Aneesa Shami: Material Lexicon

Drawing, Collage, and Fiber

The Prophet 2017 ink on paper

I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist. I would draw constantly as a kid, and received my first sketchbook when I was ten. I took after school art programs and crafted avidly, renovating the dollhouse and making endless friendship bracelets.

During my undergraduate years at the Kansas City Art Institute, I was wooed by the Fiber department. I love learning new ways to express myself, so it was natural for me to be drawn to the seemingly endless techniques the department provided. Courses were offered by professors who taught weaving, surface design, dyeing, spinning, knitting, felting, garment construction, quilting, etc. I felt overwhelmed, trying to find how these new skills could connect with familiar ones. As a result, my thesis focused on how my collaged or drawn works spoke to the learned fiber techniques. I played with the drawn line as a way to “weave” imagery together. Shown alongside folded paper and fabric sculptures, I hoped to offer an interdisciplinary perspective on fiber art, based on my love of these two different mediums.

Years later, my practice continues to break down the traditional boundaries of what defines “fiber art” and incorporates a wide range of processes and materials. 

Artistic Influences

Born and raised in Kansas, most of my inspiration comes from the growing pains of childhood, the incomprehensible sky, and Sunday lunches at my grandparent’s apartment.

I’m a first generation Arab American, with one immigrant parent from the Middle East and the other an American. My dad’s parents emigrated to the states from Lebanon and played a prominent role in my childhood. Thanksgiving dinner was where these two worlds blended the most: mashed potatoes next to tabbouleh; roast chickens stuffed with rice, minced meat and pine nuts; dinner rolls and Jiddo’s hummus and baklava and pumpkin pies.  

Recitations 2018 acrylic and wool yarn 60in diameter

The rich layers of my parent’s traditions, mixed and folded in on one another, are embedded in my identity. My upbringing has helped me to see that the world is complex, and that everyone has many stories within themselves.

As a result, the work I make layers detail and nuance; the viewer can spend a few seconds glancing, or can get lost in the movement of a piece. I spend a lot of time weighing and thinking about my identity as an American-born citizen with an Arab name. Straddling this line is a curse and a blessing; sharing blood and aspects of culture with my Lebanese family, but unable to converse in Arabic fluently. I will always be the American cousin. 

Within the sphere of art

My practice is driven by a love for repetitive mark-making. Multiple strands of yarn, strips of felt, fabric swatches, torn magazine pages, or pen strokes build depth and density in each piece. The process of layering these materials allows for the impression that there is more than what the eye sees. Detailed and intuitive decisions on color choice, medium, and technique all combine to establish each piece’s composition.

Scheherazade 2017 collage on canvas 72in x 48in

The abstract imagery in my work relies on these choices of color and texture to interact with one another, providing a material-based lexicon for the viewer to navigate the work. 

Each piece speaks to a larger understanding that we are all fundamentally human. I try to utilize universal themes that most people can connect to: referencing the sublime, world mythologies and an otherworldly sense of the human conscious and subconscious.

Aneesa Shami in her studio

I want to connect with others on a visceral level through the use of formal elements: movement, color, and form. I hope my work evokes a larger understanding that we are all human and we are all connected. 

Advice for Artists

Find your community. Find people to lean on and learn from, who can help you become a better person and artist. Keep making work, even when it’s hard or you have no space or you have crippling doubts. Get your work out there – apply for juried exhibitions, make your own opportunities. Carve out a place for yourself in this crazy world. 

Muthos_2018_hand felted found sweaters_72in x 56in

“Muthos” is on view at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA) in their “Craft Revolution” exhibition, juried by Staci Steinberger, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). On view through March 23, 2019. Find more information here.

Upcoming Events

Hawthorne Arts Complex Open Studios event on March 24th from 2-6pm. Makerville exhibit called “Looming Shelter” as a parallel project to DesertX, on view through April 21.


Aneesa Shami received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in both Fiber and Art History from the Kansas City Art Institute. Since moving to Los Angeles, Shami has worked as a Studio Assistant to Tanya Aguiñiga and as the Gallery Manager for Branch Gallery, a local fiber arts space in Inglewood. She currently works for Textile Arts | Los Angeles as their Content Manager, and is working with them to create an emerging artists program. She recently completed a residency at the Helms Design Center, and has attended Mildred’s Lane as a Fellow for the Attention Labs: The Order of the Third Bird in 2015. Shami works in her studio in Hawthorne creating commissioned works, researching textile and fiber history, and completing larger pieces in her current body of work, Syndication.

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