May 17, 2019 | By Anupreet Bhui
India-based artist Sarah Naqvi is using her work to challenge the stigmas surrounding female bodies.
Originally a textile design student, Sarah uses mediums such as embroidery and cloth sculptures to celebrate body-positivity. Her art foregrounds tabooed topics in her country, such as menstruation and unrealistic body ideals, taking a bold stance against orthodox conversation and braving outraged responses. WGSN’s Anupreet Bhui and Ruilin Cheng sat down with Sarah to discuss her experience as an artist.
What inspires your work and motivates you?
Most of the work that I do comes out of experiences that have really impacted my life.
In India, a lot of these experiences are shared and don’t exist in isolation, so they shaped how I see things and how I perceive art. I was motivated to share these stories through my work. I just have an undying passion for art and I’ve never felt this way about anything else, so that’s always the driving force.
What has been the biggest challenge so far as a young, Indian, female artist?
There’s this underlying fear that I have all the time. I want to make art without that fear, but there’s a lot of apprehension when it comes to saying what I really want to say, and I have to be careful not to offend people. I’ve always thought that the first step to making people understand and to spread a message is to get them talking. Sometimes I consider how things could be different if I were working elsewhere, but I always come back to how Shirin Neshat once said that a person’s best work can come out of struggle.
How do you deal with such controversy surrounding your art and what motivates you to keep going despite internet trolls?
What has kept me consistent is my need to understand the questions that I’ve always asked myself. There are so many questions that have always been there, but don’t get addressed or acknowledged. I’ve also tried to make people understand those questions, and seek for answers; it creates this wave that will always lead to improvement, because maybe my work can inspire others to take action. The hate is incomparable to the joy you get when you see the work affecting others. Most of the time, when I get hate, I start a conversation with them, because you can’t just shun someone with a different opinion. There needs to be a space where people come together and create a dialogue.
Do you think there is any change in the thought process in regards to notions that you have stood for bringing awareness to?
I have seen certain movements that have grown so much – for example, the Indian government has just abolished taxes on sanitary napkins in the face of this rising movement. It’s been a fight which every woman has had a part in for the longest time. Using social media to spread these messages can be a huge victory. I have seen these movements actually have impact, and that’s a very big thing.
How far do you feel you’ve made an impact in changing attitudes towards women and how receptive are your audiences to your art?
I couldn’t really just count on people online when it comes to impact because, when a work is present physically, it receives a more positive response. Online audiences are behind a screen, so there’s always a filter. People seem more affected by my work in exhibitions. Last year, I had one in the Conflictorium, a museum in India, and there was an entire group of girls and boys from a very small school. These girls had never had ‘the talk’ before, and there was a bunch of them standing around a piece I had curated. They weren’t saying anything – some of them were giggling – so I asked them what they thought. Their responses were so fascinating – they loved the art, and their questions were basic but so relevant. I never had ‘the talk’ in school either, but these girls had no idea about menstruation, even. Through my work, they actually learned about it. That was the most inspiring thing that could ever happen, because I got to witness my work having actual impact.
Want more of this artist? Follow Sarah on Instagram here: @naqvi_sarah
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