Tasneem Mandviwala is a Houston-based artist, Muslim-Indian and a self-proclaimed feminist. Her artwork has been displayed at various venues throughout the Texas area, including the Jung Center and Matchbox Gallery.
The central theme of her art is to create awareness of the idea of truth, and she believes that the concept we perceive as the truth is different for every person and that these “truths” can sometimes be proven otherwise. Check out her artwork and let us know what your impressions are in the comments below.
Captions and artwork by Tasneem Mandviwala
1. “Listen Up,” 2013:
By juxtaposing the Playboy bunny logo with the veil, this piece suggests the extremes of importance women’s bodies are given by men, both in the West and East. The logo itself is sliced and presented as separate parts, just as women’s bodies so often are in Western media.
2. “The Feminine Mystique,” 2013:
In patriarchal cultures, the undesirable “mystique” remains that a woman either must be entirely covered or entirely uncovered. Juxtaposing Playboy bunny ears on a completely veiled woman, this piece unapologetically confuses these expectations.
3. “Topography of an Unmarried Bride,” 2013:
Using traditionally feminine materials, this painting maps out the socially stressful experience of being an unmarried woman, especially in South Asian culture. The ribbons literally serve as a corset to the canvas, representing the tight social norms of marriage.
4. “Panic of the Righteous,” 2013:
This piece speaks to the “rightness” of marriage from a social perspective, with the humanoid red figure in the foreground decked out in a simple form of the typical gold bridal jewelry found in many South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. Until there is marriage, there is panic.
5. “The Kitchen (The Wallpaper),” 2013:
Inspired by C. Sherman and M. Schapiro’s “Womanhouse,” this piece speaks to issues of domesticity, fertility and the ennui that can often result from being pigeonholed as only a housewife. At the same time, however, there is a sense of a hidden potential for subversive power.
6. “Learning Curve,” 2013:
This piece documents the experience of bilingual learning and the idea of being immersed in two tongues to different degrees. As one sharpens and gets larger, the other’s presence diminishes. Although most chaotic, the central overlap of the two languages—and the worlds they bring with them—is the most intriguing and rich moment.
7. “Xenophobia,” 2012:
Although the U.S. has done many great things, it has also done many terrible things. Sometimes its most limiting factor is its outlook on the rest of the world; that is, its perception that it is the entire world. America “aids” other nations to purportedly help them achieve greatness, but all too often, it does not recognize that there can be multiple forms of greatness
8. “The Shari’a Takeover,” 2012:
Inspired by conservative pundits on national news networks, this piece plays on the idea of a Muslim takeover of America. In Gujarati-Arabic script, the Pledge of Allegiance is written over the U.S. flag, with a heart replacing the word “God.”
If you see a piece that you like or if you want to purchase any of Mandviwala’s work, click here.
Tasneem Mandviwala, studied art history, psychology and English literature, and has an M.A. in the latter from University of Houston. She has also taught English in a number of places to a number of ages, including Houston and Mumbai, and is an online editor for academic papers. Currently, Mandviwala is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Comparative Human Development at University of Chicago, she hopes to foster greater understandings between individuals who are members of diverse populations such as those found in the U.S. Mandviwala believes a willful childlike spirit of curiosity and openness can solve many things in this life.
The onscreen representation of South Asians has never been great in Hollywood. In fact, I learned not to look for it in my favorite rom-coms, superhero series, and family dramas. In my TV-watching experience, though, comedy has been a different story. I love sitcoms and have watched nearly every popular sitcom from the early and late aughts. When I turned to these comfort shows, I never felt unrepresented. Some of the most iconic sitcom characters in recent decades are South Asian: Kelly Kapoor in “The Office,” Tom Haverford from “Parks and Recreation,” Cece Parekh in “New Girl,” Tahani Al-Jamil in “The Good Place,” and in the past year, Sid from “How I Met Your Father.” For most brown viewers, like me, this felt more than satisfactory. Any representation felt like good representation, and as an audience, we weren’t in a position to critique networks, producers, or writers on how we appeared on screen. It was, and still is, a celebration to appear at all.
