Halima Akhtar is an exceptional student who gained an A* for both Edexcel A Level Fine Art (100% at AS and A2) and A Level Textiles (100% for AS and A2 Coursework projects and 98% for both examinations). This article features her AS and A2 Textiles projects, completed while studying at Woldingham School, Caterham, Surrey, United Kingdom. Halima gained an A Level Art Scholarship and went on to gain a Distinction for her Art Foundation year. Halima’s sketchbooks contain rich, mixed media pieces, sculptural exploration, fabric investigations, manipulation of materials and experiments with stitching, surface and pattern. A journey that begins with first-hand observation and ends with complex, three-dimensional pieces, Halima’s AS and A2 Textiles projects are superb exemplars for others: some of the best A Level Textile sketchbooks that I have seen.
We were lucky enough to interview Halima about her projects. Her responses about first-hand observation and how she approached her themes are particularly valuable
It is important for high school Art projects to work from first-hand observation and respond to the world around them. It is sometimes unclear how this applies to a Textiles project. Please explain how you were influenced and inspired by first-hand observation.
Coming from an Art background at GCSE when I approached my first AS Textiles project ‘Growth and Decay’ I felt it was important to use the skills I had learnt, which included drawing and painting from first-hand resources to record visual information. This way of working has fed itself through my textiles and art to this day. Through my A Level Textiles course I was able to embrace the notion that textiles has much more to offer than making clothes; it is about working with materials and surfaces sculpturally to discover endless possibilities to explore.
As artists we should embrace the sensuous experience, especially within the context of research in textiles. It is not only about how things look but also the way the feel, smell, sit or can be handled. Each of these qualities can provide such rich information about texture, shape, form, colour and structure to inspire work.
With the title ‘Growth and Decay’, the main thing that struck me was the concept that fungi grows as a process of decay and degeneration. I went looking around forests and outdoor areas to find examples of fungi in the natural setting. The tremendous scale, smell and slime that I often saw growing around these forms – observations I could not have made through photographs – inspired my work greatly as I experimented with material qualities. Within my ‘Armour’ project (see further below), I also drew a connection with natural forms and insects, where some of the repetitive and layered protective shapes were similar in these two entirely separate structures.
I feel one of the main reasons that I was able to explore so much in my A Level Art and Textile projects was that not only did I actively take a part in searching for this first-hand experience, but I enjoyed it as part of the natural process of making. The records that I made in drawings and notes also became important references for later.