An artist has spoken of how her career in Islamic art began inadvertently after she suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. 

Zahirah Hafiz, known as Zai, from Manchester said she initially turned to art as a means of coping with her mental health.

Zai, 23, said, “My mandala journey starts off at a low point in life when I was suffering with anxiety. I had panic attacks often, I was becoming more and more antisocial and before I knew it, I was completely lost in life. It felt like I had no control over what was happening.

“One night, when I couldn't sleep and when my anxiety was proving too difficult for me to handle, I sat down at my desk and just started to doodle. I realised that I had distracted my mind, my heart beat was slower and less erratic, my thoughts had stopped racing and I noticed how much calmer I was feeling. I was controlling my anxiety!”

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Doodling for Zai was a visual representation of her thoughts and feelings. From these creations, Zai went on to produce detailed mandalas which were the catalyst for Life In Detail.

“I started to organise my doodles more and eventually found that the artwork not only ignited a passion within me but also helped with my mental health and well-being.” 

From having a background predominantly in science, Zai reveals how this segued into a career in the arts.
“I always loved the arts and being creative but never saw it as more than a hobby and so I found myself attempting to complete a genetics degree at the University of Manchester. 

“After a miserable first year and realising I definitely did not want a future in science, I decided to leave and found myself trying to turn my creative hobby into a full-time job for myself.”

Zai creates Islamic art with a modern twist, as seen on her website, saying the work reflects what the younger generation can relate to. 

“I find that a lot of young couples want Islamic art for their new homes. While my artwork draws on Islamic designs from the past, I try and use bright, poppy colour schemes that appeal to the younger generation.

“A lot of my inspiration actually comes from the beautiful designs that cover some of the greatest mosques in the world. I wanted to create the same kind of impact with the intricacy and detail but on a smaller scale that could be brought home.”

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Having embraced her own personal mental health journey, Zai donates a percentage of her profits to Young Minds UK, a charity fighting for children and young people's mental health. 

Zai is also keen to raise awareness of mental health within the Asian community through her art.
“I still think it's such a taboo subject within the community and I think it makes it so much more dangerous for the people suffering from mental health issues when they feel like they have to keep it a secret. 

“It's a shame because a lot of the time actually acknowledging and talking about it with your family can have such a positive impact and is often the first step to getting better.

“It's important to keep starting conversations about mental health within the Asian community and I hope being open about my story through my artwork can do that.”

You can view more of her work here