Tired of the same old Hallmarked sugar coated Valentine day cards or silly memes on the interwebs? Us too. So we were thrilled to come across an artist, writer and activist (among many other awesome things) Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed and her edition of #MuslimVDay cards. These cards are witty, humorous but also have tinges of socio-political contention that will either make you relate and want to share, sit down and discuss or be discomforted. So we asked Taz whats love got to do with it?
Could you tell us about you, your work and activism?
I am a political activist, writer, story collector, a poet and artist based in Southern California. I’m a Muslim, a woman, a South Asian, a Person of Color, a Radical, an Asian American and the intersection of all those combined. I’ve always been a social justice activist, but really jumped into doing it as a career doing voter mobilization work to save the environment when I was in college.
It wasn’t until after 9/11 happened that I realized the importance and need of creating a political voice for the South Asian community. I’ve been working in this area of identity politics ever since then – whether it’s starting the non-profit South Asian American Voting Youth in 2004, to writing Desi pop/politics for the blog Sepia Mutiny and later curating images of the legacy of South Asian American diaspora at www.mutinousmindstate.tumblr.com. It has been an interesting journey living a life centered on social justice – the core of my career is centered around creating a political voice for marginalized people, mainly through the power of electoral politics. My artistic side projects over the years have evolved to really explore how words and narratives can destruct mainstream imagined narratives and pull out the counternarratives needed to empower our communities back from the margins. Between my career and my side projects, and my deliberate life motto of “picking the path that leads to the better story” – it’s been an interesting life.
What inspires your art?
If by art, you mean my paintings – they are often inspired by my inability to write. When I’m unable to write, my mind will start to feel in colors and design, and I’ll have to paint. In particular, my paintings of late revolve around the patterns that you see in henna designs – I’ll spend hours googling images. My current series of paintings is based on “alponas” and the idea that these circles designs represent “welcome” and “walkway”. I’ve been working on this series on skateboards. Mainly because I used to skateboard, but also because I like the symbolism behind it.
If by art, you mean my writing – I am inspired to write by the things I see around me – I usually keep a notebook at all times and jot things down. I currently have a monthly column at LoveInshallah.com called Radical Love where I explore the intersection of radical and love. I haven’t been as prolific on the writing front as I would like, but I try not to pressure myself on quality, and focus more on the aspect of creating – as long as I write, it’s a good day. I stopped writing after my mother passed away two years ago, so I’m trying to return to writing without panic attacks again.
Please tell us the story behind Muslim V-Day cards? What sparked the idea?
It all started with a hashtag on twitter. And I had been spending a lot of time thinking about what it meant to be a part of the book Love, Inshallah, which is an anthology of love stories by Muslim American women. The book came out around Valentine’s Day 2012. My story “Punk Drunk Love” about falling in love with the lead singer of a punk band is published in there. I kept thinking about how externally what being a Muslim woman is placed on me and internally within the Muslim community I also have ideas placed on me what it means to be a Muslim woman. I kept thinking of Valentine puns that made people think and force themselves to deconstruct imagined Muslim narratives. So I tweeted them with #MuslimVDay cards. And they got liked. And I painted some and mailed them to friends. And people kept telling me how they wish they could buy them, so this year I made them available for purchase.
What I like about the project the most is that it’s about love while being radical at the same time – it’s cute and adorable and the best slogans are the ones that make people think and confront their internalized stereotypes without attacking. Either people get that this is about destructing narratives or they think that I’m being super heretical. I’m also pretty particular to make sure most of the cards refer to a contemporary political islamophobic hot topic of the moment. It’s subtle. But if #MuslimVDay cards made you stop and think – then I did my job. And if you laughed, then I did my job too.
What has been the response to the cards thus far?
So far, I’ve gotten only positive responses on the cards, from both Muslims and Non-Muslims. And I’ve sold about 100 sets of the cards so far. There have been a couple of comments on some people’s facebook pages which are kind of prudish and offended by the cards. But I’ve never been one to draw a prudish crowd and I kind of thrive on offending. Call it the punk in me.
What would you like to be the main takeaway from the cards?
The first take away is that I hope people laugh and find humor in a time where Muslims are so clouded in a narrative of islamophobic fear. Muslims are funny, and they love, and they are witty. The second is that I hope it makes people uncomfortable with the current political climate and think about aspects of our Muslim American narratives that keep getting pushed to the margins. Finally, I never got the cool valentine cards when I was a kid – only the popular kids got those. I always got the “You’re swell” and never the “Will you be my Valentine?” These things really matter when your eight years old and the one Brown kid in a class of Whites. I really hope this year, Muslim grade school kids everywhere use these #MuslimVDay cards instead of all those generic One Direction Valentines cards at CVS. They may get expelled. And their parents will have to “have a talk.” And the kids will have an FBI file at a really young age…. Okay fine, I don’t want that to happen. But it’d be a great story.
Which one is your favorite and why?
“I’d wiretap that.” Because I’m pretty sure I’ve both been wiretapped and that I’ve used the term “I’d tap that.”
Is there someone you’d REALLY love to give a card to whom you haven’t yet?
I wonder what President Obama would say if I mailed him a #MuslimVDay postcard.
….I’m so getting in trouble because of this, aren’t I?
We think he might actually love them!
Read Tanzila’s full bio here
Buy her cards here: TazzyStarShop
Follow her on twitter: @tazzystar