Readers, I write this post in response from a request from some of you to feature an awesome Brown Girl or Boy on our blog (outside of my wonderful colleagues whose writing and thoughts you get to read!). I am not sure how often we are planning to do this, but we certainly would like to try to do it every 1 or 2 months to stay abreast of Desi individuals who are up in coming in their professional fields. These can be people in non-traditional career paths, or people who have taken traditional career paths and done something creative/innovative with them.
I introduce one of my dearest childhood friends and going against the grain South Asian sister, Miriam Nagi. Miriam attended the Ringling College of Arts in Sarasota, Florida and graduated in 2009. She then took some time off in a crazy and annoying job market doing some freelance work, and built herself up to where she landed a job with Giant Sparrow, doing environment art for the newly released video game, The Unfinished Swan on PSN. She is now freelancing again, and seeing where the wind takes her next. Here is my interview with her!
Talk to us about your cultural background and family background a bit. Growing up, what type of inspirations and encouragement did you have in your art and what made you pursue it as a career?
My Grandfather, Ahmed Saeed Nagi was a very well-known artist in Pakistan. He worked as an interior designer as well as a painter and painted portraits of people, most notably, of Muhammad Ali Jinnah aka Quaid-i-Azam. From a young age, I always told him I wanted to be an artist like him when I grew up. Unfortunately, since he lived so far away and we did not get to go to Pakistan much as I got older, I was never able to spend much time with him to learn any of his technique or know more about him other than from my parents and other relatives. It still saddens me, but as I have become older, I have nothing but fond memories of him.
Miriam’s gramps with his Jinnah painting. He’s standing with Ardeshir Cowasjee and Fatehyab Ali Khan – at the far right. No big deal.
Photo Courtesy of Dawn News, Pakistan – http://dawn.com/2012/11/25/in-pictures-arsehir-cowasjee-1926-2012life-
My mother was also very interested in art and also use to draw and paint when she was younger. She wanted to become an artist when she was younger but was not allowed because the the art program was not an all girls school. She is the one that taught me and encouraged me to pursue it. I have never once felt pressure from my parents to become a doctor or engineer or any other standard Desi career most parents want for their children. A lot of young Desis have told me I am so lucky that my parents let me pursue my dreams.
I got into animation mostly by obsessively watching Disney movies and cartoons as a kid. In high school I decided for go for 3D animation. I realized it was a strong medium that you can create so much in and I could work on feature films or video games, or in advertising. I like the feel of seeing something in a 3D space- it’s more believable and touchable.
What projects in the past are dearest to you? How have you incorporated your cultural experiences or just your general experience of South Asian/Pakistani culture into them?
My senior thesis for my college was actually inspired from a class I took on India. I learned a lot about Indian culture and religion that I knew very little about outside of Bollywood films. I particularly liked the story of Lord Krishna and his flute, and how his flute playing drew creation towards him. I saw a miniature painting of this, and I was inspired to create a short about him trying to get a rain cloud to water his garden. I don’t think some of my family members loved the idea, given they are mostly unfamiliar with Hinduism, especially coming from a relatively religiously homogenous place like Pakistan. I personally did not think it was really that big of a deal, and do not have those cultural hang ups. To me its just a beautiful story with elements I wanted to experiment with. I really like the colors and the style of Hindu art in general. I also really love the miniature painting style and I’d to reference it more in the art I create in the future.
I am also working on a children’s book that I eventually want to turn into an animation someday. The book is about three old ladies trying to ultimately chase their cat that ran away. Of course, that chase is not a boring one, and filled with adventures along the way. Right now, they are known as the “Burka Ladies”. With this book, I wanted to teach children a little about Muslim culture along with creating an interesting plot- I do not want it to be a preachy religious story by any means. My ultimate point is that everyone should be more accepting of different cultures and the religions that come with them, and why not through the medium of art I have spent so much time investing in? Of course, when I say Muslim culture, I am referring to my experiences and perceptions, which were eclectic. By no means do these ladies embody all of it, but they are a pretty common image of it. I have grown up seeing the Pakistani side of Muslim culture, as well as the different Islamic cultures I encountered at my local masjid growing up. It just comes with living in a melting pot country such as the U.S.
From this animation, I am trying to encourage the idea that wearing a burqa or a headscarf should not be seen as a an assumed sign of oppression, as it usually is here in the West. Note, that I personally do not wear one and many of my Muslim girlfriends do not either, but we fully accept and embrace women who do, and respect their choices because we grew up seeing it. Hence, even among Muslims and South Asians, there is diversity, so why not extend that diversity even wider in the Western world? Basically, I want children to have read this, and then see a Muslim girl in their class with a headscarf and not think its alien and realize she is just as human and “normal” as they are. Idealistic maybe, but nevertheless not impossible.
What special projects are you currently working on?
Currently, I am working on a animated short film with a friend, about a deep sea diver. It is actually a very funny and cute little story. It’s something a bit stranger and more unusual compared to things I normally work on- and that’s why it’s challenging and exciting. I am getting to draw crazy creatures and environments , which differs from my previous work in which I stick to a fairly realistic style. I would tell you more, but I would rather you find out about it when I release it 🙂
What advice would you have for young people who are looking to pursue their artistic passions, but typically have cultural barriers? How should they pursue their passions and how should they channel them in a way that is sustainable to keep an artistic career? What realities do they need to be ready for?
Well, I know with most Desi parents, and even some of my own family members, the first thought is, “You won’t make any money, or there are no jobs in art”. Where I went to college there were just two of us Desis in the entire school. This has been a fairly normal situation for me since I’ve been attending grade school – there’d always be just a handful of us in the whole school. I would say I was used to it and was definitely not surprised since most people in our culture usually do not pursue art as a career and think of it as more of a hobby.
Honestly, times are changing and being an artist does not always mean becoming a starving artist. I think it would be better for everyone to just do what they really enjoy. If you are very passionate and strive for the best you’ll be successful not matter what career you are trying to pursue. Art is one of the best forms of communication. It is definitely a language we all speak. Hence, it can communicate some positive images in our persistently negative, politically charged media around societies and cultures.
Of course, everything in this post cannot chronicle all of Miriam’s art. Do visit her blog and check out some of her other artsy-fartsy works! Till then, readers, hope you’ve enjoyed our turn in posts.