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Interview | Samee al-Panda: Aerosol Artist

Assalaamu alaikum! 

Those of you who have read my post on the 'artistic jihad' competition might remember brother Samee's work (the one with 2 aerosol cans, yin yang, life/death).

This is an exclusive interview iHijabi carried out with him to give you an insight into the mind of this amazing artist [mashaAllah]. Here you will learn more about his work, what inspires him as well as some tips and advice for aspiring artists. Do check out some images of the art work with descriptions at the end of this interview  (=

-What's your name? Age? Occupation (i.e. day job)?

My name is Samee Chowdhury, I'm 21, I’m a student, I’m from a little town called Loughborough (the unknown place with the high class university lol) I did my Foundation Degree at Loughborough University last year... currently on a gap year, and then will be back in Uni in September to start my degree in Graphic Design insha'Allah!!!

-Tell us a little bit about the type of art work you do

hmmm my art is diverse I don’t think I can sum it up so easy - I've been doing art all my life and it ranges from fine art, graphics, illustration, paintings, stencil art, aerosol art... erm some 3D art here and there... art influenced by media, Islam, my childhood, politics, the world... anything really! 

I take inspiration from whatever I feel is good :) I have my own style of calligraphy, I do them using marker pens and then turn them into stencils, and once I make a piece I don’t make them again. So each piece is a one-off and can’t be found anywhere else on the planet unless it gets digitally cloned by some third party. I rarely make the same design twice.

-How did you get into Islamic art? 

It was during my A level days - I did a specialist project on graffiti but because graffiti is such a broad topic - you have old school New York graffiti, political graffiti, pop art graffiti, stencil graffiti, wildstyle etc... I had to focus on one aspect.

At first I wanted to wildstyle - more complex, vibrant, and colourful graffiti and it reminded me of Arabic letters. The way it'd weave in and out of each letter to build something which can hardly be read but looks amazing! but that would've been too time consuming so my teacher suggested I began by looking at Banksy - that’s when it began, I was experimenting with stencils, wrote out my name in Arabic and made a sample from that – it was really simple but I loved it. My Art Teacher checked it out, and told me to merge Arabic typography with stencil art and take that route for this project. Done

-What/Who were your inspirations and why?

My inspirations are too many! I don’t take much inspiration from Islamic artists… don’t know why. I think the Arabic script itself and Islam as a perfect way of life is the biggest inspiration behind all my Islamic artworks and life in general…

In terms of artists I love Banksy and Shepard Fairey - they're my favourite! How their art speak strong messages, it really makes you wonder about how powerful art is today and how powerful is will become especially in light of current affairs in society and the rest of the world. KAWS is also cool - a lot of my more fun and colourful works are inspired by his style - lots of colour and action...

erm the graphics that you find on clothing by A Bathing Ape, Nike, Air Jordan, cartoons like Pokemon, Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog... Malcolm X, the society, the world around us- the list is endless, I take inspiration from randomest things

-What benefits has your artwork brought you?

Alhamdulillah ALOT. I've been doing Islamic arts/aerosol arts for about... just over 3 years, I started selling some pieces here and there in college, then I sold many off on commission basis... erm I've painted for a local youth club, did one of their mini buses, I got invited to paint at two local Universities for Islamic Awareness Week... Alhamdulillah it can only get better :)

-What have been your biggest achievements?

No achievement can be big enough for anyone... but I feel that being able to paint in its self and pursue my passion is a big achievement. Because not many Muslims (where I'm from) are doing arts, it’s not really encouraged; a handful of people would often do it at GCSE or A levels and then stop. I had no choice because I was never good at maths or science or those clever subjects.

But yeah... erm I had one of my pieces auctioned off at an Islamic Relief Charity Dinner to raise money for Pakistan, I painted a mini bus, erm did some large scale art for Islamic Awareness Week and most recently winning the Artistic Jihad competition, Alhamdulillah!! That was crazy - I started my piece 4 days before the deadline and wasn’t expecting to win... but Allah works in mysterious ways - Alhamdulillah!

