With Fatimah Asghar

With Fatimah Asghar

Conversations On the Versatilities of Art

Art as an expressive and symbolic system is often positioned toward itself (the art object), the artist (the maker), actualities (the world) or concepts (as ideas or possible states of being). The cultural and individual insights, of both makers and viewers, in works of art continually reveal to us the range of possibilities – of form and detail – that lie inherent in each art form. At IKKIVI, we had the occasion to speak with Fatimah Asghar on the various emotional, artistic, and intellectual processes and experiences that (can) underlay works of art. Discussing the characteristics and significance of different artistic mediums, she shares with us the particularities that influence and embody her poetry, screen-writing, experiences and projects.

Fatimah Asghar photographed by Cassidy Kristiansen

Are there any defining moments from your childhood and adolescent years that have shaped your artistic expression?

My entire upbringing and life really informs my work. A huge theme in my work is around orphaning—my parents died when I was really young and that’s something that has been such a huge influence over my life. I don’t think most people really consider how much of our society is formed and privileges the idea of family: so when you don’t have that, when that’s taken away from you early, you really see a different side to the world. 

Are there any poets, thinkers, writers, or artists whose works continue to resonate with and move you?

So many! I feel really blessed to live in a world where I get to constantly look around and be inspired by so many people’s art. Some of my favorite poets are my peers: Danez Smith, Franny Choi, Angel Nafis, Safia Elhillo, Morgan Parker, Hanif Abdurraqib, Kaveh Akbar, Justin Phillip Reed—the list can go on forever. I love Ross Gay’s work; I wouldn’t be here without Patricia Smith and Tarfia Faizullah.

 

Does an art form play a role in the development of the other art forms you engage with? If so, could you describe their interplay?

I am an artist that works across multiple genres. They’re always influencing each other and informing each other. I’m someone who really thinks about the thing that wants to be told before I consider its container. If there’s a line that comes to me, I just write what I feel and then decide what it is once I have the thing down: is it a poem? A screenplay? Prose? I think our art is often smarter than we are, and we just need to make space for it to tell us what it wants to do.

As even within writing your work spans across different mediums, what is the relationship between your poetic voice and screen-writing voice? In the same context, where does one art form end and the other begin?

I think that my poetic voice and my screenwriting voice are incredibly interconnected because they come from the same person. We’re all such multifaceted people, that contain a lot of depth and multitudes. But ultimately, since these voices and projects come from the same person, they’re inherently connected because they have that in common. I’m not a stickler for believing in different genres as different, I love the blending of things. And therefore, I’m not too concerned with the question of where one art form begins and one ends, because ultimately I don’t know how much that matters: I’m just interested in making art that feels true to me, that is authentic, that makes a home for myself and others.

Is there a certain process you follow as you write/ in your writing?

It’s all so different depending on the project. Sometimes it just pours out of me, sometimes it takes a lot of careful planning, sometimes I dream of a project for days, months, years, before ever writing anything down. I think what’s most important to me is just trying to stay open, and trying to carve out as much space where I can really listen to my own self and voice, rather than letting iit get jumbled with others’ opinions.

Poetry Book If They Come For Us

The poems in your book, ‘If They Come For Us’, look at emotions and pain in profundity. What was the experience of writing these poems like for you? Were there any recurrent thoughts you had, and emotions you felt, through it?

I wrote the poems in that book over the course of years, and many poems that I was writing at the time didn’t make it into the book. The experience was so varied—some of the poems are so painful, and those were difficult to write. Some are very nostalgic and joyous, and felt like such a breath of fresh air to write. When you write one off poems they stand on their own, but when you’re compiling them into a book you have to be really careful: what are the recurring voltas in the poems? Are those intentional or repetitive? How can you switch it up and add more texture throughout it? When they’re put together what poems become redundant and can be cut? What poems do you need to write to thread the themes you’re writing out better? Because the book has such a heavy theme of Partition, I wanted to make sure that I was being responsible: trying to not point fingers at anyone (because that’s actually just impossible when there were transgressions on every side), but trying to really contextualize that pain and history while also dreaming of a more peaceful future.

Still from series Brown Girls

How did the plot and idea of your web-series ‘Brown Girls’ come to be? Was it a story that you had developed and wanted to showcase or something you worked on exclusively for this project?

It just came out pretty naturally. I just kind of wrote and let the writing take me where it needed to go and be.

The show (has) received a lot of praise from the public and the fraternity. What have been the personal highlights or take-aways for you and the other creators from its success?

I think the main thing was to just always make your art, even when people doubt you. Film is so hard because it’s so expensive and there are so many moving parts, but you just gotta find a way to make it. And treat people well. It’s really important to me, and to Sam Bailey who was the director of the series, that our sets be safe for queer people, people of color, and women. So often sets are so unsafe for marginalized people. And if most sets are unsafe on a basic level for marginalized people, then what art and perspectives are getting told and prioritized? When you have to show up to work every day and fight under such extreme conditions to even be considered a human, how can you make your best art? For us it was really important to make our sets like the worlds we live in: centering queer people of color, centering our humanity and being—not just our bodies and aesthetic.  

Still from short Got Game

We enjoyed watching your short film ‘Got Game’. Could you tell us a little bit about how the film came about? 

I wrote the script and then directed it. It was my first time narratively directing something so I really learned a lot. I deeply relate to the protagonist, and it really came from trying to navigate being single after being in a really long-term relationship and just being really awkward and wondering why it seems so easy for everyone else. 

Your craft ties with and expands on social activism closely. Does art inherently embody characteristics of social change or development for you?

I don’t know that I can make grand sweeping statements about art on any level. I know for me; I write deeply about what I care about. I care about a world that treats queer people of color well, where queer people of color get to thrive, where people can be who they are without being crushed by white supremacy. I think everyone should care about that. And not care so you can make art about it, but care deeply because the world we’ve inherited is fucked, shaped by so much systemic racism, and it’s going to take all of us to change it, every day, every moment.

(How) do the dialogues on social media influence the way you approach your art or your work?

I go on and off social media a lot and have a very complicated relationship with it. I think social media is a really useful tool; I also think over-listening to social media will damage you as an artist.

Are there any projects you are currently working on? When do you think we will be able to see them?

There are, but I’m not really allowed to talk about them! I’m working on a novel right now, and so that’s on the horizon.

In the wake of the recent identity violence and protests that have outbroken, what do you think one could do to stay grounded in themselves while traversing through these tense conditions?

Again, I feel like this is really hard to speak about in generalizations because it’s so specific to each person. You have to take care of yourself to be able to contribute well to the world. And so, whatever is part of your grounding ritual is important to honor—whether it be meditation, prayer, making sure you’re eating, talking to loved ones. But also, it’s our duty to show up in solidarity for Black people, to combat anti-Blackness wherever we see it, to fight for a better world. And I really hope that as folks, particularly non-Black folks are emphasizing taking care of themselves, they’re also emphasizing showing up to fight against anti-Blackness and to be anti-racist in every single way that they can. Again, this is a long fight, and it’s going to take all of us to shape a better future.  

Fatimah was interviewed by our writer Malini Mathur. For updates on her future projects and strirring writings, follow her here.