"Disco Baby" by Ayqa Khan.

“Disco Baby” by Ayqa Khan.

20-year-old Ayqa Khan’s artwork spotlights women in moments of confident leisure. Rich with playful references, and subjects who almost parade their luxuriant body hair for onlookers, the lifelong New Yorker’s photography and illustrations are mischievous, powerful, and informed by many parts of her identity—including her being a young Pakistani-American woman.

We spoke about living in Brooklyn, family, and the ideas and intentions behind her work.

MINNA GILLIGAN: You’re currently based in Brooklyn, is that correct? Do you find it a stimulating environment for you creatively?

AYQA KHAN: I don’t live in Brooklyn anymore. My time there was somewhat chaotic, even though I miss it. I struggled a lot with my identity when I lived away from home, and I still do. I guess Brooklyn can be seen as this place where a bunch of creatives live with overpriced coffee shops, and I just never felt secure in such an environment. Not saying [my problem] was specifically those two things! [Laughs] I always felt like I was running, away or toward myself, but never in a stable pattern. Everything felt so fast-paced there and honestly, I work very slowly. I’m very sensitive to my environment and being around nature makes me feel at home and calm. I moved back to my parents’ house a few months ago, and it’s really hard being here. I got my associates degree in December and decided not to continue school right now. This whole process feels so painful and sensitive, but I think this will be one of the most important moments in my life. A moment of pure growth.

Your drawings have both a sense of the artist’s hand and of digital rendering methods. The conjuncture of these is powerful and unique. What materials do you use to make your work?

All of my drawings are done on [Adobe] Illustrator. I recently played around in Photoshop and the brushes are way better, so I hope to start using that. I have lots of sketchbooks but they turned into journals for ideas, pretty much, and now I just go straight to Illustrator to work on a new drawing. I still do draw in my sketchbooks, they just aren’t published anywhere!

What environment do you predominantly create in? Do you have a studio space at the moment? If not, would you like one in the future?

Having my own studio space would be pretty cool. Even though I work in my bedroom at home, I feel like my “studio space” lies within my mind and the things I own. I would love to have a large space at some point with all of my things—because I have many lovely things that are very dear to me—and just put them everywhere.

I love how your drawings exclusively feature POC as protagonists. They are unapologetic, lounging leisurely and peppered with visible body hair. Are these protagonists based on people you know in real life?

My characters are never modeled around specific people I know, but because a lot of women can relate to my illustrations, I guess you can say I am drawing an era of women and their emotions and experiences.

I also love how on your Instagram you often post pictures of your mom when she was younger, back when she was living in Pakistan. Does your own South Asian heritage inform your artwork?

Yes, totally. Identity is something that can’t and should never be categorized or labeled and, because it’s something that is constantly changing, it’s natural for me to want to project it into whatever it is that I do.

Do you find that your family has been supportive of your endeavors as an artist?

The answer to this question changes constantly, but I can say that my family is both tough and loving. Yes, there are moments when I feel their criticism is intertwining with my work and thoughts, but it is up to me to separate them. I care about what I do and I won’t let them stop me. But then again, I am very conflicted by their traditional mindsets, because I live with them.

I love your online presence, and how generous you are with what you share on your social media platforms. Do you enjoy the internet as a means to exhibit your work? Do you also enjoy the communication and relationships that arise from doing so?

I really enjoy promoting my work online and being able to communicate with people who feel they can connect to my images, as well as people who are just looking for guidance. I think the reason I feel so inclined to respond to people is because when I was younger, I didn’t really have a role model, minus the girls I saw on TV, and often these girls weren’t relatable at all. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood where I experienced a lot of insecurity and anxiety that centered around the way I looked and my background. Today, a lot of younger girls are getting into social media very [early] and it has become another space for insecurities to float around. If there are 14- and 15-year-old girls who look at my drawings and feel it gives them a chance to appreciate and love themselves, then I want to talk to them.

You also make photographs that exist seamlessly alongside your drawings—in that realm of what I call the “leisurely everyday.” Protagonists reclining defiantly in the midst of everyday activities. It’s great. What is your aim with your photographic work, and does it differ from that of your drawings?

Photography is just another medium for me to show viewers how I see things. Themes within my work will always be changing and growing. Right now, you probably see a lot of images or drawings projecting body hair or Pakistani culture, and these are things that have been a part of me for a long time, and things that will always be there. A few months from now, I will have new issues that I’ll want to project.

Are there any artists that particularly inspire or influence you?

I am always inspired by someone new, and right now I’m really loving Naina Kanodia. She is an economist turned self-taught painter!

What are your aims for your art practice and yourself in the future?

In regards to my art practice, there is so much more I need to learn in terms of skills and mediums. I’d like to continue working on my own projects, but I would also really like to work toward creating a physical space for WOC/POC. A place where we all can tell our stories, learn from one another, and create conversation. I’ve realized that I lack a strong core of self, and this is something I am trying really hard to work on. I often fall into the hands of other people and allow them to take me away with them. This journey has been painful but also beautiful, in the sense that I’m realizing how important it is to truly care about yourself. This is something I was never taught and never learned, and I want to be able to help other people who are going through [something similar].

What are three words that describe your artwork?

Liberating, vibrant, and simplistic. ♦

If you’re a bad-person painter and want me to check out your work, please email [email protected] with the subject line “Bad girl painter.” Please include a link to your blog, Instagram, or website.