Pakistani designer Nashra Balagamwala was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design when she decided to create a board game that would ultimately open up a conversation about arranged marriage in South Asian culture.
“I wanted to create an innocent platform where families could talk about some of the silly aspects of my culture, in a non-confrontational way,” Balagamwala recently told the BBC. “Secondly, I wanted to explain arranged marriage to white people, so they could better understand the nuance of South Asian traditions.”
Her new game “Arranged” revolves around the character of a matchmaking auntie who is eager to set up three young women who are actively avoiding her machinations. Players draw cards with instructions like “You were seen at the mall with boys. The auntie moves three spaces away from you” in order to slowly inch away from a potential marriage.
Since a successful Kickstarter funding the production of “Arranged,” Balagamwala has received widespread media attention. Earlier this month, NBC Asian America deemed her an emerging voice to watch as part of its second annual A to Z list in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
“My personal projects are inspired by social and political affairs that I want to start conversations about, as well as the culturally rich, intricate designs found in Pakistan,” the 24-year-old artist explained to NBC News.
But challenging a long-held cultural tradition like arranged marriage did not come without risks. “I risked being targeted by religious fundamentalists and offending almost everyone I know,” she noted. While attending a wedding with her parents in Pakistan, she also recalled being treated coolly by several acquaintances who felt like she was insulting cultural norms. But, she said, the feedback she has received from other young women has made it all worth it.
“The project created awareness about arranged marriages and sparked a global debate,” she noted. “Several women also reached out to me for advice which gave me the opportunity to provide them with emotional support.”