LYRA Swim Blogs & News

LYRA- Inspirational Women Series with Shaimaa

KB: Shaimaa, you beautiful human! I hope you’re well and thriving as always. Can you start us off by telling us a bit about yourself? All the general details, what people should associate you with.

Shaimaa:  I would describe myself as someone who is lost in two worlds. I recently graduated from Cardiff University as a Doctor, and moved to Devon for my first set of jobs and I’m currently on surgery which I’m loving. But I’m also a huge creative spirit, and would call myself an artist in the realm of mostly Islamic art.  My niche is at the moment watercolour and gold ink on Islamic geometry. So the kind of work and craft you see in Morocco, Granada, Andalusia, and that kind of realm of Islamic architecture is incredibly interesting to me. Also, Arabic calligraphy but more specifically Arabic calligraphy on maps. I have this huge fascination with maps and I think I’ve just stopped doing any Arabic calligraphy that doesn’t go with maps that I find.

I think people associate me with a fight or a pursuit for keeping going as a creative, in a world where its very important to maybe follow the rules a bit - it’s very difficult to explain. But a fight for being creative and literally going for it and fighting for your ultimate goals or dreams as an artist. I think that reflects on my Instagram, in between all of my term times and work, I try and exhibit and commit to art courses. It’s a full commitment to pursuing a career or a lifestyle as an artist. And I hope that people see that on my Instagram and on my website.

“I’m incredibly artsy and creative, and just would spend all of my time thinking about or looking at art…I was just very fascinated by the artwork of the world. But it wasn’t very much encouraged, and I was just made to be quite ‘sciency’, which I think is quite a common story for a lot of people who have traditional Arab parents, or just the mentality of it’s always very important to think about what you want to do academically, and don’t worry too much about your hobbies”

 

 

KB: So one of my favourite things about you is that you are someone who uses both aspects of your mind - scientific and creative. I’m sure this has been difficult to balance for you, but what do you feel keeps you motivated to keep both channels of yourself open?

Shaimaa: I feel like to answer this question I have to tell you a little bit more background wise. So growing up, science and maths were very much encouraged, and I feel like although I would paint I didn’t pay attention to that much. It wasn’t until my A-levels that I really realised I’m incredibly artsy and creative, and just would spend all of my time thinking about or looking at art. It doesn’t even have to be Islamic art - I was just very fascinated by the artwork of the world. But it wasn’t very much encouraged, and I was just made to be quite ‘sciency’, which I think is quite a common story for a lot of people who have traditional Arab parents, or just the mentality of it’s always very important to think about what you want to do academically, and don’t worry too much about your hobbies. So it doesn’t feel like a balancing act for me now, it feels like medicine is a bit on autopilot and the creative side of things are taking more of a front seat because I have to fight for it more in the environment I’m in, in terms of family and expectations.

I don’t think of art and medicine as two separate things to be honest. I think I ended up going into medicine because of this potential for a platform to do good, and even now as I start my job as a junior doctor, I’m thinking about why I went into medicine. I would love to do more work abroad, like with NGO’s, that sort of work really inspires me. And with that there are also ways you could incorporate art into it, in terms of film, documentary making, things like that. So it isn’t just a separate thing for me.

 

“That’s where the name ‘SalaamSanctuary’ (my art brand) comes from actually - a peaceful creative space away from everything, really. Not only work and obligations but the chaos of the world, especially now”

 

 

KB: Would you say that your art is a way for you to step back and unwind from the heaviness/intensity of practicing medicine? Is it in a way, a medicine for you? (Cliché, I know)

Shaimaa: 100% yes. Art is definitely a way of escaping from medicine which now is long hours, whereas before it was just the stress of endless studying. That’s where the name SalaamSanctuary (my art brand) comes from actually - a peaceful creative space away from everything, really. Not only work and obligations but the chaos of the world, especially now. For me art is something that you can control. The easy part is knowing that you like art and the galleries and stuff, but the hard part is building yourself up as an artist. So, it isn’t always peaceful and easy, there are stressful parts to it as I’ve come to know.

 

KB: So what got you into Islamic geometry specifically and why is it a passion of yours?

Shaimaa: So, this is a really long story, but essentially the first time I formally studied art was at A-levels, and that was just a massive wake-up for me that there are so many creatives out there. I studied abstract work, mixed media, landscaping, and all other sorts of mediums, and that was the first time I actually went to galleries and museums and had a look at people’s different styles of artwork.

