In a time when women empowerment movements are rampant, it can be difficult to find a narrative that is inclusive of Indo-Caribbean culture. There are, however, women who are making strides in our community to build spaces that are representative and address issues that are specific to us. Fatima Shabbir is a prime example of a woman who has taken her passion for art and is using it as a tool for change through her poster series, Brown Girl Revolt. This is an independent project not associated with Brown Girl Magazine, but like Brown Girl, it aims to make its target audience known right from the name.
Shabbir is a Pakistani and Indo-Guyanese woman who started her journey as a digital artist from being a creatively inclined child. Art campaigns that inspired rebellion, assisted in social change and encouraged resistance to the status quo have always spoken to her. However, this interest is not what led her to the beginning of a “hybrid, brown, curry-smelling” movement called Brown Girl Revolt.
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Shabbir was inspired by personal struggles she faced, life changes, fighting fear and a need for healing, she came to a point where she was pushed to release the reins of life and plunge into creating art.
I was dealing with a period of time where traumas kept resurfacing and affecting my mental health. Because my well-being was impacted it hindered other areas of my life and ultimately is why I refused to create any room for my goals and passions,” she said. “Right around this time, I was fortunate enough to meet Umila Singh, a social designer and strategist, and now friend, who was working on her thesis to devise social programs for Indo Caribbean survivors of domestic violence. We began brainstorming ways I could assist her with this but I didn’t end up taking part in this development because of fear I wouldn’t be good enough.
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Because of the pressures of single motherhood and challenges of adulthood, Shabbir stopped creating for a long period of time, a sentiment many women can relate to. So how did she break out of everything holding her back? Shabbir said she let two things lead her: The need to understand why history keeps repeating itself in our communities and homes, and the need for art as therapy and healing.
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I was really tired of my own bullshit. I knew I needed to create as a personal outlet because art has always been therapeutic for me, but I also wanted to do it in a way that could be communal in order to share my journey. Art is a unique experience related to how we are feeling in the moment but it also has the power to incite action,” she said. “It allows people to relate or rage against what you create, to question, think critically, converse and debate about your message. This is beneficial to the consumer and the artist and this is where the power lies. I want to raise questions and spark conversations around issues relating to Indo-Caribbean culture, diaspora, our identity, and intergenerational trauma.
The understanding that her personal healing comes from resistance is how Brown Girl Revolt was born. Shabbir comments on the state of women in the Indo-Caribbean culture, she said:
We’re taught how to act, how to speak, and how not to offend all our lives. Perpetrators of abuse in our communities have instilled this idea that our stories aren’t worth telling and that our collective voices don’t matter. The only way we can heal is by speaking, creating, and expressing ourselves. If we want to change anything about how women are treated in our communities and the structures of power that continue to oppress us as women and minorities, then we must be able to create.
With posters that contain messages like “Girl Gang, Cooperation over Competition” and “Speak in the Tongue of your Ancestors. The Voice of Colonization, Indenture, Slavery, and Migration Couldn’t Kill Its Beauty,” it is clear that Shabbir is fighting strongly against the idea that our stories don’t matter.
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Our posters are now up in Richmond Hill, Queens. It has made me incredibly proud to see these up in the area that I grew up as a first-generation hybrid American. It has given me an outlet and purpose,” Shabbir said. “Making my art tangible is important to me and is why I began wheat pasting them in public spaces. I want people to be able to touch them, experience them, add to them, tear them down, get mad at them or smile at them. But most importantly to connect and interact with them.
This interaction with art is the primary goal of Brown Girl Revolt. Shabbir wants to go on creating community galleries that showcase our art, stories, and narratives. Art for her is a way to engage in everyday resistance which as she stated, does not have to be a grand gesture:
It can be self-preservation, changing the way we think and treat ourselves, cooperating with other women instead of competing with them.
By continuously fighting her battle with systemic and learned oppression, Shabbir hopes to have her art be a visual for healing and conversation. She hopes that by engaging in the things she has mentioned as everyday resistance, we can disrupt the systems of power that thrive on making us feel inferior and potentially change the structure of establishments that no longer serve us.
Revolutions start with everyday people, becoming sick and tired of their circumstances,” she said. “I want us to stick it out together and foster growth in ways that we’re not used to. My art and the conversations I hope that it creates is my service to my community and an act of resistance against social norms for all of us.