Art Exposed: Zahra Ammar

Back Q&A Feb 16, 2018 By Eva Roethler

When the realization dawns on the beholder that Zahra Ammar’s insanely intricate designs are compositions of hundreds of precision cut and folded papers, it’s reasonable to get sympathy hand cramps.

Born and raised in Pakistan, Ammar moved to Saudi Arabia with her husband as an adult, where she says few opportunities existed for expatriate women outside of teaching. A creative person, she suffered from the limited outlets for expression. After a decade, Ammar and her husband moved to the U.S., landing in Sacramento in July 2016.

Related: Art Exposed: Lauren Lavin and Alden Knight of Free Art Friday Sacramento

Ammar has accomplished much in her short time in California. She published Spring Delusions, a book of poetry, in 2016. In the past year, she shifted her focus from working on paper to working with paper. She now primarily works in origami, kirigami and quilling, the craft of cutting and folding paper into complex designs. Geometric shapes, mandalas and fractals pepper her art, which she shares with her 5,000-plus followers on Instagram and at shows throughout the region, including at WAL Public Market Gallery and Coffeebar Squaw Valley.

Ammar is also one of five moderators of Contemporary Quilling, a growing global network of serious papercrafters, created as a reaction to the traditional Quilling Guild, which upholds strict guidelines based on the craft’s historic origins. Comstock’s recently spoke with Ammar about leading a papercraft rebellion, and what drives this Capital Region artist.

Where do you draw inspiration for your art?

For me, art is all about communication where words are not enough. Everything around me that has something to say, inspires me — that can be good food, the rain, a mundane object, a hike, a laugh or a very intense conversation. It is all about asking oneself, ‘If I were to translate this into my work, how would I do it?’

Unfortunately, inspiration is such an overused word nowadays that it sends out a wrong message to aspiring creatives. I learned this the hard way. Art is not about waiting to be inspired or being hit by an ‘aha’ moment. Instead, it is all about putting in the work day in and day out. What I mean by this is to just sit down and create. Mess things up and experiment and refine until you get there. Everything starts with a blank. It is OK to put chaos and imperfections down on paper. It is like creating incoherent sentences before a beautiful composition is formed.

What do you love about Sacramento’s creative community?

Sacramento has been generous to give me the space and comfort that I haven’t experienced before. Somehow all the mix of diverse cultures and backgrounds has created this perfect balance for art to thrive. I love that the people here are so receptive and curious to the new forms popping up all around. Just look at the amazing walls downtown! I think Wide Open Walls is simply a brilliant idea, along with the [Second] Saturday artwalk.

I feel Sacramento is at that perfect stage where the art scene is explorational and in flux. I see art in cafes and restaurants, on postal boxes and it just gives a sense connectivity to the city, in contrast to a plain concrete or glass structure. I was recently part of 100 under 100 at WAL Gallery, and it was great to have an incredibly diverse mix and mediums of artwork. Something like this on a larger, continuous scale would really be an amazing opportunity for Sacramento to become a great cultural hub.

As an moderator of Contemporary Quilling, an online group ‘breaking the rules’ of traditional quilling, how have you seen this artform change? What are your hopes for the future of the group?

Quilling has been around for over half a millennia. Initially used for filigree decoration on book covers, this was not really considered an art form at all. Moreover, the idea of making coils and creating shapes out of strips of paper remained completely unchanged until a few years ago. Contemporary artists started experimenting with using strips without the traditional coiling and deconstructing the old methods. Traditionalists opposed this being called quilling. But really, what’s in a name?

Contemporary Quilling was formed a year ago with the sole purpose of connecting the past to the future. Initially a Facebook group formed by Stacy Bettencourt, CQ has thrived and grown to be an international presence within a short span of time because it has given an outlet to artists and crafters alike to explore the versatility of the art form without any constraints. Interestingly, we have seen a change in attitudes and a gradual acceptance from traditionalists as modern quilling offers avenues for 3D typography, illustrations, mosaics and much more.

What is your favorite Sacramento restaurant to catch a bite after hours of cutting and folding paper?

My first love has always been food, so this is a tough one because there are so many contenders. These days I have been haunting a little place near Arden called Mediterranean Market Restaurant. It has Middle Eastern grilled meats that are gorgeously succulent and one of the best hummus I’ve eaten in ages along with fresh bread right out of the oven every time. But the best part is the fresh pomegranate juice that goes straight to the head before it goes down.

Have an artist you want us to feature in our monthly Q&A? Tweet us @comstocksmag with the hashtag #ArtExposed. 


David (not verified)February 16, 2018 - 3:23pm

Extraordinary photo at the top. I assume it's her contemporary quilling creation in the background - and Zahra's eyes are breathtaking.