The portrayal of South Asians in sitcoms is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it opened doors for South Asians that were unavailable through other creative endeavors. Comedy as a genre is weird, and smart, but relatable. It has given our community a far-reaching platform to unite and connect with people of all cultures. As a minority group, exposure — especially in an industry held together by connections and clout — is integral for our collective success. South Asians have seen more success with comedy than any other genre because making people laugh is the most palatable way to present our similarities and differences. We can tailor our political statements, social frustrations, and marginalized experiences into fun, raunchy, non-threatening, and insightful content. Comedy is versatile enough to capture our most unique and marketable traits, and sitcoms, situational comedy, is an extension of this in the form of 24-minute episodes.
While a handful of sitcoms employed South Asian talent, our inclusion has rarely been well-intentioned. As of its last season in 2019, “The Big Bang Theory” has won 10 Emmys and made history as the longest-running, live-action sitcom. It is unclear whether these accomplishments occurred despite the poor representation of South Asians or for those very reasons. Raj Koothrappali, played by Kunal Nayyar, is the only person of color among the show’s eight cast members. Raj’s character was built around various stereotypes, extending beyond the standard nerd archetype. Raj was coded as the most socially inept, emasculated, and undesirable character in a group of awkward, geeky men. He is often put down, humiliated, and misunderstood. This type of representation, especially in a sitcom that ended just four years ago, is regressive and tiring. Characters like Raj really aren’t representations at all. He isn’t meant to be. Raj was characterized for the enjoyment of non-South Asian viewers. His “fresh-off-the-boat” attempts at assimilation are the jokes. His cultural traditions coupled with his Western ambitions are supposed to make Western audiences laugh. When Raj is the butt of a joke, the “ultimate loser” in a group of three other losers, nobody is laughing with him. They are laughing at him.
“Aliens in America,” another 2007s sitcom, lasted just one season on The CW for good reason. This sitcom featured a white American family in Wisconsin that decided to host an international student to help their son make friends in his high school. The family is dismayed when Raja, the exchange student, isn’t from a European country but from Pakistan. Here begins 18 episodes of overt racism, xenophobia, and religious and cultural intolerance posed for laughs. It’s a frustrating watch, and unfortunately, its gross premise can be explained by the lack of South Asian writers and directors credited. Representation on screen is only tasteful and compelling when there are South Asians behind the scenes sharing input, expertise, and experiences. Mindy Kaling’s work is evidence of what it can look like when South Asians have the resources and support to shape their own narratives. While her South Asian characters may fall under a similar archetype, their stories are expansive and authentic.
Sitcoms have both enforced and subverted South Asian stereotypes. Much of the work South Asian creatives have done to separate our identities from racist characterizations was simultaneously perpetuated by the entertainment industry. On the same screen as Raj and Raja, we watched Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford and Jameela Jamil as Tahani Al-Jamil. These two characters diverged from the former in that their culture and “brownness” were seldom mentioned. They seemed to exist almost separately from their ethnicity and carried visible confidence and self-assurance, pulling laughs with their eccentrics and quirkiness.
Hannah Simone’s Cece Parekh and Sid, played by Suraj Sharma in the “How I Met Your Mother” spin-off, “How I Met Your Father,” are both refreshingly original. Sid is a South Asian bartender from New York, and his ethnicity is neither ignored nor a point of mockery. Cece is a high school dropout turned professional model, continually recognized throughout the show for her confidence, savviness, and beauty. Their personalities not only subvert the nerdy, meek, and undesirable traits typically associated with brown characters but also inspire much of the witty and sharp dialogue among their respective ensemble casts. A government official from a modest Midwest town, a model in Los Angeles, a British philanthropist, and a New York bartender will never fully capture our individual experiences. Yet, their stories represent small yet significant aspects of our lives. These characters, born between 2007 and 2021, are indicative of the evolution of South Asian characters from prior caricatures. Our inherent identities, communities, and fundamental beliefs are not and should no longer be the joke.
