We need diverse influences: Artist Shahzia Sikander on her multicultural past and our future

Shahzia Sikander in LA Times:

Despite my pluralistic upbringing, I was anxious about encountering my first Jewish family — the Fains, my assigned hosts in Providence. I imagined the inevitable discussion around our respective disparate faiths. As I settled into their home, I was taken aback at the uncanny similarities with my own tight-knit family system: lots of affection, a healthy attitude toward spirituality and an appreciation for communication and education. I babysat their two young children, reading them stories about our different cultures and rituals. Exchanging ideas and understanding each other's Muslim and Jewish faiths were instrumental in building the bonds that still serve us. My 6-year-old son goes to a secular Jewish school in New York where we live, and his godmother is a sculptor and Jewish. I am designing a ketubah for the global Jewish community. My son is fluent in Urdu and deeply connected to his Muslim roots while also speaking Spanish. More than half the children in his kindergarten class are multiracial and multi-religious.

Yet I am dumbfounded that in 2016, here in New York, one of the most diverse cities in the world, it is almost impossible to find a children's book that celebrates a Muslim child's heritage, family, culture and tradition. Why is it that we do not care to assimilate the Muslim American experience in the same effortless ways as we do for other cultural and religious groups? The onus to explain our Pakistani and Muslim heritage has always been on me as an artist as well as a parent. While generating a variety of cultural references for my son to express to his classmates over the past three years, I realized that therein lay an opportunity for us to create our own personal books. Luckily both of us love to draw and I have been able to tap into the lessons ingrained by my father's unwavering commitment to storytelling. Recently the Museum of Modern Art invited me to participate in its children's book line by reflecting from within my unique experience of cross-cultural observation. Movements like #weneeddiversebooks have also been instrumental in bringing to light underrepresented narratives and identities.

More here.