A keen interest in the inner lives of women

Afrah Shafik

Goa, India

Multimedia Artist: digital, animation, sound, video, archives, writing

What type of projects do you do?

I am a multimedia artist; my work is not confined to one particular medium. I often use digital technology – animation, sound, video, coding; as well as writing, research and archival material to make hybrid visual artwork.

Why did this sort of work interest you, and how did you get started?

I’ve never been to art school and was not really exposed to it while growing up, so I didn’t exactly set out intending to be an artist. I was always an avid reader and liked to write. Towards the end of my college term, I took a short course in documentary filmmaking that I enjoyed and decided to do a Masters in Mass Communication. At that time documentary film felt like a more imaginative way of telling the same stories I was perhaps interested in sharing through my writing. After my Masters, I had the good fortune to assist and be mentored by filmmakers and artists from whom I got to explore and learn not only the medium of documentary filmmaking and visual art but also a political and feminist understanding of issues.

I always worked as a freelancer, and I didn’t confine myself to one particular type of job. I just went from project to project working on things that sounded interesting to me. This meant that I sometimes worked as an assistant to a film curator, sometimes I was the manager for a film festival, at other times I was a line producer on a large scale documentary shoot, an illustrator for an internet project, or a researcher on an academic publication. As I went on this journey, I slowly became more familiar with various practices and skills and when I got the opportunity, I began to make work that in someway combined all the things I know and like.

I make art as a way to understand and make sense of the world around me.

I think it is important for everyone to have the space to tell their own stories in their own way.

In our constructed world of media and its related industries there is mostly a dominant set of people who do all the talking. Often, they narrate their experiences as the only truth, or speak on “behalf” of other people without truly understanding or accurately representing realities beside their own.”

The people who are often left behind and spoken over – women, people of colour, people of a certain religion, caste, class, ethnic background, sexual identity, ideology – hardly get to see their themselves represented in the world outside. When I watch or read something where I can see myself truly reflected, it gives me strength to continue to be myself and to understand and accept myself. I have experienced this, and I feel in turn this is the ethos that guides me in what I make.

What parts of this job do you like and find most satisfying?

The nice part about being an independent artist is that you can see what you find missing in the world, and make that thing. Or you can think up a world you would like to live in and then make that come alive in your work. I find in that a satisfying way to cope, to hit back, to thrive.

“I have a keen interest in the inner lives of women. Their history, feelings, work, skills, minds, bodies and behavior has been controlled, contorted, misrepresented, ignored.”

But there are so many people who have been undoing the lacuna and misinformation bit by bit in their own areas of study. I like that my work allows me to spend a lot of time reading and research around this. Lately I have been spending a lot of time in archives reading about women’s histories, letters, diaries, stories – which I find very satisfying.

What do you not like or find most challenging about working in this industry?

I have many complaints about the functioning of this industry, which are reflective of also the functioning of this world in general. The way in which cliques are formed and there are insiders and outsiders. The way in which access to resources is so unevenly distributed. The way in which spaces and work can be ghettoized and side-lined. I do feel however, that I am presently in a space where I am looking to channelise disappointment and anger into productive energy and would therefore not want to dwell on these.

My strongest assets/skills, areas of knowledge, personality traits and values are….

I enjoy opening out my mind, dreaming up things and giving in to creative instincts and sudden inspiration, but I am equally committed to seeing it through with the work that is required to translate an idea into its material form. I believe in attentiveness, to giving my all, to working hard. I think this is my strength. I like to do every project that I engage in to the best of my own ability.

Has IAWRT’s network of media women around the world helped or inspired you?

I have honestly not been exposed much to the International network of IAWRT but I have certainly been inspired by and helped endlessly by the women in our own India Chapter of IAWRT. Several of the members are filmmakers whose work I admire very much.

“Being a part of IAWRT reinforces the importance of the collective.”

What are your long-term goals?

I would like to continue to expand my knowledge and skill base, and to experiment and push the boundaries of my own work both formally and conceptually. I would also like my work to reach a wider audience. And in the very long term, I would love to also be a producer – finding ways to fund, show and facilitate the work of other artists.

What special advice do you have for other women seeking this type of work?

I think that everyone has their own voice and way of expressing what they would like to say. This means that everyone cannot make “viral material” that gets all the hits. At the same time I do believe that there is an audience for every type of work. It is a great feeling if even two people truly understand what you have made and it gives them meaning and that is enough to keep going.

“Don’t try to make things for the likes alone, because in that process you may lose your voice and your own very unique and special way of saying things.”

It is sometimes a scary and anxiety inducing process to find that voice or continue to hold on to it and let it grow – but when it does begin to happen, it is a very reaffirming and fantastic feeling. Sometimes it might feel like you don’t know what you are doing, and there is no reinforcement from anywhere. Even when this happens, just trust your gut and keep going. Do listen to criticism carefully, but don’t stop making the stuff that makes you feel alive. 

Do you have any special words of warning, or encouragement, based on your experience?

Although the rewards of working as a freelancer and an independent artist are many, it is also difficult sometimes in terms of sustainability. Unlike having a job or working on contract you don’t always know where your next payment will come from. If you make work that is niche, you may find it hard to sell or get funders too. I don’t have any quick fix solutions for these very real world problems, but if you are consistent, honest and good at what you do things do work out – so keep at it and don’t give up.

links to some of Afrah Shafiq’s work available online.  


Personal website/profiles on line.


www.loveandotheroutdoorgames.tumblr.com – (same name on instagram)