Omar Shaheed: 'There’s nothing else I can do or want to do'

The artist is learning how to navigate life and work with Parkinson's disease.

Dave Ghose
Columbus Monthly
Omar Shaheed

Omar Shaheed, Sculptor 

A double whammy hit Shaheed about a year ago. Just before the pandemic lockdown disrupted the arts world, the 73-year-old sculptor was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He’s just now beginning to explore how he can continue his work despite his illness. 

Sculptures created by Omar Shaheed

On his love of stone: Shaheed has been a sculptor for nearly 35 years, primarily working in limestone. He’s crafted pieces as big as 10 by 4 feet—demanding work that has taken a toll on his body. He once fell off a ladder and broke his leg. “It’s extremely challenging, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Stone is unforgiving. It makes you work for it.” 

Omar Shaheed

On Parkinson’s: Shaheed was diagnosed after his wife, Deborah, insisted he see a doctor when he kept falling down steps. Following a year of pandemic isolation and reflection on his Parkinson’s diagnosis, Shaheed is starting to explore his next artistic journey. Though he’s always worked alone, he’s now considering putting together a team to create an 8-foot-tall stone sculpture he’s calling Images Gone By for a Central Ohio park. He’s also been doing some sketching and may do some work in clay, wood or smaller pieces of stone. “Who knows? Maybe something good will come out of this.” 

Omar Shaheed

On why he needs to keep creating: “I don’t have a choice. That’s all I know. That’s all I can do. There’s nothing else I can do or want to do. I’m 73. I’ve lived a great life. I’ve been all over the world. But I’m not quitting. I’m taking another avenue.”