Kia Islam on self-evolution and using social media as a space for uplift

Kia Islam is an unconventional multi-hyphenate with a deep interest in spiritual health, self-growth and healing. Her curiosity with human connection and nature is deeply reflected in her work as an art educator for children, yoga instructor, and ceramicist, whose earthenware has retailed at stores such as Sincerely, Tommy.

Kia, tell us a bit about yourself.

Well, my name is Zakiya Islam. I am 25 years old, a multidisciplinary artist, educator, yoga instructor. Ultimately, I am a curious human with a lot of love to give. An island girl, shy girl and silly girl. I was raised in both Maryland and Saudi Arabia, and have been living in Brooklyn for the past seven years. I am passionate about the preservation of and discovery of my cultures, music, movement, healing and expanding my capacity to give and receive love.

You are an artist who also teaches art to children - how does that inform your own practice and/or your approach to teaching?

I learn so much from the children, especially the power of words; the effects of affirmation and encouragement, as well as the need to take breaks and have snacks. As I continually hold space for them in that way, I am learning to do the same for myself. As a teacher and maker, I always realize that ultimately I am a student, I am here to learn and share some of the things I learned along the way. I am always curious, ready for an adventure, to gain new perspectives and always in touch with my sense of humor.

What is the design and execution process for your ceramic works?

It is an ever evolving process. I observe forms in the natural world and am drawn to certain moods, colors, textures or parts of the earth. As I work with the clay I don’t always have a clear vision in mind, but I keep at it and see where my hands take me. My last body of work was created as a memento to the ocean, a force that greatly inspires me. As I created these pieces I thought a lot about my ancestors, what the notion of women creating ‘folk art’ is, the healing powers of working with your hands and the creation stories from a variety of traditions of man being molded from clay. I have not been formally trained in the medium, but have always felt strongly drawn to it. My intention is to create pieces that draw the eyes and get the imagination going as they are reminiscent of forms that exist in nature. As most of the pieces I create are vessels of some kind, I hope that they are used to create a high vibrational sensory experience, be it of placing something precious inside of a piece, having a nourishing warm drink or meal or simply burning incense in an interesting vessel.

Is there a medium or creative role that you haven’t tried yet that you’re planning to explore?

As mentioned earlier, I am always a student. I plan to dive deeper into movement, dance, Qi Gong and am always deepening my Asana and meditation practice. I also plan on making jewelry, and getting on that sewing machine! I really love clothing and coming up with characters to go along with an outfit and have had the intention for some time to create some pieces for bodily adornment. I also have always wanted to be a DJ!

Living in New York can take a severe toll on the body and spirit. As a yoga teacher here, what do you see making the most difference for students seeking restorative, healing, or grounding physical practices?

I think that New York’s energy is so powerful and diverse, whatever it is that you are into exists here in abundance. It is incredibly beautiful and inspiring but can be difficult to navigate, as there is so much illusion to sift through. I love it here, I think it is vital to have a healing practice here as we are constantly confronted with many different cycles and paths of life living in such close proximity to so many others. The sense of gratitude is so rich when you are steadily reminded of how far you’ve come and what you have, and simultaneously shown how harsh life can be. I think we are all drawn to healing and liberation from suffering. Community, open dialogue with oneself and others is so crucial to stay on a clear path. While we are in such a crowded space we can still feel very alone, the internet can magnify these feelings, and it is so important to spend quality time with those who uplift you. Lastly, commitment to one’s evolution is so important. There has to be a shift of priorities in order to progress and stay grounded. You can’t wait till tomorrow to be present but rather approach your healing with the same amount of energy and vigor as we tend to in NYC in terms of progressing materially, be it financially, creatively or socially. We all come here with the desire to advance and be great; if we don’t cultivate a solid relationship with ourselves and forces larger than ourselves we won’t be able to enjoy our great achievements and will be eternally caught in the cycle of material suffering.

How has your spiritual and/or religious upbringing informed your yogic practices?

