By: Ehmed Nauman, Loyola Junior
Rogers Park is known to be home to bustling art culture. In jazz clubs or street festivals, local artists make a lasting impact on the neighborhood’s community.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced public art events to take a pause, but that does not mean local artists stopped making art.
Surrounded by painting-filled walls in her apartment near Loyola’s campus, Sara Zainab Akhtar, a 20-year-old artist and Junior majoring in Visual Communication and Studio Art at Loyola, finds herself constantly shifting her approaches to painting during COVID-19 through Rogers Park’s countless opportunities for community art.
Originally from Las Vegas, Akhtar has lived in Rogers Park for the past three years where she explores her need to paint while developing her style, inevitably influenced by the pandemic and the neighborhood.
*Interview has been edited for length and clarity
RER: How did COVID influence you and your art?
Sara Zainab Akhtar: Last year I probably created the most I ever have. I also left my house the least I ever have. I think quarantining kind of just forced me to paint since there wasn’t much else to do. I was able to experiment and care less about being too meticulous about my paintings and was able to just flow whatever I thought of whether it turned out to be cool or not. I started painting really huge canvases, which is something that was pretty intimidating but I felt like experimenting with things like that helped me gain more confidence to just try things out.
RER: Are you active in Rogers Park’s art community?
Sara Zainab Akhtar: Now that COVID is kind of lightening up, I definitely want to become more active in Chicago’s community. Recently I was asked to do a live painting session next to this really cool jazz band at Archie’s Cafe. I saw another artist doing a similar thing once and I was super excited when the band also messaged me asking if I would be interested in a gig like that. It was really nerve-wracking having to paint in front of people like that but I think when I got into a good flow, in the zone, vibing to music, it turned out to be a really great experience.
RER: When did you realize you love to make art?
Sara Zainab Akhtar: When I was like six, my sister Sophia taught me how to draw an eyeball and really focused on making sure I drew details like the tear duct and waterline. I love the idea of being so detail-oriented and being able to change a space in a way that moves your eyes in a certain direction. I also just like aesthetically pleasing things. Once I got a bit older and learned more about painting, I realized how much of a de-stressor it actually is for me and how I can pretty much just turn my brain off when making something.
RER: Where do you find inspiration when painting?
Sara Zainab Akhtar: I don’t think I have one set way of finding inspiration. Sometimes I just get these weird visions in my brain where I can just picture an entire painting, other times I just squirt some paint down and let my brain just take the painting wherever it does. It can definitely be discouraging when I’m in creative blocks but I think most of the time it’s because I’m just too scared to start a piece. I find a lot of inspiration through other artists I follow and through my environment and COVID definitely changed how I make art in more ways than I first realized.
RER: What are some of your goals as an artist?
Sara Zainab Akhtar: I definitely want to continue adjusting my view on my art to become more confident and really try to just focus on making art that I love rather than thinking about other things. Of course, I want to continue making art throughout my life and want to make it my career so I also want to find different ways of getting my art out there besides just selling through Instagram.
For more information on Sara and her art, visit @saraakhtar.art on Instagram.