I now find myself looking back and looking within: Sarah Naqvi

by Team ACF
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She is a young Indian artist and undoubtedly a provocateur. For rather than accepting conventional wisdom, she chooses to constantly challenge narratives that push women to the margins. Visual artist Sarah Naqvi, quite a known name on Instagram, was recently awarded the Serendipity residency travel grant. She used the funds to work on her current project that chronicles strong female narratives in Islam and refers to the work of Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi. In a candid conversation with ACF, she shares about her practice, her engagement with social media and how she deals with trolls. Read on.


You have boldly questioned the stereotypes associated with the female body through your works. What personal experiences or observations led you to the quest of making pertinent women issues a talking point of your works?
My work focuses on narratives that are and have existed for centuries, but little to no emphasis has been given to assess and highlight them. This erasure, this resistance to constructive change is a huge part of why my practice is heavily inspired by female-driven narratives. They are part personal, part communal and rooted in the understanding of self within an institution that consistently strives to silence any kind of dissent.

You have an immense following on Instagram which has also in a way helped to increase your outreach. What kind of brickbats or appreciation you have received from followers and how has the feedback shaped up your artistic journey?
Instagram as a tool for communication and accessibility has been extremely motivating, but as far as feedback and validation go, I choose to distance myself from it because this space, as appealing as it poses itself to be, is also a virtual realm that’s feeding one an illusion of power that can be misused for personal gain. So I choose to keep myself from it and hope to render it powerless.

Did you ever face a backlash from people on crossing boundaries of your religion by being so open about women bodies? Can you throw light on this aspect?
Backlash with regards to my work is inevitable but is also the least of my concerns. The people who choose to put in all the extra effort and write to me about their disgust and shame concerning me and my work, do so in an attempt to receive a reaction. Mostly, I choose to avoid engaging them, but given that they aren’t completely blinded by their contempt and hate, I do choose to discuss the subject at hand with them and that ever so occasionally, goes well.

Many female artists have engaged in and explored women issues and bodies. Do you see any of them as your inspiration?
When I first started out, I sought inspiration outside, often in subjects and ideas that excluded me. But the more exposure you are granted, and with time and privilege of learning about yourself before others, helped me seek reason and inspiration in the ones closest to me and look up-to figures who fought in the context I was born in. I now find myself looking back and looking within, for inspiration and the motivation to create. The people I meet, their stories, tend to have a lasting impact on me and it reflects in my work at the time.

How has the Serendipity Arts Foundation grant aided in fueling your artistic ambitions?
Serendipity’s grant has helped me bring my current project into fruition that traces back strong female narratives in Islam and refers to the work of Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi to highlight falsifications in the records of Islamic history and its interpretation.

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