“We do so many stories every month and many a times people come back to us saying, “We loved the story, could resonate with it perfectly, and I tell them it’s the strength of the character that leaves an impact and not the story.” I feel extremely fortunate to be speaking to some of the amazing people across the globe, at the end of every conversation I have, what stays with me is ‘their spirit of not giving up’, ‘their resilience’, ‘their life-lessons’. Sara Inshira Nazoor who grew up closer to a suburb in Sri Lanka, comes from a very conservative Muslim family. At the age of 16, she was diagnosed with Scoliosis (A disorder that causes an abnormal curve of the spine, or backbone). The condition changed if not many but a few very important things in her life. One of which was the way she saw herself. Struggling with acceptance and fighting rising eyebrows, Sara did not give up, she found her way out through imagination and creativity.”
Sara, tell us about your background, the roots you belong to and what laid the foundation of an exceptional artist and profound thinker in you?
I come from a very conservative Muslim family where everything you do is grounded on either a scientific or a religious theory, I think that was the foundation I had. Growing up closer to a suburb in Sri Lanka we visited our grandparents and extended family in Galle during holidays. Imagination and creativity was always encouraged during these trips and it was essential for survival since I come from a family of four where I am the third. We didn’t get everything we wanted, thus we had to re-use and re-cycle almost everything.
Then later at the age of 16, I was diagnosed with scoliosis and this changed a few things, the X-Rays, the corsets and the constant ‘what’s wrong with your back’ was quite mentally taxing. I had at one point accepted who I was and loved myself, but really talking about it to other people was still tough. Channeling all this frustration and anger towards creating jewelry was my coping mechanism. I don’t wear a corset anymore, but I do have a hump.
I just wanted to prove to myself more than anyone else that appearance isn’t everything.
Artwalk for SriLanka happened in 2015 and you presented your jewelry collection under the segment ‘Chain Reaction’. You came up with the idea of using selfies for inspiration…What was the thought process behind?
In 2015, the Artwalk theme was Love your selfie. I wanted to incorporate that into my jewelry design. When I was scrawling through Facebook I saw a photograph of my friend. It was an intriguing photograph where the subject’s face wasn’t visible. It made me tick. After that the process was about collecting selfies and extracting the features and personality out of those images and trying to portray them as pieces of jewelry using unique material and designs.
You have also represented your work in International Art and Design Competition 2016 -Academia Riaci, Italy. How was your experience?
I didn’t think I will be one of the finalists, I thought it will be a good experience, and it was. First the four pieces of jewelry that I worked upon were on paper and nothing else, but as I labored on they came to life piece by piece. The whole competition helped me visualize and conceptualize jewelry and gave me an understanding as to what kind of jewelry I wanted to make.
Your travel from Kandy on a train to Colombo Fort gave birth to a unique design and concept called ‘Framed Train’. Would you like to share more about it?
The grammes train concept drove me to frame the experience I had on the train, as I was travelling solo from Colombo to Kandy to visit my friends. What amazed me the most was the fact that from one carriage to another I could see a huge number of people traveling somewhere with different personalities, different thinking patterns but all crammed and dragged by one train which was going to one destination.
Sara, you are also a Psychology student actively involved in Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention. What connects the dots between jewelry designing and social activism?
When you look at it from outside, nothing does. I would say, it’s about being creative using different tools to approach the psyche of people and children. Designing, as a broad umbrella term helps me understand, facilitate, create sessions or programmes that reach people. I always believe that there is no one way you can learn and there is no one way you can teach. Different people think differently and to reach out to them you need to think and approach differently and I feel this is where jewelry designing, creativity, imagination comes into play.
Tell us about ‘Footsteps to Freedom’ and how did it come into operation?
Footsteps to Freedom was founded by Nivendra Uduman in 2016. As a counselling psychologist and an avid rescue worker he understood the need for mental health awareness in the island. This started a 44-day walk spreading awareness on mental health from Point Dondra to Point Pedro. Two years after, he wanted to organize another walk, this time around the island, I was interning under him while volunteering at Shanthi Maargam and he asked me if I would like to join in, since he wanted a Tamil speaking walker. Ranil joined in from CCCline1333, a toll-free telephone counselling service in Sri Lanka. We recruited a team of volunteers and kick-started planning the route, promotions, fundraisers and accommodations.
A report by WHO released in May, 2017 states that, ‘More than 3000 adolescents die every day, totaling 1.2 million deaths a year, from largely preventable causes’. How does your mission with Footsteps to Freedom aims to bring a change?
By spreading awareness on suicide and educating people as to how to respond, how to provide mental health first aid, how to identify the warning signs and where to refer their friends and loved ones.
Your conviction and your dedication towards community building is commendable. What defines you as a person Sara?
Humanity defines me. It’s as simple as that.