Sarah Naqvi’s earliest memory of art was watching her grandmother and mother practise embroidery when she was 7. Her family has always practised embroidery, giving the artist a personal connection to the form – but her narrative is completely different. While her grandmother and mother practised it during the wedding season, embroidering little batuas with painstaking attention to detail, Sarah uses embroidery to convey the idea behind her art rather than the aesthetic. The textile artist uses embroidery and watercolour to add a subtlety to her captivating art that takes on the subjects of gender, sexuality, menstruation, masturbation, body positivity, race, religion, and so much more.
Embroidery as a Universal Medium
According to Naqvi, embroidery is a universal medium. “You can experience so many emotions when you interact with textiles because it’s tangible and you can create any form out of it. It goes beyond boundaries,” reflects the 21-year-old artist. Her embroidery is driven by issues that girls and women experience globally. What begins as an effect or as inspiration leads to research, post which she starts to sketch. Once the process of ideation is complete and the artist knows what she wants to do, she transfers the sketch to cloth and creates the outline in embroidery. This is when the actual textile art begins.
She joined them and tried to explain the concept when a boy asked her, “So, what exactly is a pad?” Sarah was taken back to her school days, remembering how her introduction to menstruation had horrified her – the doors and windows were shut, the boys were asked to leave the classroom, and the teachers had been as vague as was possible.
Art Through the Female Lens
Sarah Naqvi’s art is in part a raw portrayal of the human body through the female lens. Her menstruation series was recently featured at the Conflictorium in Ahmedabad where she saw a group of girls and boys from a school in Jamalpur viewing her embroidery art and wonder what it was about. She joined them and tried to explain the concept when a boy asked her, “So, what exactly is a pad?” Sarah was taken back to her school days, remembering how her introduction to menstruation had horrified her – the doors and windows were shut, the boys were asked to leave the classroom, and the teachers had been as vague as was possible. The boy’s question led her to realise that beyond the phone screen, art can reach people who may not have privileged access to the internet. When kids ask questions, they learn the most, and she saw art giving them a platform and safe space for dialogue.
The textile artist doesn’t want to be classified as anyone or anything. About the horrible declaration of Punish A Muslim Day, Naqvi says, “It categorises me as someone whom people are afraid of and that bothers me the most because we don’t want any categorisation – we just want to be people.” She thinks that religion has been made into a medium of separation that threatens people’s very existence. Her artwork titled Shanakht is about Islam and Identity, and how the artist struggles with both.
Urdu is a vital part of who she is.
For the longest time, Sarah did not comfortably identify as a Muslim because of the negative connotations that the world had attached to the identity. She recalls being 10 years old – when her friends in the locality had started to wear the hijab and niqab, and she was the only one who hadn’t. She always felt a certain amount of pressure from society to look or be a certain way. It was only when she started accepting the things that made her feel comfortable and whole that Sarah became comfortable with her identity. Then, Urdu happened to her. Having been stubborn about her mother tongue in the past, she eventually started learning it on her own. Sometimes, the artist sits with her mother who gives her language lessons. Urdu is now a vital part of who she is.
The artist worked with The YP Foundation on illustrations for their Know Your Body, Know Your Rights campaign because she believes that sexuality education should be included in academic curricula as a primary subject. “It’s only when we understand what is good and what is bad for our bodies, its needs and its wants, that we can do what is right for it,” she says. Sexuality education can help young kids to understand consent, respect their own bodies, and create safe spaces for them to understand and grow. In her illustrations, she uses a juxtaposition of nature with female and male genitalia to make it easier for people to understand what they’re viewing.
“It’s only when we understand what is good and what is bad for our bodies, its needs and its wants, that we can do what is right for it,” – Sarah Naqvi
Sarah Naqvi’s SKINT series showcases beauty in all the context it carries, the mystery it holds, and all the stories it has the power to tell. “If you scroll through your Instagram feed, you’ll understand what I’m trying to say through SKINT,” says the artist.
Sarah built the series out of insecurity, trying to accept and perceive the beauty in flaws. When body standards that are so difficult to attain are being glorified, and even campaigns that surface with good intentions end up glamourising only a certain body type, there is a need to step back from naturally unattainable standards of beauty.
Sarah Naqvi’s art creates conversation. She encourages this, believing that conversation is the biggest solution when it comes to destigmatising a topic or issue. “I’ve always feared what could happen for speaking too much or too loud or being too vocal about issues. But at the end of the day, there is so much that can be done using this medium – so, look at the bigger picture,” says Sarah Naqvi. “Art is subjective and about free expression. If you’re passionate about something, you’ll find a way to stand up for the ideas that you want to put across,” she concludes.
Feature Image Credit: Sarah Naqvi, Instagram.
Also Read: India’s Women Artists: Bharti Kher Draws Upon Dualities In Her Identity