I didn’t really know that there was Islamic art at that point, and then when I took my year out before uni, I downloaded Instagram and that is when I started connecting with creatives, but also creatives that were Muslim, and that is when I discovered this whole beautiful world of Islamic architecture, Arabic calligraphy, Islamic geometry, and Arabesque and traditional forms of art that I’d never seen with my own eyes or even in pictures.

That really fascinated me, so I started following people like Peter Gould, Adam Williamson, and Richard Henry who offer courses in Morocco, Turkey, Granada, and Iran. It was very inspiring to me because I didn’t relate to English artists in the same way I related to people who also incorporate religion into their art. Ever since then I’ve been studying geometry and Arabic script, and seeing where I take it and exploring that niche. As well as from a background of liking abstract acrylic work and watercolour and things like that. So, it’s just a massive journey of which I still feel like I’m right at the beginning. But it’s incredible, I’ve met so many different people and it’s so nice to relate to them creatively and through religion as well.

 

KB: That’s all so amazing and your work is phenomenal, I hope you’re able to continue growing within it. Where can people find your artwork and follow your journey?

Shaimaa: My Instagram for my work is @salamsanctuary, but you can also find blog posts and additional content on my website salamsanctuary.com!

 

LYRA- Inspirational Women Series with Sumaiya Saiboub

KB: Salaam Sumi! To start off, can you tell us a bit about yourself? Just the general details, nothing too deep yet (we’ll get there)... 

SUMI: So my proper name is Sumaiya Saiboub (Sumi), but my parents have been calling me Sumi forever, to the point that I went to kindergarten I thought Sumi was my name. Then from there on I’ve always been Sumaiya at school and work, and Sumi for friends and family. I am 22 years of age, and I was born and raised in Italy! My parents are immigrants from Morocco.

"I have come to realise that there is an insane amount of pressure on women's bodies, and on matters concerning women’s bodies, that don’t actually influence our value as an individual"  

 
 

KB: What would you say your mission is as an individual, and what you feel is something you need to commit your efforts towards? 

SUMI: I don’t think you can call it a mission - I don’t think I’ve done that much to be named a ‘mission’, but in these few years, I have come to realise that there is an insane amount of pressure on women's bodies, and on matters concerning women’s bodies, that don’t actually influence our value as an individual (how clever we are, how smart we are, how talented we are) - and my mission is to demise all of this in a way that future generations to come will not think that if they look a certain way or decide to way one thing instead of something else, they can’t be who they want to be. Or that they can’t choose a certain career path, and can’t do what they want to do or even achieve their dreams because of something they wear, or that they’ve been called names because of something they wear. 

KB: That is amazing and so important. So I know you run a blog/platform called Ya Sisterhood (Your Abrahamic Sisterhood), can you tell me a bit about it and what your intention behind starting it was?

SUMI: Ya Sisterhood is a platform discussing not only what it means to be a woman, but a spiritual woman (specifically those following Abrahamic faiths). Through that there is an emphasis on a sisterhood between women, and focusing on our similarities as opposed to differences. So, the proper answer is that I was having a conversation with a friend who is a practising Christian, and we realised that we have much more in common than we thought. And what we wanted to build and still want to build is a community of women elevating women, despite what our differences may be. We also aim to share what it means to be a practising religious woman.

"Through that there is an emphasis on a sisterhood between women, and focusing on our similarities as opposed to differences.."

KB: That’s such a unique concept and not something that I’ve personally come across before. Where are you planning/hoping to go with that initiative? 

SUMI: There’s many talks and many ideas, but at the end of the day we will have to see where it is going to take us. What we know for sure is that we would love this to get to as many people as possible, and get as many women as possible to have more genuine and deep conversations regarding womanhood and faith. It’s a platform open to all that want to contribute. We feature various blog posts about the lifestyles of practising religious women.

 

 "It pushed me beyond my comfort zone, to talk about things I didn’t think I’d be able to in public, and to realise that many go through the same. It created a sense of unity and belonging through engagement with other women and their stories"

 KB: What would you say is the greatest impact that starting Ya Sisterhood has had on you?

SUMI: It pushed me beyond my comfort zone, to talk about things I didn’t think I’d be able to in public, and to realise that many go through the same. It created a sense of unity and belonging through engagement with other women and their stories. 

KB: What are you currently working on and where can we find you?

SUMI: We are currently working on a series about women’s empowerment through cross-religion scriptures, and also about stigmas that are directly related to culture but get mistaken as religion.

