How to Succeed as an Artist: Lessons from the 2018 Afghan American Conference
May 24, 2018
What is the secret to your success? Can you succeed as an artist? These are some of the questions that were addressed by the Arts & Media panel at the Afghan American Conference.
The panel was moderated by Malwand Gulban, a hip hop artist from Washington DC, and included, Nelufar Hedayat, a multi-award winning journalist and documentary filmmaker who has worked for Fusion, the BBC, Channel 4 and The Guardian; Matin Maulawizada, one of the most sought after celebrity make-up artists, whose clients include, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie and Claire Danes; and Salar Nader, a percussionist, composer and music producer, who recently worked on the score for the Oscar nominated film, The Breadwinner.
Salar Nader has been playing tabla since he was 7 and started touring the world at age 18. Many people think that he has “arrived” professionally and are surprised to hear that he still practices every day. Nader stressed the importance of a morning ritual. Every morning he wakes up and practices for three hours, no matter where he may be in the world. This is a practice that resonated with me. I have found that working on art for an hour every morning has made a difference in maintaining momentum in my projects, and also gives me a sense of accomplishment that is severely lacking otherwise.
Unlike Salar, Matin Maulawizada found his passion later in life. He originally studied to become a surgeon, following in the footsteps of his father, who was a doctor. Raised in Afghanistan, where thousands were amputated due to the war, he hoped to return to Afghanistan as a reconstructive surgeon. He was introduced to the world of beauty through a college roommate and worked as a makeup artist part time to pay for school. He excelled in his courses, but once he saw the scalpel cut the skin of a living person, the smallest drop of blood caused him to faint. He became a research scientist for a few years, but missed the creative and collaborative work with clients and human contact, and decided to enter the fashion and beauty industry at an age much older than his peers. He loves his job and does not regret switching from a career that was expected of him to one that is creative. Despite his success he felt like something was lacking. There are always freelance projects that are more satisfying than others. Matin transformed those unfavorable projects by using those earnings to create the nonprofit, Afghan Hands, dedicated to helping disenfranchised women in Afghanistan gain independence, education, and livable wages. He found a creative solution to his career challenges that feeds his soul, while making a difference for others.
One common theme among the presenters was their untiring persistence and dedication to their craft. Nelufar Hedayat is no different, beginning her documentary career at the age of 21 by pitching her film idea Women, Weddings, War and Me to the BBC, in which she returns to Afghanistan for the first time since leaving at age 6. She recalled barely making enough money in these early years, but she didn’t give up and went on to create several other documentaries. She is now the host of the 8-part series, the Traffickers. Nelufar encouraged the audience to leverage their unique qualities, citing that she entered the field of journalism by showing the industry the value of her voice as an Afghan Muslim woman.
Whichever field you are pursuing, consider what qualities make you uniquely you. Make a commitment to yourself, create a disciplined practice, and don’t give up!
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