Comedy, specifically sitcoms, has been a gateway for South Asians to enter the entertainment industry. While representation has been lacking in other genres of television, sitcoms continue to be home to notable South Asian talent. Brown characters in the past were depicted with varying degrees of accuracy and integrity, but our prolonged presence on network television has slowly led to main billing on genres outside of a comedic scope. Netflix productions and Marvel films are among the big-budget projects entertaining the idea that South Asians can be superheroes, love interests, and so much more. While Hollywood’s motivations to feature South Asian characters may have initially derived from a place of ridicule, South Asian creatives made comic relief characters their own. Sitcoms have matured into a genre where we can take ownership of our stories, evoking the raw, hilarious, and painful moments that make us the fully-fleshed people we are on and off the screen.
The expansion of digital content across radio, television and the internet has allowed audiences to engage with media rapidly. As technology advances, the entertainment industry has grown exponentially and people have a wealth of information at their fingertips in the blink of an eye. Since high school, Deepa Prashad was fascinated by this power of media and aspired to be an on-air personality who could interact with viewers through creative content whilst representing her Indo Caribbean heritage. After navigating the competitiveness of Canadian broadcast hosting for seven years, Prashad continues to push herself into various modalities of media and add to her growing successes, while championing others to share their own authentic content.
Self-confidence and the desire to show a different perspective on entertainment prompted Prashad to be interested in broadcasting. While initially nervous about her family’s reaction to a nontraditional career path for Indo Caribbean women, Prashad received her parents’ full support and became the first person in her family to study broadcasting at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
She began applying for television-hosting positions in her first year despite not having any experience or a finished degree, affirming, “I totally believed in myself and my capabilities.”
In an interview with Prashad, we delve into her career path, diverse representation in media and her courage to create and promote content that reflects her individuality.
How did you begin your career in hosting and digital content production?
The kids channel I watched growing up, The Family Channel, was doing a nationwide casting call for their new TV host. The host would host interstitials between shows, digital series, and do TV show and movie interviews. I didn’t have an agent at the time so I applied on my own. I was called in for my first audition ever and it was quite shocking. A room full of 10 to 15 people just observing me as I delivered lines and did mock interviews for fake shows. Two months later, I was officially cast as the host of The Family Channel!
While ecstatic about her first job, Prashad was met with racism. She stated,
Someone else, who applied for the position, made it a point to come up to me in person to say that they hoped I knew the only reason I got the job was because I was brown and the company obviously just needed to fill a quota.
Brushing the words aside, she continued hosting on The Family Channel for five years. She has also worked as an entertainment and food reporter on Canadian shows, Breakfast Television and Cityline. By advocating for herself as capable, personable and multifaceted, she did not shy away from new opportunities to advance her career and showcased herself as a leader who could resonate with broad audiences.
Wanting to explore new horizons, Prashad approached the social media company blogTO and pitched herself to be their first full-time video host focusing on Toronto food hotspots. After being hired, she visited multiple restaurants daily to host, film and edit her own content and curated personalized food videos for viewers to immerse themselves in. Prashad later forayed into the world of radio, one she never thought she would join but quickly fell in love with. She was most recently the first female voice on Toronto’s KISS 92.5 channels, The Roz and Mocha Show. Prashad enjoyed the greater flexibility of being on the radio compared to television and video hosting,
All I had to present was me. It became such a personal experience for me getting on that mic, sharing stories with listeners about the way I was raised, coming from a Guyanese household, being part of an (interfaiths marriage), [etc…] That created an incredibly strong bond between myself, our listeners and our friends that I’m so grateful for.
Tell us about your current position.
“I’m moving onto new adventures now and adding sports reporting under my belt. I will be joining BarDown | TSN to cover Formula 1, this includes doing content for TSN in the digital and TV space. I’ve never dabbled in the world of sports, so this is going to be an interesting new road for me.”
