Irna Qureshi
25 January 2012

What is it you do?
I am Artistic Director of Skinning the Cat which formerly was a troop of all-female trapeze artists doing narrative based shows. We toured internationally. I made the costumes too. More recently, I’ve been making work based on Skinning the Cat, so using film, sculpture, multimedia. I’ve been experimenting with performance after getting to an age where doing trapeze as a living was not an option.

How would I recognise your work?
In general it’s very bright, very colourful, very flamboyant, lots of sequins and feathers, lots of glitter, very in-your-face. But I wanted to do something to contrast that because I was talking about a changing process so I have done some that isn’t instantly recognisable but it still has got some similarities I think.

What are the tools of your trade?
I get a vision of an idea and then I start experimenting with the right materials. I use three dimensional materials so nothing is out of bounds basically. In the Skinning the Cat days, it was obviously very much rope, lycra, sequins, feathers, glitter, but recently I’ve worked with broken glass, coloured glass because I needed to get a certain look.

Who or what is your muse?
Anything I see. With the Skinning the Cat stuff, I did take a lot from Asian fabric shops. You know when you look in the windows and it’s just a complete array of glitz and pattern, and you think, ‘I know those aren’t all meant to go together but I could wear a dress made of a patchwork of that stuff!’ So there was that and anything I saw in carnivals and in other people’s shows, costumes and characters. And sometimes the inspiration would come from the actual person in the show, an individual’s character or the way they performed. The stronger the personality, the more likely that was to happen.

At what time of day do you do your best work?
Morning I think.

Do you keep a notebook?
No. I always think I should but I never seem to need to.

Do you blog?

In what other ways do you store ideas?
Once in a while, I’ll rip out a picture or a pattern from a magazine and stuff it in a file but often I never go back to it!

What sorts of ideas do you record?
I’m not a design drawing kind of person. I only draw something if I have to communicate it to somebody else. If it’s just something that I’m making on my own, I don’t even put it on paper. I feel it, if that makes sense. I see it in my mind’s eye, but more importantly, I can feel it. That is the single most important thing about my work. If I can’t feel it, if I’m trying to force something and a certain feeling that’s hard to explain doesn’t come, then it’s not going to happen!

Are you a planner or do you work spontaneously?
I’m a planner definitely. I mull things over in my head.

Which part of the creative process do you find the most painful?
Generally I don’t find it painful at all. If the idea’s working then it’s all a very loving, happy feeling. If there’s a painful thing, it’s having to show it to other people and maybe feeling the insecurity of that stage, and what will they think. Also, the painful side really is the fundraising and the report writing and worrying about money. But actually that is part of the creative process because it’s all got to work.

Where do you draw the line?
I’ve never been aware of drawing a line. I struggled with a piece I just had to do and I decided to do a piece naked. It wasn’t the decision because I knew I had to do it because that’s what worked in the contrast to all the bright coloured stuff and it had to be done. So I just knew I had to. But it’s not something that came easily. If you’d have asked me before I had the feeling that it had to be done naked, I probably would have said no. That probably would have been a line I imagined drawing.

Ah, I draw the line doing the things that other people want me to do. I don’t draw lines for myself and in my own work but I absolutely can’t do things that other people want me to do.

Do you make enough from your art to live on?
At a scrape. An absolute pinch.

What have you got coming up?
I’m hoping to complete and publish my book which I’ve been working on for a few years and I have an exhibition of my current and past work 'Sky Hooked' on at the Yorkshire Craft Centre which runs until 22nd February.

What’s your favourite work, by you?
The one I love the best, which doesn’t look the best, is my oldest surviving trapeze costume (pictured) which has been reworked and reworked every time it’s fallen apart on the ropes. Well, not fallen apart but it’s been rubbed away at. It’s been re-sequinned, re-coloured, re-feathered, re-this, re-that! It’s a bit old and smelly. I just love it because it’s still like a part of me.

What’s your approach to tweeting?
It’s not a medium that I’m comfortable with. I struggle with all that stuff.

Is making lists painful or pleasurable?
I absolutely have to make lists. It’s part of my planning process. It’s part of my daily survival process. I carry lists in my head if I can’t write them down and that becomes hard work.

What do you collect?
Pictures of anything related to my work and the stuff I love which is circus, performance, gypsy type art, masks and anything with feathers on. I don’t collect it on purposes. I’ve never set out to collect it but I’m just looking around me and my house is full of the stuff!

What’s your signature dinner party dish?
Oh, I’m a dreadful cook! I do a good one pot slop so I would say something like a vegetarian casserole or a curry.

Where’s good to eat or drink in Bradford?
Well, my favourite place in Haworth at the moment is The Stirrup Restaurant on Main Street. It may not be the best in the world but I like it. It does good quality but not over-priced food and it’s cosy and friendly.

Becky Truman was talking to Irna Qureshi. @irnaqureshi blogs about being British, Pakistani, Muslim and female in Bradford, against a backdrop of classic Indian films at www.bollywoodinbritain.wordpress.com.