How Self Awareness Inspired My Art

How Self Awareness Inspired My Art

By Aqsa Naveed

For as long as I can remember, people would ask me, "What do you do?" I'd always reply with generic responses but art would always be first. Art for me has never been just a hobby. It's a passion, an escape, an identity. Growing up it'd be my only outlet of ease because being a south Asian immigrant wearing a hijab wasn't always the easiest.

For as long as I can remember, people would ask me, "What do you?" I'd always reply with generic responses but art would always be first. Art for me has never been just a hobby. It's a passion, an escape, an identity. Growing up it'd be my only outlet of ease because being a south Asian immigrant wearing a hijab wasn't always the easiest.

My art consists of a lot south Asian inspiration including language, jewelry, clothing, and diverse skin tones. However that confidence only surfaced after it was destroyed. I still remember to this day when I wore a traditional outfit and adored my hands in henna for a cultural assembly in my elementary class. In the corner of my eyes I saw a few girls whispering and laughing with each other. After the performance they came up to me and asked, "Why are you wearing that? What's that poop stuff on your hands? You should just wear American clothes." My heart sank. To this day it breaks my heart that I allowed those girls to tear down my confidence. After years of continuous bullying and embarrassment, I noticed that girls were appropriating my very culture that they deemed unacceptable.

The only thing I took away from that was if you have an entire garden of flowers, people will show disgust over the entire field. And when they steal your flowers, and receive praise for it, you in turn are left wondering why your soil, your water, your sun was not enough.

Once my pride grew again for my background, I began noticing my own art style. After I was admitted into art school and received education on traditional and digital arts, I sought after hilariously depicting the life of mine as a young hijabi. My first piece that I remember creating was inspired by Roy Lichtenstein's "Oh Jeff..." pop art piece. As an assignment for one of my classes, we had to recreate it with our own style. Instead of replicating the same light skinned woman, I painting a brown south Asian woman solemnly addressing her lover in Urdu saying, "Oh Raj..." That painting holds a dear place in my heart as Urdu is the first language I spoke, the skin tone of the woman has is a typical soft brown with thick eyebrows which is usually seen as less attractive over paler women, and a classic red bindi.

I wanted to normalize my culture and way of life through humor because while there is an outstanding amount of praise and culture appreciation, I still wanted to bring forth content that was very important to me. After gaining an audience, it meant so much to receive tremendous amounts of support from other artists, femmes, Muslims, and hijabis (And also all combined!) because it would've made the ten year old Aqsa, struggling to accept her surroundings, come to terms with herself and find her truest passion. 
 

For more of Aqsa's art follow her on instagram @aqsasqa

Pray, Say & Slay Team