This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Tanya Jha. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

‘The Women In My Sketches Wear Hijabs As Well As Red Bindis’

More from Tanya Jha

Delhi-based graphic designer Syed Tanzeela Hussain has taken it upon herself to unleash the hidden layers of feminism through her art-based entrepreneurial venture.

With an appeal across different age group and gender orientation, she tries to tell a story of her own canvas to correct the misinterpretations that exist in the society. She has been part of various art exhibitions, including the Comic Con 2017 in Delhi and likes being referred to as a ‘hijabi’ feminist.

Tanzeela wishes to expand her reach further as an artist. She wants more artists to introduce their work and let people know how important art is, how it can help in changing perspectives and bringing change in society.

In an interview with Youth Ki Awaaz, Tanzeela talks about how she sees no contradiction between being a proud feminist and wearing a hijab, how Instagram and Facebook helped her in reaching out to more people, why she prefers sketching in black and white and more.

Tanya Jha (TJ): What is the motivation behind your artwork?

Syed Tanzeela Hussain (STH): Most of the artworks are dominated by male painters whose perspective on women are more or less displaced from reality. I want to own that space by creating pictures of women looking straight into the viewer’s eyes fearlessly. I believe women should be telling their stories themselves in whichever way possible (for me it is through my art). Other than this, my everyday interaction with friends and family motivates me to make use of my art in a way that it reaches out to a larger audience and is also able to make an impact.

TJ: You are very active on social media and have a presence on both Instagram and Facebook. Do you think the existence of such platforms has been a boon for the modern art industry in general? If yes, how do you think so? If not, why?

STH: Well! For me, mediums like Instagram and Facebook have definitely come out as a boon because thankfully I have not faced any kind of online hatred and trolling on these mediums. However, I had some inhibitions about joining these mediums because the ideas that I project don’t align with the general beliefs in the society. But contrary to my understanding, these mediums rather enabled me to interact with people who shared my ideas on equal rights for men and women and I am sure this wouldn’t have happened at such a large scale if mediums like these did not exist.

TJ: It is argued by many that hijab is a tool to control Muslim women. You wear the hijab and identify as a feminist. How would you respond to such a school of thought which only sees the veil as something which oppresses Muslim women?

STH: I face this question wherever I go and one thing I am repeatedly told is that my outer personality doesn’t go well with my inner personality. But my response to such a question is that my hijab doesn’t limit my freedom to express what I feel and it is my personal choice to wear it or not. To my dismay, many people are not aware of the fact that covering one’s head is not mandatory in Islam and one has all the right to either follow it or not. Those who think otherwise don’t know the truth in its entirety. Also, one doesn’t have to look a certain way to express what one feels is right. If you are clear about your rationale and logic, what you wear doesn’t really matter. Yes, I wear a hijab and I am a proud feminist who spreads the true spirit of it through art. Moreover, my identity as a hijabi feminist helps me connect with other Muslim women around me who are unaware of the distinctions between what their religion is and what it is made to look like. And if you notice the artworks created by me, you would not just find women in hijab but women flaunting their long hair as well. Everyone has a different sense of beauty and one must learn to acknowledge it.

One of Tanzeela’s sketches.

TJ: Your art is not just restricted to one class and category of women and transcends all the boundaries. How important do you think it is to talk about different layers existing within the general idea of feminism?

STH: The society we live in is not just about discrimination between male and female. I have seen various instances where certain class and caste categories of women are discriminated among themselves. They are ridiculed for their dark skin, for the clothes they wear, for their pronunciations and what not. This is the reason why you would find women of almost all skin shades and attire in my artwork. Everyone has their own way of challenging the dominant narratives and therefore it is not justified privileging one form of it over others. One of my most favourite art pieces shows women in multiple skin shades and attires standing together. It embodies the whole idea of intersectionality in feminism.

TJ: Most of your sketches (under your dear diary trail) are in shades of either black or white. Why is that so? Also, the women in your artwork are always unhappy and sullen. What is the reason behind showing women in such emotional states?

STH: I love working with inks and all those sketches are a result of my fascination with black inks. For me, black and white or monochrome helps you focus more on the emotion that the picture is trying to portray. Colours often take away your attention from the underlying idea behind the picture. In my sketches, thick lines are drawn to show aggression and agony whereas thin lines are there to show tenderness. In one of my sketches on acid attack survivors, I have used both of these lines to show both their anger against the society and their undying spirit to not give up on life. I also often draw small roses around such pictures to depict the sense of hope.

As far as the second question of yours is concerned (on showing unhappy women), I want to show women as realistically as possible. I cannot drift away from the reality by showing women flying high in the sky with a wide smile on their face because that is not the actual state of women. I want people to sense that discomfort and frustration through those sullen emotions in the sketches I draw. You must also notice the fact that my characters always look straight into your face. That is because they are not ashamed of the way they are and thus have no inhibitions looking straight into your eyes despite their distress.

TJ: Bindis are not usually seen as part of Muslim traditional culture. However, most of your sketches have hijabi or non-hijabi women donning a red coloured bindi. What, according to you, does a ‘red bindi’ signify and why is it a constant motif in your creations?

STH: This again is linked to my own personal experiences of wearing red bindis to college. I was ridiculed for not abiding by my religious beliefs. People made remarks like – “Agar tum bindi lagaogi to tumhein sab Hindu samjhenge.” (If you wear a bindi, everyone will mistake you for a Hindu). I personally don’t believe in earmarking bindi as only belonging to Hindu women and therefore, in order to question this baseless segregation based on religion, I came up with sketches where hijabi women were shown wearing a red Bindi. For me, the colour red signifies frustration and anger and thus I only choose to show bindis in red and not in any other colour.


Image provided by Syed Tanzeela Hussain.
You must be to comment.

More from Tanya Jha

Similar Posts

By Rushalee Goswami

By Mallika Khosla

By Prabhanu Kumar Das

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below