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Class of 2020: digital distancing project opens up a whole new world


A University of Wolverhampton Class of 2020 graduate has put the COVID-19 pandemic in the picture with her final year ‘Digital Distancing’ project – and it’s literally opened up a whole new world for her.

Aabidah Shah, 23, born in New York and raised in Birmingham, has graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Photography, overcoming personal and professional challenges to achieve her ambition of becoming a photographer and an artist.

Disappointed that her final year project could not be exhibited at the University Annual Degree Show due to social distancing and lockdown restrictions, Aabidah had to think about alternative ways of showcasing her work which focuses on celebrating diversity and self-love.

Her idea took her on a journey of exploration that included capturing people’s candid reactions to being told they were beautiful on Facetime’s live photo feature.

Aabidah devised a Social Media campaign which incorporated Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok and Facebook and the successful campaign calling for willing participants saw Aabidah capturing the reactions of 86 participants via video call, carrying out shoots with people from 13 countries across the world including Australia, America, Thailand, Germany, Puerto Rico, Belgium, Latvia, Norway, Saudi Arabia and the UK.

Aabidah has also been successful in her application to receive £10,000 funding from the Artists Benevolent Fund which will offer her financial support to further develop her practice and professional progression in partnership with the University’s School of Art.

She said: “The original idea of capturing candid reactions from people in a studio space was just not achievable when we all went into lockdown in March.

“My project is based around the idea that people are beautiful – no matter what their race, colour, sexuality, religion, cultural background and I wanted my project to focus on diversity, inclusivity and self-love.  I was surprised at the response I got from Social Media because I couldn’t tell people what the call was going to entail without ruining the element of surprise. People came onto the call blindly, just with the intention of being helpful and kind. I wanted to surprise them live on camera and capture their reactions to being told they were beautiful.

“It worked really well and has become much bigger than I had ever imagined.

“In a way, lockdown really helped me expand my creativity and suddenly the possibilities weren’t confined to a studio, they were endless and the project became an active, interactive programme rather than a selection of static images.  It was a unique experience and the support from my lecturers was amazing.

“I feel so proud to be graduating with a First Class Honours degree in Photography.  I’ve overcome lots of challenges including my mental health issues; depression, anxiety and PTSD due to my childhood abuse and I explored this in my work which was very dark when I started at University. I then wanted to turn that around and start to focus on positives which was what my project was all about.

“I am determined that, through my work, I will continue to shed light on topics that the South Asian community, in particular people from my Pakistani ethnic background, find difficult to talk about and face. There is very little information about mental health issues or sexual abuse in the community and I want to do better for the next generation, I want to share my experiences through my creativity and break down the stereotypes.

“My family would have preferred me to pursue a career based in science but I think I’ve shown them that you can be successful and still achieve if you pursue an artistic ambition. Positive representation is very important. I’m really proud to be have studied at the University of Wolverhampton, teachers are a big part of the experience and mine have been crazy incredible!”

Anyone looking to study in the Wolverhampton School of Art can call us on the Clearing Hotline on 01902 518585 or contact us through our Social Media channels: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Places are still available for September.

Find out more about Aabidah on her website.


For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.

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