We can be found on Instagram as well as our website @yasisterhood, and I can be found @coveredinlayers on instagram.

KB: I know you have been quite busy with work/finishing your degree as well as all of your pursuits, so how do you strive to balance your time?

SUMI: It’s a lot of pre-planning at the end of every week for the next week, otherwise you won’t be able to get everything out of it. With the juggling between a job, classes and everything it’s almost impossible to balance it all without a good planning strategy.

KB: So a bit of a more broad and densely packed question: what do you envision as your legacy?

SUMI: A generation of women that realise they have much more in common as a whole life experience being a woman than tiny differences and details that get so often emphasized. But that are actually just meant to divide us. The idea is to make women realise we share much more in this life than we think, and we go through some of those struggles and challenges and also have our faith as our compass. Our faiths, especially Abrahamic, are very similar. In the sense that they share common core values.

LYRA- Inspirational Women Series with Medina Whiteman

‘’But most of all the barriers have been in my mind, you know being frightened of appearing publicly and publicising my work because I didn’t want to receive negative attention.’’

 

So, here we are with the first ever blog where we at LYRA interview inspiring women all around the world, ordinary people doing extraordinary things; just the kind of women we love to support here at LYRA. Medina Tenour Whiteman lives in Orgiva, Granada, and is a singer song-writer, artist, poet and multi instrumental musician. Today we caught up with her in her hometown of Orgiva, over a cup of English tea in the Alpujarra Mountains!

LYRA:  let’s start off with a little bit about you…

Medina: I’m a writer, musician, and singer. When I say I’m a writer it means I do this in lots of different ways, it’s the only category I could find that covers lots of different things - I write songs, poems, stories, essays, articles and at different times of my life I’ve done more of one then the other. 

LYRA: Being a musician and travelling around the world to perform and showcase your work, have you ever felt there were any barriers to getting your work out there or any restrictions as a Muslim woman trying to make it in such a competitive industry?

Medina: it’s funny because I don’t really feel like I have been restricted. There is this one time though I remember going to a conference at Friends House in Euston road and Anas Canon was there…and he was doing lots of hip-hop at that time, and we knew people in common and I approached him and was like ‘listen I’d really like to sing with you’ and he turned around and said straight up ‘we’re not working with women singers at the moment’ and that to be honest was a blow at the time. I started to think; maybe this idea is too far out for people…I mean for them to imagine listening to a Muslim woman singing? Even though it’s something that is really common all over the Muslim world, from Pakistan to North Africa…and even Iranian Classical music, that’s classy and often these women have a whole male orchestra behind them, there’s no weirdness about it at all. Their singing is their art, their skill, work and science, and people respect them for it. 

A woman’s voice is a human instrument, so it’s quite distressing and sad that there are people out there who don’t want to hear women’s voices naturally, and that is sad. I’ve been very blessed in that I’ve had connections with people who don’t disagree with music, and don’t have a problem with instruments, because I also play guitar…but most of all the barriers have been in my mind, you know being frightened of appearing publicly and publicising my work because I didn’t want to receive negative attention.

‘’For me when I’m creating art for someone, Muslim or not, I want this to reach them at a very deep, profound, personal and spiritual level and benefit them in some way; whether that’s soothing or healing. I want people to feel better when they read my stuff, especially if they’re taking their precious asset which is time, to honour your work. That’s probably really ambitious but, that’s what I would like.’’ 

LYRA: And what is your mantra for dealing with negative attentions/comments?

Medina: Online can be really horrible, I’ve been trolled on twitter on the back of articles I’ve published and you can’t tag anything with the word ‘Islam’ which is horrible. Expected but horrible. If you want to make something beautiful to counter ugly narrative though it is an upstream struggle, it’s worth doing, but you’re working against the tide. Creating beauty I think is obligatory for Muslims, in our personal and work lives…even if you’re creating a business, you should make it beautiful, much like LYRA actually when I think about it!

LYRA: thanks! We think that too! In terms of inspirations then, what would you say your inspirations are for your art?

Medina: I have such a broad range of inspirations it’s hard to know where to start. In terms of poetry I think Sufi poetry always inspired me, even though I’ve always read them in translation, until more recently since I’ve started studying Persian I can actually look at Rumi’s poetry in the original language and actually understand words in this that just feels really magical. I was also bought up on qasidas (Islamic spiritual songs) which also really influenced me, it’s really unlike secular poetry or western poetry, it’s not about ruffling people’s feathers or making people uncomfortable, it’s the opposite, more like a healing balm, because I think as Muslims we already feel uncomfortable and at times can feel traumatised, so for me when I’m creating art for someone, Muslim or not, I want this to reach them at a very deep, profound, personal and spiritual level and benefit them in some way; whether that’s soothing or healing. I want people to feel better when they read my stuff, especially if they’re taking their precious asset which is time, to honour your work. That’s probably really ambitious but, that’s what I would like.

