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.
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.