Art = ExpressionIn the age of social media, information and ideas have never spread so fast. A particular sub-group is especially taking the internet by storm these days. Artists from all over the world are taking to Instagram to showcase their mediums and proclaim their messages to the world at large. Whether it's social commentary, Quranic calligraphy, geometric designs, or an attempt at fostering inclusion through comics, Muslim artists are taking the pixelated realm by storm and generating mass movements of change at the same time.
1.Saher - @thepakistanimarthastewartSaher Sohail is an American artist who focuses on her experience as a second generation Pakistani woman, living in America. With 93k followers, Pakistani women all over the world can relate to her witty pieces that explore the conservative nature of Pakistani households and culture. The name "pakistanimarthastewart" stems from Saher's love of all things DIY - whether it's throwing themed parties and dinners, to making crafts and baked goodies for her family and friends. Her work has been celebrated for its rawness and relatability. So much so, she even launched her own Etsy store. When asked about her inspiration, Saher recalls: "My inspiration for my illustrations arises out of personal experiences in my own life and observing experiences firsthand in family and close friends. I wanted to take these experiences and be able to paint them in a different perspective. In which people, or more particularly young south Asian females can point at and be able to relate to the illustration with experiences from their own life. I take pride in knowing that I’m able to bring a smile to the face of another through a simple Illustration." While her pieces critique both the bluntness and often critical nature of south asian aunties, and the cognitive dissonance a second generation Pakistani woman might feel as her cultures clash, Saher creates primarily to express herself in a way that makes others laugh. Her comics are light and fun, often taking on Bollywood and pop culture puns. All in an attempt to entertain, but also elicit a change in conversation when it comes to taboo subjects within our community. Saher is also very vocal about the transgressions of Pakistani fashion and media outlets that perpetuate racism, colorism, and prejudice within Pakistani communities. "I like to tackle the not so much talked about issues of a young south Asian woman of today’s generation. I want to be able to take dilemmas and social problems and be able to mold the concept into a comical illustration. One that can poke fun at the issue yet bring the issue to light. Most of the time, I like to keep my illustrations light and fun—something someone can laugh at and still be able to say that they can personally relate to it." Recently, Saher called out Pakistani designer Sana Safinaz, who produced and exhibited her new lawn line online. The only problem? It was a complete and utter act of blatant ignorance and racism. Safinaz's Pakistani, fair skinned models stood in front of local Kenyan Massai people who were presented as nothing more than props. What was a blatant exercise in racism and cultural appropriation was caught by Saher, and broadcasted to her thousands of followers. Within hours, #BoycottSanaSafinaz was trending and the fashion house was forced to address concerns instead of merely continue to delete comments that were putting their racism on the table for the world to see. In the following weeks, Saher called out Sanam Jung, popular Pakistani morning show host. Jago Pakistan Jago stupidly aired a segment that featured models donning black face. An absolute disgrace and again, something Saher and thousands of other Pakistanis were distraught and shaken by. Sanam Jung has yet to make a statement about the incident. It's quite clear that Saher is a force to be reckoned with. Her art speaks a universal language - it's time to talk about changing the perspective of our psychosocial habits and work towards being more empathetic, and understanding. It's time to move past the misogyny that our cultures bath in and strive to create a more balanced environment for our communities.
2. mvzlamic - @mvzlamicMvzlamic has taken the instagram world by storm, her work is vibrant, quirky, and thought provoking without being preachy. At a time when the Muslim diaspora is continuously being bombarded with false accusations, labels, and threats, her comics shed light on the commonalities Muslims share with everyone else and also pushes for dialogue on the conversations surrounding the hijab and niqab in subtle but powerful ways. When asked what influences her work, she states: "My identity is the driving force behind my content; my experiences as a Muslim woman of color fuel my thoughts. Every piece is about making Muslims, particularly women in our faith, feel happier, safer, seen, heard, validated and humanized. The most important part of my Muslim identity is the precedence of Islamic philosophy in the way that I perceive this world and everything in it. A huge part of this philosophy is the concept of justice, righteousness, mercy, and all things good that we owe to ourselves and to one another for the sake of peace. It’s because of this that I try to make every one of my pieces count towards fighting an injustice, whether it’s by outing the ingrained bigotry in parts of our societies through comics, or by simply celebrating the existence of those who are under-appreciated in silent portraits."Each comic she posts to her Instagram is followed by a thoughtful description, often outlining her experience as a Muslim and then opening the floor for others to also share their experiences. She is carefully curating a world where conversation comes before false assumptions and contemplation is at the heart of her messages. Her art is about providing representation and changing the narratives Muslims face on a daily basis. In her own words: "Every piece is about making Muslims, particularly women in our faith, feel happier, safer, seen, heard, validated, and humanized."
3. Marryam Lum - @lifeofmyheartMarryam is South Australian photographer, blogger, and artist who shares her love of travelling, writing, and watercolor calligraphy with the world through her Instagram page. On her personal blog, she writes: "My brush lettering work came from a desire I had to be able to make the beautiful, inspiring verses of the Quran accessible to the non-Arabic speaker in a modern and unique way.
I, as most Muslims, obviously turn to the Quran for guidance when experiencing hardship and for inspiration, however as a non-Arabic speaker with a lot of beautiful Arabic calligraphy in my home, I also wanted daily reminders of beauty, inspiration, strength, patience in contemporary artwork which I could see and read and understand, in my own language as well as in Arabic.
My lettering specifically focuses on Quranic verses, spiritual quotes and duas in the artwork which double as a visual remembrance of Allah (swt) but also a way to be making constant dua and dhikr."Her pieces are elegant, simple, and offer a sense of comfort and familiarity. Many people fall in love with the simplicity of her work and often opt to order prints from her online store to decorate their homes, and offices. Along with her husband Muneer, she not only creates beautiful works of brush lettering, she explores the world and offers glimpses into some of the most stunning crevices the world has to offer. "We're an Australian muslim couple who love finding inspiration in the beautiful & amazing creations around us. We're always aiming to make [our blog] a source of encouragement to our readers (and us!) to dream big, constantly improve, & find ways to live wholeheartedly, while integrating faith and everyday living."