Love, laughter and snark go together in Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed’s Muslim Valentine cards. This year marks the third year that the Los Angeles-based writer, artist and activist is making the colorful cards, which feature bold images and text with cheeky puns like “You put the FUN in FUNDAMENTAL.” The art and messages on the cards put a lighthearted spin on Islamophobic perceptions of Muslims and perceptions within the Muslim community about women.
In this interview with The Aerogram, Taz tells how the #MuslimVDay card series first came about in 2012 and offers insight into her creative process and inspirations. Find out which cards are her current favorites!
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration for the messages and artwork on the cards?
It was right before the book Love, Inshallah came out around Valentine’s Day — my story “Punk Drunk Love” is published in the anthology — and I was thinking a lot about what it meant to be a Muslim woman that was trying to be in love. I was struck I was thinking a lot about what it meant to be a Muslim woman that was trying to be in love.particularly by how the climate of hate and fear of Muslims meant that the “outside” world had a particular narrative of what it meant to be a Muslim woman. Burka-ed, arranged marriages, not in love, exotified, what not. But then I was thinking about how that contrasted with how within the Muslim community, I was also silo-ed for being a single Muslim woman. Inside the community, I wasn’t good enough — I didn’t wear hijab, was too old to be marriageable, too independent to be lusted. So I wanted to break both perceptions, and destruct the narratives and perceptions that people placed on me.
So I tweeted the kind of Valentine that I would have loved to have received, something funny, cheeky, and made you think “You’re the bomb” with the hashtag #MuslimVDay and then I just kept tweeting. I’m an artist too — so I painted six of the hashtags as actual cards and photocopied them for friends. They loved them. This is the third year I’m doing them — and this year, with the support of the editors at Love, Inshallah, I decided to print up the cards and have them available for sale. You can buy them at the Salaam Love book tour (it’s the sequel male version to Love, Inshallah) or you can buy them online at Etsy.
As for the inspiration of the #MuslimVDay — I try to pull from the contemportary catch phrases of the Islamophobic right as well I try to pull from the contemportary catch phrases of the Islamophobic rightas what is politically hot at the moment and think of ways to turn it into a pun. It was easy at first, but after a while it gets really tough. I literally have pages and pages in my notebook of various #MuslimVDay sayings. Artwork inspiration — I go through the Valentines Day card section of CVS and see what the kiddies are using these days, and try to pull art inspiration there.
Do you have any favorites in your 18-card collection that’s available on Etsy this year?
I think you can see a subtle theme per each set — I like the second year/set 2 because it’s particularly raunchy. But I like the vibrant artwork in the most recent set. My favorite cards right now are “My Love Drones Only to You” and “This Burka Is Built for Two”.
How long does a card usually take from when you get the idea for it to a finished piece?
Well — I paint all six cards at the same time.This year, I had to plan ahead and was working on coming up with ideas in November because I was turning the card collection into a zine for a zine fest in December. About three weeks. But I tweet year round with the hashtag so luckily, with the archive function at twitter now, I can pull potential card sayings pretty quickly.
We heard that your artwork is going to be in the Smithsonian. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Sure! The Smithsonian has a new exhibit called Beyond Bollywood — and they had a call out for art around the theme of H1B visas. I called it Borderless and it’s mixed media, on a 30 x 30 canvas. It’s not going to go up in the museum, but will go up on the digital online exhibit — so you’ll be able to see it soon — as soon as it launches.
I’ve also been painting a lot recently in the past three years — particularly since my mother passed away. As a writer, I found myself unable to write. So I started painting. I had my first solo exhibit in Oakland in the fall of 2012. I still consider myself a writer that paints, at the end of the day.
To send these unique cards to friends and loved ones for Valentine’s Day or get them for yourself, visit Taz’s store on Etsy. Her other projects include Mutinous Mind State and Mishthi Music where she co-produced Beats for Bangladesh. A long-time writer for Sepia Mutiny, she was published in the anthology Love, Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women and writes Radical Love, a monthly column. Find her rants at @tazzystar.