Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed is an artist and activist who is countering the ugly narrative of Islamophobia through humor with a refreshingly original, unapologetically cheeky new art form: Muslim Valentine’s Day cards. Check out MuslimGirl’s Q&A with the artist:
MuslimGirl: What gave you the idea of making Muslim Valentine’s Day cards? What are your goals?
Taz: I started the #MuslimVDay card “art installation” in 2012 after spending a lot of time thinking about how narratives of Muslim love were placed on me. I wanted to destruct those narratives by creating these cards. I’ve released a different set every year over the past four years, reflective of the politics of the time. It’s subtle, but if you look at each card you can usually see a couple that refer to a contemporary Islamphobic hot topic. I wanted to push back against that with satire and humor.
What’s your creative process like? Where do ideas for the jokes come from and how do you make the cards?
I basically just tweet throughout the year, with hashtags that I think would be funny for #MuslimVDay. Around December I’ll start spending some time trolling the Internet for various Valentine-related images and see if anything sparks. I’ll then ask my friends which hashtag tweets they liked the best, and then I’ll make cards out of the most popular ones. It should go without saying that I spend a lot of time immersed in pop-contemporary news around Islamophobia and being Muslim — so that inherently affects how I’m inspired constantly in my words, art and work.
What kind of responses, if any, have you gotten from Muslim and non-Muslim communities?
Most people think the cards are funny, and most folks get the satire behind them. I think that if people don’t have a sense of humor, they get offended by them. I’ve “performed” some of the cards on stage, and they evoke different responses. I think Muslims and South Asians feel more comfortable to laugh when I read them, but non-Muslims shift uncomfortably. I have to tell them that it’s okay to laugh. And then they laugh. I think non-South Asians and non-Muslims don’t realize that Muslims are funny too.
What can you say about using humor to deal with the social issues we face as a community?
I often get ridiculously upset with how the world perceives Muslims, and the Islamophobic narrative that we have to face daily in the world. It’s so easy to get weighed down by the wonkiness of it all, and sometimes you just have to laugh at it. I’ve been working in politics most of my life, and I find that the easiest way to get people to pay attention to important and dire social justice issues is to do it with humor. That’s a big reason why we started up our #GoodMuslimBadMuslim monthly podcast — to address the things we have to deal with daily as Muslim women and to do it it with humor, because that’s how we deal with things. The world is really depressing when it comes to social issues — so why not bring some fun into it?
Shop these cards in Taz’s Etsy shop below!