What topics are you most passionate about when creating digital content and why?
Food has to be my number one passion when it comes to digital content. Obviously I love eating and trying new things, but food is such a universal language. It connects people, it excites people and often teaches people about different cultures. I love to see how that content can generate conversations and I love to see when people admit they’ve never tried that particular food or cuisine, but added it to their list.
I also love creating Formula 1 content because Formula 1 is a massive passion of mine! I currently Twitch stream playing the Formula 1 video game F1 22. I’ve been on a pursuit to continuously learn more about the sport and to even get better at the game, because let’s be real, I’m terrible at it but I’m also OK with that!
Prashad is not immune to online mockery and negative comments about her work. When making the switch to Formula 1, she was ridiculed by some male viewers over her love of the sport and was inundated with comments like “Go back to the dishes” or “Go do laundry where you belong.” Antiquated and sexist notions about being a working woman in the media led to her looks being graded; there were comments regarding her extroverted personality and rampant discussions over her weight. There was a moment in her career where Prashad admits,
I actually wanted to make changes to myself — try to be a little less outgoing, not be so loud, change my hosting style from this incredibly bubbly style to a more laid back informative take.
Drawing on her self-belief, she soon realized that, “This doesn’t work for me. I began to appreciate all my quirks.”
Is there an area of hosting or content production that you believe you’re better at?
I really love to host digital content in particular because there’s a certain freedom that comes with it. I don’t always have to be prim and proper like sometimes I do need to do for TV. I can be me — loud, goofy, and incredibly dorky. I never want to have two different personas — one for the public eye, and then a private. On social media, what you see is exactly what you get. Digital content has allowed me to love myself even more.
Prashad plans to continue in the industry for the foreseeable future. She recognizes the impact of being an Indo Caribbean woman at the forefront of media and defines her success as “…I can continue to represent my culture and how I make others feel.” Her best moments are connecting with others through their lived experiences and offering a different lens on growing up in Canada.
How did you feel breaking into the industry as a woman of color?
What a great feeling that was, and even better, being an Indo Caribbean woman. I went through my fair share of hardships. I’ve faced racism, sexism and bullying throughout my journey of getting to where I am today. But, I have stood up for myself every single time. I will never allow myself to be walked all over. And believe me, people have attempted MANY times. But I pick myself back up and continue along my way.
I think it really hit me that I was making an impact when I started to hear from people how much they related to my childhood stories, the way I was brought up, the movies I watched as a kid. It’s those moments that made me realize I accomplished my goal.
How has your background influenced your interest in hosting and digital content production?
I never saw people like me in the media growing up. I always wanted to change that. I didn’t feel that I had anyone I could personally connect with when I watched TV. And to me that was always so mind blowing because the media, although so broad, is such a personal industry.
I have always been proud to say on air that I’m a Guyanese woman. I have made it a point to fight for more Caribbean content on air. I’ve made it a point to share stories about my family, where they came from, and even the experiences I’ve had growing up in a Guyanese family. Promoting Caribbean culture in general has always been important to me. And progress has been made! At my previous radio job, I pushed incredibly hard to start interviewing Caribbean artists and to highlight them. I had the opportunity to interview artists like Sean Paul, Kes and Konshensand those interviews aired nationally which was massive.
Prashad often infuses cultural content into her work by showcasing Indian and Caribbean food, offering Bollywood movie recommendations, detailing her trips to Guyana, talking about new music and sharing information about Caribbean events in Toronto. She does not believe that cultural content needs to be pared down for the masses but instead advocates for aspiring Indo Caribbean creators to keep releasing diverse and authentic content that is representative of themselves.
She notes that the Indo Caribbean experience is not a monolith and that,
We need more representation! What feels most authentic to you can be vastly different from other content creators. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of creating content, but the best version of content you’re going to create is when you’re being true to who you are, and having fun.