-What are the obstacles you have come across with regards to your art work and how have you overcome them?

ERMMMM.... everything! You’ll always have problems in all aspects of life; it’s just a how you deal with it and know how to stand up again will determine what you are. For me, I just try and keep focused on my goals in life and never throw any goals in the bin regardless of what happens in life. At times you might feel like one of your aspirations isn’t happening. Have patience and come back to it later when the situation gets better Insha’Allah. Prioritise.

-What's your favorite piece from all of the work you have done and why?


I don’t have a favourite piece... I think each one of my works is unique in its own way, because they each have something that others don’t – my art can be found on canvases, paper to aerosol cans and games console… so I try keep each piece different and continue to experiment on different surfaces. But I like my Life and Death piece that I submitted for Artistic Jihad - that whole concept was down in my sketch book for around two years. I never got round to making it until then, and Alhamdulillah it paid off!

-Who are your audience?

I don’t really have a set audience - a lot of people have shown interest in my works, Muslims and Non-Muslims. But on the whole my art isn’t restricted to any particular type of people – it’s for young and old, English, Asians Arabs, African, Japanese… Muslim or non-Muslim… humans or aliens…

-Have you received support from friends and family, especially when you were starting out?
Yes definitely!!!! Alhamdulillah, my close friends and family have supported me all the way through all of this and are continuing to do so! They give me the motivation that I need from time to time and are one of my driving forces behind it all. So big love to them!

-Some people think graffiti is just vandalism, what have you done to change that perception?
LOL, I believe, like Banksy, that the advertisements of all these capitalist companies are the biggest form of vandalism. Because it’s causing destruction to the nature of human beings… we live in a society driven by materialistic values. I think graffiti is art. More importantly the reason I do Islamic art is because it allows you to contemplate and re-connect with your inner self, when people see my Islamic arts they usually think its been done digitally on photoshop or something, I don’t know how they feel when they find out that the root of it all was graffiti. But I hope maybe that it causes them to see street art in a more positive way.
 But “vandalism” as in tagging – I’m 50/50 on that – if someone was to come and tag my house or someone else’s house I wouldn’t be pleased. I wouldn’t do the same to others… because that’s vandalism. But when I see tags on corporate buildings or government owned property… hmmm that’s a different issue because we live in a fake Zionist/capitalist state, there are people living in harsh conditions here in UK and I don’t see no equality, people are being robbed by those in power.

Reality is a lot worse than what is deemed to be vandalism. That’s why it doesn’t bother me when I see a business location get tagged or painted with some colourful art. If anything, it sparks a thought about the truth of society… controversial I know. But to change that – I want to show people that aerosol cans can be used to make art that people can accept and hang up on our walls, especially Muslims because, on the whole, art isn’t really valued amongst our people. Its crazy…

-What's the best thing about what you do?
Too many! The best thing… would probably be enjoyment. I love what I do. It’s more than a hobby it’s a deep passion that I’ve grown with through my life. You know, not only that. I think art has caused me to try and stay humble, it’s a God given gift and I shouldn’t forget that or get too big headed. Because the moment I do that… Allah may choose to take this gift away. 

Also, enlightening people! A lot of my illustration based stuff and university work usually revolved around world affairs like consumerism, Palestine, capitalism, westernisation and its harms… but not everyone wants to view a piece of art which is just reflecting what they see on the news so I try to blend it in discreetly. 
For example “Broken Panda” may look like the Panda with a broken head breaking through a wall. But in actual fact the broken head symbolises “broken” people (i.e. us – the voiceless people here and around the world) and the wall being broken is to represent the barrier between us and them (the elite, politicians, the military, the media and those small percentage of people with power) and how that we, as a people will rise up against oppression and injustice to claim what is ours and cause a revolution against all forms of injustice and falsehood. I’m not a Marxist or any of those weird ideologies. I just believe Truth will triumph through the people. Its simple, good always beats evil. Oh yeah. The broken panda piece also symbolises the destruction of the Segregation Wall in Palestine…

