A Chat With Pakistani, Feminist Artist Noor Unnahar

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I came across Noor Unnahar’s work after seeking poetry that satisfied my hunger for creative activism. Noor is able to unite young artists by colliding paint, collage, and words through art journals. I wanted to ask Noor about her work and, lucky for us, she was happy to answer them.

After reading your “Angry Art Days,” I have a newfound appreciation for this idea that even when you don’t feel inspired or focused on creating, the calamity of it can be art. To pursue it anyway can be art.  I absolutely love that–mostly because I have very similar days. With that, the idea of “success” can be very intimidating when it comes to pursuing art as a career. When did you first feel like your experiences and thoughts could be portrayed through poetry, collage, design? Were there any personal fears or setbacks that you had to overcome in order to pursue art through your blog and youtube channel?

All of it goes back to 8th grade when the pressure of studies had just begun. There was no way out. I needed a medium to channel the visions dancing inside my head, wanting to be something more than simple prose. I had always been the one writing things. At that point, even words wanted to be illuminated in a different light. From a towering pile of notebooks, I remember grabbing one of them to use as an art journal. The first few pages were simple watercolor paintings with text, then it grew to something more complex. I would browse through Tumblr, the teenagers' grunge wonderland, to gather visual inspiration for my next entry and create collages with whatever material I had at my disposal (brown takeaway bags, old newspaper, random paint cards etc).

I had been afraid of not being enough of an artist to keep up with what I had started. Sometimes, I would keep working on an entry for days without accepting the fact that it was finished and there was nothing else I could add. But I would keep it, fearing if it was labeled as 'finished', I would find a fatal flaw, a defect in it. This fear is still as fresh as ever but isn't that strong to rule me as it used to do. 

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The title on your blog is “Design + Creativity twisted in Pakistani Lifestyle.” If you feel comfortable talking about it, I’d love to get your perspective on being a woman in Pakistan and how that contributes to your ideas and experiences in art. What you do is empowering. You have a strong and independent voice. I know it has compelled me to think about what is unique about the way I tell stories. Even more, Feminism can be very complicated given different life experiences and circumstances. But what does Feminism mean to you? Does it play a role in your writing and/or artistic lifestyle?

My identity as a Pakistani woman has provided me with a diverse background to explore my desired art forms. I grew up in a traditional [Pakistani] Muslim household where everything was measured by cultural and religious metrics, which was also highly influenced by the women of my family. Together, they taught me how to remain calm in my skin and still understand the modern world as it demanded to be understood.

You're right, feminism is an amorphous body. It means different things to different people. For me, it has always been a movement of equality that has carved a path for unheard voices to ask for a space where they too can echo. Feminism means that I can make choices that aren't influenced by forces I don't allow to own me. It glimmers in everything I do—from writing to making art.

How do you want to impact the world? If you could say something to young innovators everywhere who want to understand you better, what would you tell them?

I want to make sure no story is left behind. If it asks to breathe in poetry's frame, I would write it. If it needs to exist in a larger body, I would photograph it.

I want to leave
no one behind.

To keep
& be kept.

The way a field
turns its secrets
into peonies.

The way light
keeps its shadow

by swallowing it.

—   Ocean Vuong, from “Into The Breach”

As for young innovators, I want them to never stop. Read more poetry, write more stories, paint more [flowers]. Consider this: we all are bodies in a perpetual state of growth, forever transitioning to something different. Use this fact. Allow your art the transition from one style to another. To limit yourself is to deny creativity the access to your heart. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, every artist was first an amateur. So if you're met with failures in your attempts, take it lightly. Focus on creating and keep repeating the process. It is only going to get better. 

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Finally, who inspires you? Are there any artists or creatives your audiences can turn to find inspiration as well as you? 

I am inspired by people; how they bear loses, carry love, and create new worlds within their existence. It's nothing less than magic. As for poetry, I am obsessed with the work of artists of color with a strong political narrative. Ocean Vuong, Kaveh Akbar, Fatimah Asghar, Safia Elhillo, and Warsan Shire are some of my favorite poets. Dina Tokio inspires me endlessly with her modest fashion and fantastic YouTube content. My twin sister Areeba Siddique is one of the most talented artists I have ever known and I often sneak her journal to my room for inspiration.

www.noorsplace.com

Words: Georgie de Mattos