Maryam Adam
Maryam Adam has always loved art and creativity Maryam Adam

Maryam Adam thought everything had fallen into place when she got accepted to study for an art foundation course at The Royal Drawing School in London. The 18-year-old had spent a year thinking she would apply to study dentistry at university to appease her mum who was worried about her future - but Maryam knew her own mind.

From making personalised cards and canvases for her friends on their birthdays it was clear she had been passionate about art her whole life, and decided she couldn't live her life according to how someone else wanted her to, she told IBTimes UK.

When applying for degrees and foundation years... I didn't realise how little my faith and my race was represented in the art scene.

Maryam Adam artwork
Her pieces often explore the intersection of art and cultural identity Maryam Adam

Unfortunately, tackling family pressures wasn't to be the toughest obstacle she would face. On the first day of her course, she watched her classmates begin to meet one another.

"I was in the waiting room being told that there was no way I could continue the course without taking part in the nude life drawing class... I told the course director how uncomfortable I was with taking part and that it was against my religion but their school policy on 'Equality and Diversity' didn't mean anything on that day," she claims.

What's more, she tried her best to compromise and tells IBTimes UK: "I asked if the models could be clothed if or if I could only do parts of the body, but the answer was still 'no'."

Maryam stresses that this isn't a strict faith issue but something she personally isn't comfortable with. She says: "there are Muslims who don't mind taking part in classes like this, but I was not one of them."

I remember how upset and helpless it made me feel, I was thinking more about the fact that I didn't know what I was going to do

Her mind went blank; the only thing she could think was that it felt unfair. What else could she do to get an art degree when they all require foundation years?

In the end she decided to drop out and leave the course.

Her family and friends have been incredibly supportive and not questioned her decision to stick to her guns but often the situation weighs on her. She says: "Being a South Asian Muslim living in London is already a unique experience but being an artist also creates a new scene entirely.

"I had to come to terms about not being able to stay in the Asian comfort zone with my friends who study sciences and the effect is that people find it hard to look past your colour or faith and sometimes when you stand alone, you're seen as the spokesperson for your whole faith or community."

IBTimes UK was told by Mark Chester, Executive Director of the Royal Drawing School: "We recognise that life drawing is not suitable for everyone and encourage students to discuss any issues with us.

"Working directly from the unclothed figure is an age-old practice that allows students to see the structure and anatomy of the body with the intention of developing other areas of investigation such as drawing clothed figures or imagined ones."

The school has apologised for the situation and offered to find some compromise - a potentially positive step in an otherwise unfortunate situation.

"We are sorry that we did not make it clearer at an earlier stage that life drawing and working from unclothed models was a core part of the curriculum and we are contacting Maryam to see if there is another course we could recommend that does not involve life drawing, either with us or somewhere else, to help develop her artistic practice."

Since she's had a few weeks to reflect her outlook on the situation has completely changed. She says: "I think art for me has always embodied the idea of freedom and freedom in whatever you want to do.

"At this school I was made to feel like drawing naked people had to be the norm for everybody but I didn't want to have to find my way around it with the course director. I didn't want to make compromises and beg for some sort of place. I just wanted to be me."

Maryam Adam artwork
Her pieces are often featured on her Instagram page Maryam Adam

She's had to embrace this role however, as she thinks her story speaks to a number of other girls stuck between two cultures. She says: "it dawned on me how important this story is not only for institutions to learn [from it] but also for the future Muslim girls (or anyone else) who want to apply to art schools and are hindered by the very rigid ideas on how people should practice it."

Perhaps the incident has reinforced the different approaches to art. The Royal Drawing School have since recognised an error in how they dealt with it which may influence future decisions in similar scenarios.

Now she's exploring short courses that could support her future plans to apply for a graphic design course, but right now, the experience has opened her eyes to the intersections of art and culture. Since the experience she's uncovered a whole world of spaces for Muslim artists and met some really cool people because of all that has happened".

If anything, Maryam is even more determined to find her place in the art world - a place where she can be herself.

Maryam Adam's work can be found at @paintingonmars on Instagram.