‘’Having a circle, whether that’s as a dancer, musician or artist, it’s so freeing, learning to jam with other people, finding you have those abilities all along, and can grow. If you can find a circle where you can share your work and yourself, you’d be surprised at how positive those things are.’’

LYRA: In terms of what the future holds for you, what would you say your hopes or fears are, as an artist and also as a woman, a mother, and everything else you encompass?

Medina: time! I need to find time to dedicate to my art; and a lot of time it’s hard because I have so much desire to make art and it’s frustrating not to be able to find the time to do this, and when I do have time, I also have to think about you know having provision and taking on paperwork and more formal work over art, which is always a fear. I am looking to finish my young adult novel, and also I would love to make an album too! So I hope to find the time to do those things.

LYRA: Seeing as LYRA is into fitness and lifestyle, are there things in your life fitness or activity wise which re really central and key to your wellbeing?

Medina: I don’t do enough of it but I absolutely love yoga and qi-gong, I would also love to do more martial arts. Having a toddler makes it a bit difficult because you need a lot of space! I love dancing too, I’m an avid dancer and I think it’s a huge discharge of negative energy. I also love being in nature, being surrounded by mountains and trees is really important to me. I also love gardening and I have to do this for my sanity, to touch the earth and be amongst trees and flowers!

LYRA: What advice would you give to women out there who really want to pursue something who might feel restricted because of any kinds of reasons, be it culture, religion, or anything else?

Medina: first of all you have to persevere, but it’s important to get through unpleasant moments where you think is it really worth it. I also find it hugely beneficial to find people who are in a similar circumstance and in a similar situation as you for example when I joined a women’s writing group a few years ago when i had a 6 month old and a 2 year old, and I felt very stressed and overwhelmed, but just that hour and a half every week was so liberating. As a writer your very solitary and can be very distant from people, which is why I guess social media is good because people can read your book, but having a circle, whether that’s as a dancer, musician or artist, it’s so freeing, learning to jam with other people, finding you have those abilities all along, and can grow. If you can find a circle where you can share your work and yourself, you’d be surprised at how positive those things are; and disregard the voice that says ‘this is going to be awful’ because that will rarely happen. Sometimes I facilitate creative writing workshops and I always tell people to be honest. Being frank will always read to people better. Stop trying so hard and just do it.

LYRA: What are you currently working on, and where can we find your stuff?

Medina: I’m currently working on writing a Young adult novel, and also re-publishing my poetry book called Love is  Traveller and we are its path’ which will be sold via my blog https://cavemum.com/ com so watch out for this! My blog is also a constant work in progress and you can find lots of articles and stories by me on there.  I’m always doing music, whether that’s here in Spain or abroad, you can follow me on social media where I post updates about these. I think I will be recording an album when the time is right.

LYRA: and finally…three words to describe you!

Medina: complete, utter nutcase! (No just kidding) I would say creative, loud and driven.

 

'LYRA Swim' Charity Campaign

'LYRA Swim' Charity Campaign

Along with the launch of our swimwear brand, we are also introducing a charity campaign to motivate more women to partake in swimming to promote fitness. At LYRA we want to get women all over the world involved with everything that swimming has to offer.

Research by Sport England discovered that 75 per cent of women say they want to be more active, prohibited primarily from “fear of judgement – on appearance, ability or how they chose to spend time on themselves”. These findings were the driving force behind our ‘LYRASwim’ campaign, which aims to inspire women and abolish the unnecessary anxiety and apprehension some feel when it comes to swimming. The ‘LyraSwims’ campaign doesn’t hold back in trying to encourage women to beat these barriers.

As a recognised supporter of the #ThisGirlCan campaign, we have designed a range of swimwear that fits the needs of all women to help increase participation rates in swimming. Through our ‘LYRAswim’ campaign we want to tell the real story of women who exercise through swimming. They come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of ability.

Keep a look out for more to come on the ‘LYRAswim campaign’. You can also use the hashtags #LYRAswim and #thisgirlcan to join the conversation on Instagram and Twitter.