Shabana Kauser’s artwork exists at an intersection of time, place, gender and culture that, without hyperbole, can be called unique.
She is from South Asia — Kashmir, to be specific — and grew up in 1990s London. But despite their immigration, her family “held on to the traditions and values they knew”, expecting her to “marry someone of my parents’ choice, a man I had never met, never seen never knew anything about her that fitted the expected. role of a housewife and conformist”. Nor did they encourage her creative aspirations, even though her mother was a talented seamstress who custom-made “Shalwaar “traditional kameez,” which Kauser describes as a tunic top, pants, and a dupatta (traditional headscarf) to match the outfit.
“I embraced both cultures, [but] my path was always different from my parents’ generation and many around me,” she says. “As a first-generation immigrant, those constant challenges of belonging and acceptance existed in both cultures.
“At 21, I rejected what was expected of me, finding the courage to stand up to my parents and an entire community, where everyone around me remained silent, or assured me it was the expected thing. to do, it was an uphill battle. “, she remembers. “On the surface, it’s very easy to separate what you would do in a given situation; the reality of what people actually do when faced with difficult circumstances, isolation, unsure of how to survive and live financially, they are two very different things.
“I was fortunate to live in a country that gave me choices and the freedom to create my own journey,” Kauser continues. “I’ve always struggled with conformity. Being on the receiving end of sexism and racism has been present throughout my life. Having choices, following my decisions and my path has been survival.”
Although she ended up in art, Kauser excelled in another non-traditional career for women, earning a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology and a master’s in Information Management. Then her life took a turn even she could not have predicted.
“My husband was offered a job opportunity in Northwest Arkansas in 2008. We left the bright lights of London, our corporate careers… we took the leap of faith and moved to the US to start a new life.
“Unfortunately, for me that journey got off to a bumpy start,” explains Kauser. “Because of the visa laws at the time, I couldn’t work for about seven years. It was very isolating; I felt lost and disconnected for a long time. I volunteered with different organizations in the community to keep my sanity my active. [but] it was never enough. It wasn’t until I discovered my passion for creating that things changed for the better. As soon as my green card came, I decided to follow my passion with art and make my first exhibition”.
Kauser says her art is “directly influenced” by everything in her life up to that point.
“The immigration experience involves uncertainty, change and adaptation,” she says. “Being the daughter of Pakistani immigrants to the UK and an immigrant to the US myself, it’s amazing how you look for ways to achieve something instead of spending too much time on the problem. My parents always had a strong work ethic and a ‘can The attitude of doing, and this is what I have always known. This mind has helped me many times, [and] a defining moment was discovering my passion art and aiming for opportunities that seem out of reach.”
But Kauser also embraces the opportunity to be “a living black female artist.”
“Female artists represent a small percentage of the works shown in high-end museums and galleries,” she explains. “The number of black artists present in that art sector is also low. Now imagine, being female and Asian, that percentage is even lower. I’m proud to continue to fight for my work to be seen in premises where I am underrepresented”.
That is why, although she has been fortunate to have had a number of solo exhibitions in galleries across the United States since introducing her work to the community in 2017, having the opportunity at her first museum exhibition at the Regional Museum of Fort Smith Art “is a proud moment not only for me, but for family, friends, collectors and a number of communities that have supported my work since the early days,” she says.
“Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a number of artists, from all backgrounds, come up to me and tell me how proud they were. They were delighted to see my first museum exhibition and a name that wouldn’t normally be .seen or heard in art.A living Asian female artist showing her work in a museum.
“I [also] how to hear how my work is enjoyed by visitors. Everyone takes in and appreciates art differently,” Kauser muses. “Visits from school groups are some of the best; for some of them it is the first time they see paintings of women from South Asian culture. They have questions, like the colors, enjoy seeing the artwork up close, and more.
“Being a Pakistani woman in America, where I can express myself through my art, has been very powerful so far. Each of the stories behind my work has a universal message of strength, courage, determination, uncertainty, belonging and acceptance. resonates with people regardless of their gender or background.”
“Dupatta: Journeys of Life and Cultural Identity”
WHEN – Until September 11; hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., and Sunday, 1:00 p.m. Private tours can also be arranged with the museum.
WHERE – Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, 1601 Rogers Ave. in Fort Smith
COST — Free
INFO — fsram.org and shabanakauserart.com