Doubt in ourselves can sometimes hold us back, but painter and military spouse Sidra Hassan-Brown paints through fears and self-consciousness. Inspired by the strong women in her life, she discovers her own strengths in each piece of art she creates.
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Sidra: I was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan. I lived at my maternal grandparents’ house in a household system commonly known as “Joint Family,” meaning everyone lives together. So my grandparents, uncles, and aunts, along with my ten cousins living in one big house! To most of my American friends, a household dynamic like that sounds so odd or “too much” nevertheless, some of my most treasured memories are of growing up in that house. Waking up early in the morning to the sound of Azan (prayer call). The garden where we had roses, jasmine, hibiscus flowers. Coconut and mango trees are still alive in my mind. I remember doing my homework in candlelight and sleeping on the rooftop on the nights when we didn’t have electricity just like it was yesterday. And the best was going every Saturday to the Bazaar with my mom, buying things that I don’t need and eating Papdi Chaat on our way back home!
My great grandmother, grandmother, and mother are the key figures of my childhood and, in some ways, the inspiration behind my art. My great grandmother was a strong charactered woman and was known for her ability always to speak the truth. My grandmother, who I admired so much, was probably the kindest and loving human being. And my mother, without a doubt, the most selfless person I have come across. You see, my father divorced my mom and left us with nothing and nowhere to go, so my mother raised my brother and me as a single parent working multiple jobs and brought us to America in hopes of a better life. I consider myself blessed to have these amazing women in my life who have taught me so much about family, love, selflessness, respect, and the importance of serving others. Looking back at my life, I feel nothing but gratitude that I have made it this far and achieved so much in life. And one of these achievements was meeting my husband. We met on Match.com, and believe it or not, the first time I saw his picture, I turned him down! But he sent me a kind, thoughtful, and intelligent message. We began casually talking in December of 2017 during his deployment, and in April 2018, he made plans to go to Paris on his pass and asked to meet me there. I begged my manager for two days off as I was out of vacation days and decided to meet him. So we met in person for the first time and had our date in Paris, and from there, the rest is history (: This year, Oct 23rd will be our 2nd anniversary.
MilspoFAN: How did you become a painter?
Sidra: Ah that’s such a difficult question.
As a kid, I loved drawing, yet I never took it seriously. But when I came to the USA and took my first art class in high school, I realized that I had missed something from my life. Later on, in university, I decided to take art as a minor since I majored in Accounting. On the last day of the Drawing and Composition 1 course, my professor asked what I am studying, and when I told him “Accounting,” he said, “That’s not possible. You need to study art.” His disagreement with my choice changed my life because if he had never said those words to me, I probably wouldn’t be doing this interview. Well, instead of dropping Accounting, I decided to add art as a 2nd major. And did my first painting when I was 20 years old!
Growing up and until my early 20’s, I had extreme insecurities about my looks. I felt my hands were too short, my fingers were stubby, my skin was too dark, my nose too fat, height was too short, my feet looked weird, and my legs were too skinny. However, the only time I felt gorgeous was when I finished a drawing or a painting. I realized that if I can create something beautiful, I have overcome my fears and found something to love in myself. Even now, often before I begin a new piece, I feel so nervous and afraid that I will let myself down. Because after all this time, I still struggle with uncertainties about my abilities. However, conquering those feelings and continuing to create art and seeing beauty in everything around me is when I feel like a real painter.
MilspoFAN: Describe for us your creative work and the aesthetic of your painting?
Sidra: My creative ideas stem mainly from the roots of my culture. I am the daughter of an immigrant mother from Pakistan, arriving in the United States in late 2002 with my brother and a desire to create beautiful things. The women I grew up around, especially my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, profoundly influence my art. Their success is measured not in monetary gains, substantial wealth, and property acquisition or classical education, but in their strong character, willpower, gentle hearts, and devotion to serving their family. All these feelings and themes come to life in my paintings.
Drawn to the bright colors, hand-embroidered clothes, and heavy jewelry are reminiscent of my Pakistani/Indian culture. Jewelry is considered a symbol of self-esteem, and the desirability for jewelry has been so prominent that it has become the central part of my tradition and culture. To accent their beauty, women use jewelry made mainly from gold, silver, and copper. Traditionally, jewelry and clothing have always been related to wealth and prosperity. It is also a principal part of devotion among Indian/Pakistani women. These elements, combined with my admiration for resilient females and overcome obstacles of their environment to serve their families, give birth to my paintings.
MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as a painter- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?
Sidra: Before I became a military spouse, I worked in the accounting field full-time and only painted on the side. It was my husband who pushed me to take time off accounting and pursue art. So in many ways becoming a military spouse allowed me to pursue my passion, and I have to thank my husband for that. I started to paint more frequently, getting commissions in and doing projects, and then getting picked up by a Paris-based online gallery as one of their artists. So this has been an incredible and very fruitful journey. However, as a military spouse, I have discovered that it is an entirely different lifestyle and not an easy one. You have to have faith, patience, and trust to make it work and keep going. And I guess it almost like creating artwork. You have to have confidence in your ideas, patience in your process, and trust that the end product will be worth it.
Deployments have definitely impacted my workflow and creative process the most. On my husband’s current deployment, he became very sick and had to come home early. This has been challenging because my first instinct is to focus on my husband’s health, and everything else comes after that. However, slowly and surely, things are getting better, and even at times when it feels nothing is getting better, I must exercise my faith and trust in God and concentrate on the beauty that lies ahead and all around me.
MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?
Sidra: Make art, art, and more art (: But currently I am working on a series that combines modern American culture elements with my paintings of ethnic females. Along with that, I am focusing on reaching out to more galleries, submitting work, and gaining more exposure through social media. However, my ultimate goal is to have a show in Pakistan in my home city of Karachi.
MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?
Sidra: Honestly, I am still figuring things out, so I would share what I have learned. If you want to make as a successful artist, first and foremost, make art consistently, manage your time between creating and marketing art wisely, try to make art that your audience will find valuable, and lastly, be patient. Sometimes, success doesn’t come right away, but it doesn’t mean that it never will. Stay the course 🙂
Find Sidra online at:
Instagram: @sidrahassanart and @mytiny.paintings
Etsy Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/TinyPaintingBySidra
Singulart Acct: https://www.singulart.com/en/artist/sidra-hassan-brown-17081