and another example. I had this little Arab kid in Arab attire standing with a handful of sand with the Burj al Arab in the background. I made this a really “innocent” looking piece… more directed towards contemporary pop illustration. But the whole idea behind it was: the fading sand symbolises the fading away of Arab culture which will lead to the upcoming generations to be people of no identity or confused about where they fit in. Allah knows best. But you see this happening today anyway! And the Burj al Arab – to symbolise capitalism/westernisation of these developing countries. It’s not cool and I think each country and culture is unique. They should just stick to their culture and not become imitations of the west. The idea of globalisation doesn’t seem right. I think it needs to stop. That’s why I use my phrase “Maintain Originality in a Fake World” in some of my pieces. So yeah, I like to educate people “subliminally” through my works, even if it be a little.

-What words of encouragement can you give to young aspiring artists?
I’m not the one to be giving advice because I’m not on a level to be, but… Be REAL! Keyword – REAL!!! Don’t give up. Stay humble. Keep your intentions clean and do what you can. Never ever give up. The last thing you want is to lose. Stay strong and by the Will of Allah you will succeed, it’ll take time and patience but so long as your intentions good and you do what you’re capable of, things will slowly happen. Always be on the lookout, keep up with the changes in the world… always experiment and try and break barriers. Think outside of the box. And LEARN. Learn. Learn. Learn.

-What does the future hold for you in terms of your work?
Allah knows best… I only pray that He opens up more opportunities for me and allows me to be successful! Ameeen! I’ll be going back to University again so that should be another stepping stone Insha’Allah… and I’ll be doing my biggest project yet in Lincoln just before Ramadhaan, at Living Islam 2011. Zain Bhikha, Maher Zain, Dawurd Whransby, Zaid Shakir and a bunch of other speakers/performers will be there too. So Alhamdulillah I’ve been invited to do some BIG live art…  should be good.

-And finally, I have to ask this, whats with the panda?

LOL I get that all the time… Panda was a random tag I made near the end of 2007? I wanted to create a trademark symbol to represent me – and Panda came to mind. Why? Because of the colours black and white –to me symbolises good and evil. Two opposites, which exists within all of us, a bit like my Life and Death piece. I felt that was the best way to represent me since I’m an imperfect human being. So after experimenting different styles I stuck with the one I have now. The scar resembles the scar I have above my left eye. So I turned it into a little character of myself that I use for my arts. So yeah it’s just character representation of me, a trademark symbol I use in my works… nothing to do with a global takeover… although I might consider that after University…

Al Hera Mini Bus (commission) – commission project done for the local Muslim youth organisation of Loughborough. The design was inspired by one of my favourite video games: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker :D

Arab Kid: Maintain Originality in a Fake World: every nation in the world seems to idolise the Western states like United Kingdom and America and westernisation is spreading like fire. I just felt that cultures are being eradicated especially in the Middle East (ahem Dubai and Saudi Arabia for example…), by wiping out culture you lose identity and become a “robot” in society. It’s not cool. This piece was designed to highlight that problem, its not apparent. But I’ve snuck the message in there.

Surah al Ikhlaas and Arabic Spraycans: random. I wanted to try an alternate surface for doing some Arabic art, canvases eventually got a bit repetitive so I thought why not turn my junk into some art with Islamic words. That eventually lead to the Artistic Jihad piece. The Surah al Ikhlaas one – I chose this verse because it’s the foundation of Islamic belief – Tawheed. So I wanted to display that in a funky way.

DeMontfortUni (Unity) and Lboro Uni (Salaam): open project done for Islamic Awareness Week on massive hardboard, it was a collective effort by myself and all those who chose to get involved. About 5-6 hours of painting. the photos dont really do justice to the size. it was big.

I hope you liked this interview and have now been INSPIRED =D

Make sure you join Br Samee's facebook page by clicking here to keep up to date with all of his new projects and pieces (=

Wassalaamu alaikum 



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