My parents are both mixed race, my mother is Jamaican Indian and my father is Yemeni Zanzibari. My mother grew up in a household that was forced to convert to Christianity in Jamaica, and has shared that she observed her mother and grandmother still holding onto some Hindu practices and celebrations. My father is a devout Muslim, he goes to Mecca to pray weekly and really emphasized my learning about Islam from a young age. My parents got divorced when I was very young, and I would split the year living with my mother in the school year and my father in the summers. Living in two distinct households was very eye opening and a bit confusing. As a single mother, an immigrant and very complex person herself, my mother didn’t leave much time for spiritual commitments. I would describe her as a curious person, a spiritual dabbler. For the majority of my childhood she was practicing the Baha’i faith. I went to a Quaker school and our silent meetings for worship left a big impression on me. While spending time with my father in a household with a strong religious foundation, it was difficult for me to navigate.

Across the different belief systems I was around as a young person, I think that the aspect of worship that really has shaped me and how I practice is the power of sound vibration. Be it the call of the Azaan, so rich it goes straight to the heart! The prayers of the Baha’i faith, the mantras and chants of Bhakti yogis in the temple, the powerful voices of a Black church choir, or the sound of controlled rhythmic breath filling a room…this is what has drawn me so much to explore union with the divine. I am fascinated with spiritual practice across belief systems. I think because my background is quite varied, from cultures with a strong recognizable spiritual foundation it is only natural that I would be so drawn to pour my energy into cultivating a spiritual connection myself.

Outside of work contexts, what are your preferred avenues of intellectual or spiritual fulfillment?

Travel, the ocean, making things, cooking, body moving, and meeting new people and observing different communities is always reminding me of the truth of our similarities as human beings. A good conversation with those who uplift and inspire me. I am blessed to have quite a few people who embody that in my life, always sets me right on track and gives me clearer sight about what is at to be accomplished. I am an avid reader, whether it be books on spirituality or stories of an individuals experience, posts on social media or what have you, I am fulfilled by observing the many ways in which others make sense of the human experience.

What has surprised you most about living in NYC?

How living in such close contact to so many others constantly confronts you with all aspects of our humanity. It is incredibly humbling and grounding to be here, I love it so much. I am surprised by how present the past is in NYC. How intertwined so many of our lives are, it feels like a small village at times.

Capitalism purports a deceptively easy path to self-actualization, especially via social media. How do you avoid the trap of that illusion?

To be honest, I myself at times get sucked into the illusion but when I take a step back and observe, I see that I am very much aware that it is a fascinating, glittering illusion. Maybe the continued voyeurism is an attempt to catch a glimpse of something real. We are all mirrors and I sense we spend so much time look in an attempt to both see and avoid seeing and being with ourselves. Ultimately I am fascinated by people, by our psychology and the ways in which we perform and communicate our “selves”, and how we/the ego so deeply desire approval and affirmation. I see social media as an archive of the greatest hits of our lives and I will forever cherish the experience of flipping through family albums, and on some level I get a similar feeling through it. I think collectively we are both completely disgusted and completely obsessed with it, and there has been a shift to using these platforms more responsibly and consciously, at least the folks I follow. I find myself really gaining a new perspective on certain issues of experiences through social media and am very grateful for it. I aim to use my personal space on the web to uplift and share things that get the gears of the mind going, be that through humor, sharing my art, sharing music and movement, moments of ecstatic dancing at home alone and letting some of my thoughts and realizations out.

If you could listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?

This such a difficult question to answer and makes me sad because I love music so much. Musicians are magicians. Sound vibration be it through breath, mantra, prayer, verbal language and communication or music is so unbelievably powerful. If I could only listen to one album I would definitely have to become an amazing singer to remember all of the other songs I loved and would create my own. After I sat with this question for some time I have to say the album “Buena Vista Social Club”. My father’s taste in music has greatly inspired my own, his love for Buena Vista Social Club has really embedded itself into my ears from a young age. ‘Chan Chan’ will never not pull at my heartstrings.

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