarce, but the virtual place is not too bad either and is developing quite rapidly. Clients who would typically not be interested in visiting physical art exhibitions or clients, who never knew they have a knack for arts, are suddenly into buying paintings.
"During my stay in Bangladesh, I had managed to sell most of my paintings via virtual platforms, which has surpassed my expectations. Therefore, I also plan to hold more conceptual themed online exhibitions in the days ahead."
"In one of my upcoming projects in Canada, I will try to represent the beauty and the threats to the wildlife population in Bangladesh."
"The wildlife in Bangladesh has a lot to offer to the international community in terms of its beauty, however, little is known about it beyond the borders as Bangladesh lacks in promotional and conservational activities."
Salbhi Sumaiya is credited with holding several exhibitions in Canada, South Africa, Poland, Japan, India and Bangladesh. She bagged the Royal Bank of Canada's awards and grants from the Toronto Arts Foundation and Ontario Arts Council in 2019.