My parents immigrated from Kuwait, however, they are originally from India. Like many other immigrants, my parents wanted the maximum opportunity for their children. Especially with regards to education, they wanted us to have access to all the world could offer. Moreover, my mother already had siblings in the States and was encouraged by the mobility my family had already experienced here. Both of my parents speak English, and I also speak Urdu, so we haven’t had to combat too much of a barrier. Nonetheless, there are occasions where I feel frustrated with myself for not being able to express something in the language I know they’re most comfortable in.
I grew up in suburban Kansas, and I struggled with my identity growing up, especially throughout elementary and middle school. While I felt a lot more comfortable with my background in high school, I didn’t fully come into my own in terms of expression, comfort, and confidence until I came to college. While I was fortunate to have a lot of great friends growing up, I didn’t even realize how much I limited my expression until I was suddenly in an environment where my Muslim and Desi identities were celebrated We are being raised in a world that is becoming more connected by the day; it is imperative that people understand that the world is a whole lot bigger and nuanced than mainstream Western media purveys. As orientalism and exoticism can be hard to unlearn (even for someone from an Eastern culture), I feel incredibly lucky that an awareness of the outside world was my default.
Moreover, I love learning and studying languages, and growing up in a South Asian community has gifted me another language with which to explore and understand the world. When I was thinking of names for the shop, I knew that I wanted something that started with the “sh” sound, or letter ش in Urdu, as an ode to my parents, Shariq and Shadan, as they’re two of the biggest supporters of everything I do, and my personal gateways to Desi culture. Moreover “Shahr” means “city” in Urdu. A lot of my art is about celebrating the different aspects of my background and celebrating all the cities I call home. Because my art started as a way for me—someone born and raised in the Kansas City metro—to embrace my Desi heritage, the meaning behind “shahr” allowed me to indulge in the best of both experiences. I’ve been able to make art related to South Asian and Islamic culture, as well as making a few pieces related to KC. Recently, I’ve especially loved doing studies of famous architecture, mostly in mosques, from throughout the Islamic world, helping me learn about different design traditions and the vast cultural exchange throughout the major cities of the region. I have been super lucky to have a fantastic support system that encourages my growth as an artist and small business owner. They support me and all of my projects, and I genuinely think they’ve been the highlight of this journey.
I think one of the biggest obstacles for me has been myself, and I think that’s a common experience for a lot of people in creative spaces. It’s difficult to just trust the process and not get in your own head. I find myself needing reminders that I started art for my personal enjoyment! Another obstacle is time management, as I’m also a med student. This requires me to be realistic with myself and clients about deadlines, be comfortable saying no, and ensure that I’m using my personal art to de-stress, not add to my workload. The feeling of looking at a piece when after you’ve finished is unreal. It’s super exciting, and there’s always a little bit of disbelief that you’ve done it yourself. That disbelief always serves as my personal reminder that I’m capable of a lot more than I think; that’s enough to keep me coming back to try new things. I wear the hijab, making me visibly Muslim. This fills me with a lot of pride in my daily life, and I am proud to be but a small representation of such a large and diverse community. In addition, I feel there is a richness in experiencing my daily life through the lens of multiple cultures, and I’m grateful for the clarity my background gives me. If you hail from an Eastern culture, never dilute or exploit your background for the Western gaze. Also, take time to learn more about your cultural history, it helps to overcome a lot of the disconnect you may feel even in your own home.