Sabah Nawar is a “designer, front-end developer, and illustrator,” as you’ll gather from her website sabahnawar.com. But that’s not why I felt compelled to profile her, well, not entirely anyway. Although she is all those things, it’s how she uses her wheelhouse of artistry that caught The Teal Mango’s eye.
You need only visit her Instagram feed at 8bit.noir to get a feel for how deep this artist rolls with her hyphenated identity. Nawar says that her illustrations “are a unique concoction of Pop Art and realism, but most of all, it celebrates the fusion of Bengali and American culture.”
Her art differs from the swell of South Asian Insta-artists. Her pop art style graphics don’t contain any word bubbles of zingers, yet, her art still manages to convey culture and wit.
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We reached out the Nawar to learn more about her motivations and inspirations in creating such distinctive South Asian art.
The Teal Mango: When did you have your aha moment to use art as a vehicle for celebrating your hyphenated identity?
Sabah Nawar: I majored in graphic design and went to art school, so I was surrounded by artists constantly. In my last year of college, most of my colleagues had developed their own style with whatever medium they utilized. I always felt kind of lost as a designer because design is so much of a service industry and I really wanted to express myself through my pieces. During my last year of college, I took a printmaking class and wanted to take advantage of it as a way to distinguish what kind of work I wanted to make. I ended up making prints with the mindset that I’m South Asian and that no one else here is South Asian. So I’m going to make prints about this beautiful culture other people don’t know about.
Most of my subject matters not only ended up being about Bengali culture but also about how, even around other Bengalis and Indians I knew, I always felt like an outsider because I was one of the few people in my community that wanted to follow a creative path. One of the best decisions I made as an artist and as an adult, in general, was to go back to my roots. I felt like I reached an epiphany on how important identity is and that I should take advantage of every opportunity to share my perspective.
TTM: When it comes to illustrating your culture, what serves as your muse? Is it people, situations, and/or cultural nuances?
Nawar: The subject matter of work consists of all three things aforementioned. The intention of my illustrations is to give personal glimpses of everyday South Asian-American life. It ranges from indirect discriminatory questions that we hear too often (i.e. Where are you from? No, where are you REALLY from??) to Parle G biscuits you drink with your mother’s tea. My favorite subjects to illustrate are saris or women in saris. In my opinion, saris are a such a symbolic gesture of womanhood and elegance in Indian and Bengali culture.
TTM: Hasan Minhaj recently reposted an image you created for him. Mad props first of all for that! But also, what inspired you to illustrate him? How did it feel to have him acknowledge your art and did it help put it in front of more eyes? Who else do you hope to capture in your art?
Nawar: I drew Hasan Minhaj because I was so happy to see a comedian eloquently convey how the culture he grew up with shaped him as a person. When I was younger, there weren’t many South Asian artists/comedians who were incredibly mainstream. The first time I saw a relatable South Asian that wasn’t stereotyped in TV or film was when I was 13, watching Mindy Kaling as Kelly Kapoor in “The Office.” I remember seeing her and thinking Wait, brown people can be actors? Brown people can be creative and NOT be in medicine? Tell me more!
Whenever I see someone like Mindy, Hasan, Hari Kondabolu, or Aparna Nancherla getting more recognition for what they do, it inspires me to keep making things. There are a lot of amazing Desi artists on Instagram that are changing the game and making amazing, influential artwork. I would’ve loved to have someone like Hatecopy or Babbu the Painter to look up to when I was younger.
TTM: What would epitomize your Bengali-American identity - could you share a quick sketch?
Nawar: A while ago, I made this sketch of a person in a crowd waving a flag that combined the American and Bangladeshi flags. It was inspired by the Women’s March.
We asked Nawar to share some of her favorite creations for publishing. This is what she shared.
“Brown & Sarcastic”
To buy prints of Nawar’s art, click here.