At only 27 years old, Prashad’s journey has taken her across multiple forms of media. From interviewing Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities to hosting various television shows and being an online and radio voice, she continues to explore different mediums as a means of storytelling and connection. Hardships were plenty during Prashad’s rise to fame, but a steady belief in herself and a willingness to take on new endeavors with authenticity have provided her the grit to overcome challenges.
Prashad is eagerly awaiting to leap into her next digital venture and is actively commending more Indo Caribbean content creators to step into the spotlight with their own personal stories.
Navratri, a festival celebrated with great pomp and splendor in India, is a testament to the celebration of feminine power and the triumph of the goddess. This nine-night festival revolves around the devotion to the divine feminine, where women and men alike come together to celebrate the goddess’s strength, wisdom, and grace. It’s a time when people revel in the joy of cultural traditions, vibrant colors, and the spirit of togetherness. The Garba festivities during Navratri see men and women dressed to the nines in colorful ethnic wear, moving in rhythmic harmony to the beats of music. It’s a sight to behold, where the essence of femininity is beautifully showcased through the elegance and grace of traditional clothing. This celebration leaves an indelible mark on the hearts of those who partake in it.
The festival of Navratri is deeply rooted in the cultural fabric of India. It’s a time when communities come alive with the fervor of celebration. The air is filled with the aroma of traditional Indian sweets and the sound of rhythmic music. For nine nights, the goddess is worshiped in her various forms, and the devotion of the people knows no bounds.
For Shreya Patel, a Chicago-based designer and the creative force behind Always Raas, Navratri became more than just a festival; it became an inspiration. The fusion of feminine strength and the infectious joy of Navratri left a profound impact on her. She was captivated by the unbridled happiness and energy that filled the air during this festive time. It was during Navratri’s Garba celebrations that she found her calling.
Age often defines the limits of one’s aspirations, but Patel was determined to defy those norms. She embarked on her entrepreneurial journey at the age of 51, breaking free from any societal constraints that dictated what she could or couldn’t achieve. She recognized that every woman, regardless of age, possesses immense strength and resilience. Patel firmly believed that age is but a number and that women can chase their dreams at any stage of life.
Always Raas is more than just a fashion brand; it’s a celebration of the enduring strength and potential of women, a tribute to the essence of Navratri. The brand’s designs beautifully encapsulate the spirit of the festival. Each garment is crafted to make women feel confident, beautiful, and deeply connected to their cultural heritage. It’s about embracing femininity, elegance, and timeless style, allowing every woman to feel like a goddess during the festive season. Raas caters to the “Global Naari,” a world citizen with Indian roots who cherishes her rich ethnic heritage even while living away from her origins. This is a woman who embraces her culture and isn’t afraid to showcase her heritage, transcending borders and creating her unique identity.
At the core of Always Raas lies a deep commitment to sustainability. Patel, the brand’s designer, established her own manufacturing unit to ensure fair wages and a positive working environment for her employees. The brand focuses on social sustainability, crafting garments through hand dyeing instead of digital printing, and handwork instead of machine work, creating more jobs and empowering artisans.
Always Raas recently debuted their EZORA collection at South Asian New York Fashion Week, a sustainable and eco-friendly line primarily consisting of modern and traditional silhouettes made from vegan silk. This collection, consisting of garments in vegan silk and a handbag collection, serves two vital purposes: to repurpose garment scraps into long-lasting items and to provide jobs for stay-at-home wives of artisans working in the factory. It’s not just about producing beautiful clothing; it’s about making a positive impact on the world. This initiative empowers these women to become more financially independent while honing their craftsmanship, reflecting the brand’s dedication to social and environmental sustainability.
Always Raas stands as a beacon of empowerment, tradition, and sustainability. Patel’s journey is a testament to Naari Shakti— the power of women, celebrated in every garment created by Always Raas.
All photos are courtesy of Always Raas from this year’s South Asian New York Fashion Week.