Dania Shoaib started practicing Arabic calligraphy when she was 14 through painting. Back then, she was obsessed with all things Mughal, peacocks, and mandalas! Now, she takes inspiration from her culture, Islamic architecture, and the word of Allah.
We talk to Dania about pop culture, calligraphy and storytelling.
How does your work relate to your heritage?
I have a blended identity: I am a Pakistani-American Muslim. I aim to include all parts of my identity in my artwork. My Pakistani heritage can be seen in my Desi-inspired collections on Redbubble such as my best selling Rooh Afza design or my several Badshahi Mosque designs. Living in the United States, my mother always chose to decorate our home with unique pieces from Pakistan. As such, my greatest lens into my Pakistani heritage has always been art. Pakistani culture is full of art – we even put it on our trucks! The unique South Asian design elements can be found in the architecture and tile work unique to the region. I take great inspiration from the architectural sites created during the Mughal empire.
Above all, however, the Word of Allah inspires my creativity. The powerful verses of their Quran invoke different emotions within those who listen, and those emotions can be connected to visual elements including lines, shapes, and colors. Arabic calligraphy is a centuries old art form that has been customized by time and place. The Ottomans were known for their decorative illuminations combined with unique Diwani scripts while the Mughals were known to ornament their structures with Arabic calligraphy in lieu of human figures. For me, Arabic calligraphy is not only a way I connect to my Muslim heritage, it is also a form of worship through which I glorify the Most High.
Lastly, my American heritage can be seen through the fusion in many of my pieces such as the Hijabi Starbucks Siren or the United States in Mirror Fabric designs.
Through visual arts, how can we reclaim narratives and tell our own stories?
No two artists can or will ever create the same piece – be it a painting, a poem, or a sculpture. Visual art has the added beauty of not requiring words. When we transfer stories through speech, the information is at risk of becoming corrupted as more and more people convey it in their own ways. For the visual artist, he or she can create a piece that no other human can corrupt with their own thoughts. Visual art is open to interpretation, yes, but it allows for the artist to put forth the way they understand the narratives around them. This gives visual artists the unique opportunity to reclaim entire narratives while being safeguarded from the corruption of others.
What was your thought process and inspiration behind your illustrations?
The illustrations on my Redbubble store mostly feature small pieces of Pakistani or Muslim traditions. You will find both designs featuring hijabi women and women modeling Desi style shawls. The thought process behind each piece is how can I deliver the most connection to one’s culture or tradition in the most artistic way while keeping it simple. Most of my illustrations sell as stickers, so there isn’t much space for intricate design. I wanted people to be able to have small tokens that remind them of their cultures.
I also want to create art for people who live in between worlds – those of us with blended identities. I hope my pieces can be appreciate by people of all backgrounds who carry so many unique experiences.
Your work evokes a sense of pop culture – is this something that influences your creativity?
I’ve never thought about it as pop culture, but there is certainly an element of modernity in my work. I try to connect the old and the new, the simple and the ornate. The drive to connect the beautiful and historic elements of Eastern art forms with Western styles certainly influences my creativity. I’m going to run with the idea of “pop culture” for future designs now!
Why did you choose to develop them into a series of stickers?
When I started undergrad, I noticed everyone’s laptops were covered in stickers. I felt this was such an amusing way for people to express themselves. My own laptop is covered in stickers featuring powerful Muslim women to scientific research. In this way, I have been able to collect visual elements and combine them into something unique to me. No two people will have the exact same sticker collection. So, as I learned more about Redbubble, I eagerly joined and uploaded my designs. My original thought was whether or not someone buys my stickers, I am doing it as a way for me to create a portfolio of all my designs. Alhamdulillah, the stickers have become more popular than I could have ever imagined! They are also a great way for people to introduce art into their lives without having to commit to other expensive or large pieces of visual art. My friends and family have even bought them to put in journals!