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Women’s History Month: Amina Atiq

Amina Atiq is a 25-year-old Yemeni-Scouse published poet, award-winning community activist and performance artist. Born in Yemen and raised in Liverpool from the age of four, her beautiful poetry explores the relationship she has with her roots; from acting as a translator for her mother, fitting in at school and dealing with the emotional trauma of being unfairly convicted against a racial hate crime. Amina started writing as she wanted to shed light on political and societal issues that are important to her, not only as a young woman but also as a Muslim. 

We spoke to Amina as part of our Women’s History Month Series to get an insight into her perspective on being a young woman in the creative industry. Here’s what she had to say… 

What do you do? 

Let’s go back to when I was 15, back then I was unfairly convicted against a racial hate crime: It can be a bit of a shock to people when they hear that but in recent years, I have been part of a campaign with the Antony Walker Foundation which has given me the confidence to speak up about it. When I was 15, I was physically abused by a bus driver. A bystander who witnessed the event saw the event differently due to their unconscious bias and subsequently I was arrested and given a three-year criminal record. I felt like I was having a mid-life crisis and grew up very quickly during that time. I blamed myself for 10 years, I thought I deserved it. 

The reason I’m telling you all of this is because this is where creativity started to rise within me. I was already very politically and socially active, I think Liverpool embeds that in you, but I literally found writing as a medium of release and trying to understand and navigate the world. Then when I found a stage to perform my work, it was the most liberating thing because I was controlling the narrative for the first time. Even though the incident shouldn’t have happened, I am thankful, and I know things happen for a reason. 

I went on from performing to writing and developed quite quickly into theatre and filmmaking. I think what I’m trying to do now as a 25-year-old is navigate all of these roles and hopefully one day have some kind of role where I’m an artistic director – I love working with people from lots of different industries. 

One of my other passions is education. I’m a young associate for Curious Minds, which provides youth voice opportunities and champions cultural education. The reason I took on the role is because education was really important for me, I want to make art accessible for everyone and not seen as a luxury. The pandemic has proven why we need that! I am very grateful of the mentors and support that I’ve had from organisations across Liverpool and want to continue their work. 

I definitely put on a lot of different hats, I’m also part of the anti-racism task team. I feel like I’ve grown up quite quickly in the creative industry. I’ve had to pretend I know what I’m doing a lot of the time but also recognise the hard-work and commitment I had to put in as well as being a teenager / in my early-twenties. What I’m trying to get to is, some people make art to entertain, I make art to create social impact and articulate myself in another way. 

One thing I did in my career very early on was, I labelled myself as a Yemeni-Scouse Writer. That for me was a business move, part of my branding. I want to make it clear that most of my day is not spent on creative-writing, I have to think in a very entrepreneurial way about my brand and that for me is very important and gets me up and working at 9am every morning. You can be a creative, but when do you start treating yourself as a working creative? At the end of the day, education, university, whether you do a creative subject, doesn’t prepare you to become an artist in the real-world. I want to bridge the gap between education and art subjects and give people the confidence to know how to brand themselves, to publish, to market, go for funding, to network, all of these important aspects of being a working creative. 

What is your favourite thing about working in the creative industry? 

Creativity is my way of understanding and articulating the world and my lived experience, my writing is somewhere I can break the rules. I’m actually dyslexic and used to get frustrated in school when I was told things were wrong when I didn’t think they were. I’m now a facilitator in school and love working with young people who need that extra support like I did – I love how creativity and art shapes and moulds around them and brings confidence. 

Out of everything I do, and I’ve done so many things in a very short timeframe, my passion is young people and education. Especially those who need extra-support, enabling people to express themselves is extremely rewarding. 

Another thing I love is collaborating. I tell artists all the time, collaborate as much as you can. Collaborating is really powerful and allows you to grow as an artist. 

What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far? 

There a lot of challenges, but I think challenges are temporary. We live in a country where we have the arts council and art funded projects, we’re very lucky to live in a country that has a good system for the arts. We have the freedom to express ourselves and that’s a privilege. 

I would say my biggest challenge is ensuring that what I’m doing is sustainable. I’m constantly learning but I’m constantly burned out. We’ve seen how the arts have been the hardest hit during the pandemic, but also how everyone really relied on artistic and creative outlets during lockdowns. To me, it seemed like you want our art, but you don’t want us. I definitely think, as well as being an activist, I do always advocate for equality between career choices. There needs to be more of a fair and equal way of approaching artists; we have to do this together. 

What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far? 

I think my biggest highlight in terms of development would be the artist exchanges I’ve been on. Over six years I’ve been to Holland, Germany, Hungary etc.. and spent two weeks in every country. On the exchanges there were about 30 of us from various European countries and we would be together for two weeks and we’d have to create a theatre show within that timeframe. It was high-quality work. It was just amazing, when artists come together something amazing happens. I’d love to do another exchange! 

Who is the most inspirational woman to you? Did they inspired you to follow 

a career in the creative industry? 

When we think of inspirational, we think of people on book covers, celebrities etc.. but I think my mum is my inspiration. She’s also my biggest challenger, she was the first person to deny me as an artist. Watching my mum grow to trust me and the process has been my motivator. I write a lot about my mum in my poetry and my relationship with my mum which is a bit complicated. We’re like best friends but I’m also her eldest. I grew up translating to my mother, issues that I’d been facing and it’s a weird relationship. Honestly, there are so many women and writers I would recommend but I think one of the main reasons I wake up every day, has always been for my mum to trust the process. Now that people come to her and say have you seen your daughter in this newspaper or something, she’s grown to understand that if people see my daughter in this way, why don’t I? And that’s not saying my mums horrible in any way, she just wants me to be the best, as every mother wants their child to be. My mother challenged my creativity and that pushed me forward and made me a more resilient writer. 

She didn’t inspire me to pursue a creative career, she challenged me to pursue a creative career. 

What is your advice for women who want to start a career in the creative 

industry? 

Firstly, ask for support. Keep on learning, learning is a part of the journey. Create a timeframe between now and the next year, fill it with things that you feel are missing from your creative practice. If you need particular training in something, go for it. 

It’s about seeing yourself as a working-creative. I believe that anyone can write a poem or pick up a paintbrush, but I do think that talent is one thing, there are a lot of talented people that don’t share it with the rest of the world and that’s fine. But those who want to share it and deliver it to the rest of the world and make a career out of it, you need to see yourself as a business-model as well as a creative. As creatives, it seems natural to us when we produce art but to others, it is a life-changing moment. That’s what people are paying for – a moment to feel, think. I also think art is a historical moment, we’re not just creating a moment to entertain, we’re also telling a part of history. 

Also ask yourself, how do you want to be represented as an artist? Representation is everything. Going back to the Yemeni-Scouse thing, the reason it was important to label myself in that way was, I wanted to represent all aspects of my identity. I’m visibly Muslim, when I speak I’m obviously scouse, but my Yemeni roots were not represented until I labelled myself. It is a bit weird branding yourself but at the end of the day you are a service and you need to look at yourself as a business-model. I know people are going to cringe, but we need to survive in the industry so we have to treat ourselves as working-creatives and think holistically about how we represent ourselves. 

Photo Credit: Image on left: Robin Clewley other images: Brian Roberts
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