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Fairytales, Mughal Style

Fairytales, Mughal Style

Pakistani-born artist Mariam Quraishi 15 IL is putting an Eastern spin on a series of acrylic illustrations inspired by some of the most harrowing folktales ever penned by the Brothers Grimm. Aptly named Mughal Fairytales, her collection of brilliant vignettes is inspired by Western children’s stories but includes centuries-old iconography from the Indian subcontinent. The images reveal bewitching princesses draped in saris, valiant heroes slaying big-teethed tigers and pastoral landscapes lined with ornate Indian palaces.

“I thought about how classic fairytales like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood could be reimagined in another context,” explains Quraishi. “I think it’s a fresh approach to creating new visual representations of these beloved tales.”

Created as a side project on her own, the Mughal Fairytales series is a reflection of Quraishi’s own diverse cultural heritage. The petite brunette spent her formative years living with her parents in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest metropolis and considered the educational hub of the Muslim world. As a teenager she attended Karachi Grammar School – a private institution established by a British chaplain in 1840. “Some of my watercolors touch upon this desire to connect to my country’s roots,” she says.

Art has been ever-present in Quraishi’s upbringing. In fact, some of her earliest childhood memories are of her mother making South Asian block-printed textiles in a studio attached to the family home. As a manager of an NGO, she taught local women to make tapestries and other fine goods as a means of supporting themselves. When Quraishi later developed her own proficiencies in drawing and painting, she decided to attend an art college.

This semester the junior has opted to further explore her intimate understanding of the Eastern world through an independent study with Professor Fritz Drury. She’s now in the process of creating illustrations based on The Adventures of Amir Hamza, a massive manuscript commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 1500s. Many of the original paintings – which were glued to cloth pages of the lengthy book – chronicle the ways in which its characters meet nasty ends. “I love the colors, the detail and the ridiculous way in which [the paintings] describe extreme violence,” the illustrator notes. “Their usage of space and perspective has completely inspired my work.”

When not laboring on her studio work, Quraishi is co-leading RISD Global Initiative, a student organization that aims to engage the campus community in issues of concern around the world. Members recently hosted a dinner in RISD’s Portfolio Café where guests discussed the Syrian conflict. And this month, the group will host a lecture by author James Victore.

For Quraishi, the primary mission of RISD GI hits close to home. “People have asked me if there are cars in my own city, which is a huge metropolis. It’s unbelievable to me that some people don't understand there’s a whole other world out there,” she explains. “With GI we’re trying to make seemingly distant global issues accessible to everyone. I think that’s a worthwhile cause.”

– Abigail Crocker

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