Artist Shahida Ahmed is already having a great 2009.

Not only has she been named Muslim role model of the year and been hand-picked to star in a new advertisement celebrating the rise of Muslim women, but she’s also been chosen to display her work at an international exhibition.

Mum-of-three Shahida, from Nelson, is currently exhibiting a collection of paintings at Bradford University’s Gallery 11.

The former teacher is the only UK artist invited to show her work alongside three artists from Pakistan in the exhibition which looks at the influence of culture and heritage, oppression of the role of women in male-orientated society, personal freedom and religion, titled Embracing Spirit.

The exhibition, which runs until February 27, opened at the end of last month when special guests included Pakistan Consulate General, Tariq Sumroo.

“My work is very positive,” said Shahida. “I use a lot of orange, inspired from the sunset in Morocco. The strong eastern colours make you feel good when you look at them.

“With my work I try to eradicate negativity. Every newspaper has negative stories on the front page and it’s very easy to be critical of things.

“I believe people need positivity to give them hope and aspirations.”

Shahida, who creates clay sculptures and paintings from her studio at Higherford Mill, Barrowford, is delighted at the recognition the exhibition has received. “I’ve had a lot of outstanding remarks and lots of TV and radio coverage,” she said.

“The launch was absolutely full. It’s great because the exhibition is about traditional Islamic arts, which is a theme people don’t know much about, but this shows they are keen to know more.”

Shahida was inspired by a recent trip to Pakistan where she spent time with one of the country’s most famous artists, Ismail Gulgee, who was murdered during her stay in the country.

Her new works are based on the whirling dervish, inspired by the Turkish poet Rumi, the concept of peace, unity and oneness.

She said: “Visiting Pakistan while such tragic events occurred as Gulgee’s death and the murder of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto made me realise the importance of my work. I represent tradition, Islam and culture, and Gulgee was someone I was honoured to have met and spent some time with. Working alongside Pakistani artists has opened many doors for me as an artist, and hopefully my works will develop further.

“This exhibition could have been a reaction to what I saw there, but instead I have come back with a message of peace and love and unity, so people to realise that’s what we should do.

“The message I really wanted to get across was that through art you can create a safe dialogue to talk about different cultures. When you try to create that at government level it doesn’t work because it’s not a friendly platform but art is.”

Shahida was chosen as Muslim personality and role model of the year by Eesha, a London-based Islamic lifestyle magazine.

She also serves as Nelson’s first female Muslim town councillor and on the board of a number of local arts-based community organisations, including Pendle Community Network, and presents a show on Pendle Community Radio. Next month she will take part in a campaign to celebrate the leadership skills of Muslim women.

Her good work, she said, all began after her parents died.

“It really shook me up,” said Shahida. “It was very sudden and unexpected. I thought about how much they had done in the community and it made me look at myself and wonder what I would be remembered for.

“I realised that I wanted to be a good role model and through my work encourage other people.

"It taught me the importance of giving children and women hope.

“When a child comes up to you with a big smile on his face because he’s proud of some art work he’s made, that’s wonderful.”