To set foot in crystal artist Sara Shakeel’s world is to enter a dreamy universe where bananas glisten, baths are filled with diamonds and tears leave glittery tracks. She sprinkles fairy dust on the iconic and the banal with equal fervour, reimagining The Last Supper through a campy, disco ball lens, bedecking Audrey Hepburn in sparkle, and magicking toilet paper and fries into shimmering spectacles.
It’s certainly been hard to avoid Shakeel’s work on Instagram recently. In just a couple of years, she has achieved bona fide Insta-star status, notching up 1 million followers thanks to her creations. ‘I owe my success to social media and Instagram, though I know not a lot of people take “Instagram artists” seriously,’ Shakeel says. ‘But to be honest, for me, it has acted as a platform to connect with like-minded visionaries. I mean, I got to meet the owner of Swarovski, all thanks to Instagram’. The fashion world is equally enamoured; she has collaborated with everyone from Browns to Coach to Reebok. For the latest issue of Grazia, she created a limited-edition cover featuring a field of diamanté daisies.
If things had gone to plan, it wouldn’t have been this way. Shakeel initially trained to be a dentist. ‘It’s a very long story, but to cut it short and cute, I was failed 16 times in my final year (two years straight),’ she says. She didn’t know much about the art world ‘but I knew a bit about collages. I started blending one image after another, posting on Instagram and the rest is history.' Her choice to use crystals was serendipitous. ‘It was a mere accident. When I started creating collages, I was experimenting with everything. I came cross a sparkling Swarovski image, and with a blend here and there, I ended up creating crystal artworks which, little did I know, the world was waiting for.’
It’s unsurprising that Sara’s distinctive point of view resonates, particularly now. Her work is a much-needed flash of feelgood vibes and unapologetic fabulousness. It’s pure escapism. Don’t mistake it for pure frivolity, however. She has used her platform to make sharp astute social statements. Her images of frontline workers (‘real life heroes’) in sparkly scrubs have generated hundreds of thousands of likes.
She’s also started giving stretch marks the crystal treatment and has a dedicated @glitterstretchmarks account which now has 28,000 followers. Although her art resonates with people in different ways, she says it makes her happy ‘when it heals them exactly how it healed me while I was creating it. I cannot wait to see how art brings out the best of me and help others get inspired to do that for themselves.’
The coronavirus crisis has done nothing to dim Shakeel’s creativity. ‘I will create until my very last breath,’ she says. ‘In fact, this pandemic has taught me how to be a mad scientist. I am experimenting new things every day. All I know right now is to be the best version of myself, to create smiles and happiness across the world. I believe in healthy competition, [whether you’re] a man or a woman, as long as you are good at what you do, nothing should ever matter.’
As for what’s next? ‘More goodness once the lockdown is finished.' In Sara Shakeel’s world, you won’t have to wait that long.