Ayesha Rahim

Ayesha Rahim


(November 16, 1937 - December 27, 2009)

Ayesha Rahim (Shirlee A. Gordon) began making clothes when she was a school child in Philadelphia, and continued to grow and develop as an artist from there. She saw images in her sleep, spirit-driven, crediting her inspiration: "I had not a clue. I am just figuring out how images are in the atmosphere and they come from God. How else could they come? I see them in my sleep. I was a designer and I made the clothes that I saw in my sleep. I didn't have the money to make the outfits that I saw and I would go to my cousin. It only took a dollar for fabric. And all I ever needed was a measuring tape and pins. I never made a pattern. And I came out of high school being "Best Dressed," Gratz High School, 1955. I got scholarships to Moore College of Art."

Concerned with social issues, wanting to make a difference, and already an active designer for artists, musicians and performers, Ms. Rahim found art school an inhospitable place and turned away from her gift. Eventually, she turned back to art, figuring out how to crochet. She had models around her in others, but most of her craft was hard-won, self-taught. Her first hat was a kofi for a Muslim. She was wearing one of her hats when Charita Powell, from the stand Amazulu in the Reading Terminal Market, saw it and asked for another. That was the beginning. She made exquisite hats - crowns, they were- for decades, and they are prized within the community. She took little credit for her artistry, saying, "The thing about it, it's like spirit work. I was over at Temple University selling the hats and I was impressed because they were telling me what part of Africa they were from. Spirit comes and spirit talks. Spirit tells you where to put this color, this shell. So that's basically how the hats were made."

Ms. Rahim discusses her artistic process and history in "Spirit Talks," an essay included in  Works in Progress 19:1/2. She was a featured artist at a PFP salon on January 6, 2007, where people gathered to bring her crowns to be photographed and to share their appreciation of her work. She is also featured in PFP's 2007 documentary photo exhibition All That We Do.

Ms. Rahim passed on December 27, 2009. She will be greatly missed: a freedom warrior in many ways, she brought beauty into the world, and grace and spirit.