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More than art

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FROM a young age, Sharina Shahrin displayed a pointed interest in different forms of art and expression, which eventually led her to being a mixed-media visual artist in the present day.

“I enjoyed drawing, painting, singing, dancing or anything that gave me space to tell a story,” Sharina said, adding that her family background played a large role in her progression.

“My parents loved music, photography, film and always collected carpets, ceramics and art wherever we went. I had the privilege of traveling a lot, which allowed me to access incubators of creativity such as museums, galleries, theatres and textile factories”.

Those experiences and exposure not only gave her insight into different cultures and histories, it nudged Sharina to become who she is today, which she says was the most organic career choice.

Love for batik

As a mixed-media artist, Sharina founded an independent creative studio and a fashion label, both employing two different styles of the artist’s art disciplines. One is “abstract and wild”, and the other employs textiles.

“Although it may seem that my personal artwork is a stark contrast to the visuals of Baju by Sharina, I really don’t think so. I love anything vibrant, bold and expressive and although the execution between the two may seem different, at the core, conceptually they are in line with my artistic values,” she said.

Her fashion label, Baju by Sharina was founded on the tenets of promoting the value and beauty of Malaysian batik, which is important to the artist, as she deploys art to encourage everyone, particularly the young, to love and wear batik.

“I can’t take full credit for the designs themselves, as we worked with batik makers in Terengganu. I would say it was more of a collaborative effort between us. I’ve always loved batik, but the team we had there were the experts of the craft so my contributions were deciding colour palette and choosing which elements of design I wanted to highlight in different collections we had,” she said.

On whether she has applied her painted art to batik designs, Sharina said she has not, although she has painted on textiles for an installation work.

“I would like to, though! When it comes to my art, I’m extremely impulsive and intuitive, perhaps it’ll happen when a story I want to tell requires that form”.

Necessary activism

Beyond her studio and fashion label, Sharina has also established Safe Space, a platform for women to express, connect and learn.

“In 2017, my friend Annatasha started hosting Safe Space Tea Parties at her home, to provide the women of our community a secure environment to talk, and discuss anything that may be considered taboo in our country. Topics such as domestic abuse, substance abuse, sexual harassment and mental health were all openly discussed to show that nobody is ever quite alone in any situation,” Sharina explained.

She added that a lot of what she does, in both a personal and professional capacity, is centered around women’s issues.

In 2018, the first Safe Space Retreat was hosted by the two, seeking to merge therapeutic and self-care workshops into the safe space. The workshops covered art, fitness, food and makeup, and were conducted by talented Malaysian female entrepreneurs.

The following year, they engaged a bigger, collective issue faced by women.

“In 2019 we were approached by a survivor of sexual assault to help her organise a workshop that could educate people on an issue that affected herself and thousands of people in Malaysia,” Sharina said.

“The aim was to raise awareness on sexual assault in Malaysia and provide the necessary information to report it and the tools to overcome it. Our speakers panel included NGO workers, counsellors, lawyers and law enforcement officers”.

A proud, self-avowed feminist, Sharina believes the uncomfortable conversation had to happen, so that information can be shared.

“This is so we can ultimately provide a safer community for everyone. Safe Space has been a platform to try and achieve that goal. We have had support from family, friends and brands such as Vans, Staedtler and Urban Decay.”

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