My name is Hafsa Khan, also known as Haf and Haf, and just Haf by my friends. I’m an independent watercolorist, Scorpio, coffee enthusiast and Drake fan from the Midwest. Born in Karachi, Pakistan but raised in Detroit, Michigan, I (and up until recently, Lebron James) call Ohio home. I graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in International Relations and Arabic, and although I’m not a foreign ambassador and can’t get past “where’s the bathroom” in Arabic, I still believes in using my educational background to provide a public service.
I’ve always been interested in drawing and painting. As a kid, my mom would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up. Up until I was 8 or 9 years old, I was firm in my decision. An artist and a Pizza Hut owner—so I could paint all I wanted and have pizza anytime of the day. When I did the proverbial ‘growing up’ everyone talks about, my passion for pizza became secondary to politics and advocacy and I became involved in social justice issues -- in particular immigration advocacy.
The art always remained consistent.
The creative arts didn’t actually become more than a hobby until I was in High School. I was still trying to break through the stigma that being an artist isn’t a legitimate career—especially growing up in a South Asian household. I became interested in ceramics and pottery and competed in throwing competitions (throwing is what you call spinning some clay on the rotating wheel—fun, but messy). A few years later, in college, I decided to study the Arabic language. Growing up in a Muslim household and going to Quran School for 10 years, I thought this would be a piece of cake, an easy A. I was wrong.
As frustrating it is to learn a new language, I found beauty in the challenge. You know how people say that once you write something down, it’s easier to remember? Well at some point, I couldn’t stop writing it all down and that’s how I started learning Arabic calligraphy. I wanted the art form to be more than just lettering and typography. I was interpreting it as I saw it. Not just as words, but poetry and poetry is meant to look beautiful. As I continued learning calligraphy, I found myself wanting to incorporate it into my other interests -- which include hip hop, rap and R&B.
People always ask, how’d you go from drawing words to people? Here’s the story: I was doodling. Listening to a Biggie song during Arabic class (probably why I can’t speak the language today) I started doodling his face in my notebook over an assignment. I saw the calligraphy over his face and it just clicked for me. This is how I was going to mesh my two passions together. Arabic calligraphy will always be so important to me because of my love for the language but also its religious significance. I love doing the occasional piece and my parent’s living room looks like an Islamic art gallery but today I shifted my focus to exploring my South Asian culture and my familial roots.
My most recent work celebrates South Asian beauty through pop art. When you look at my work, I want you to notice the regality of the women. South Asian women are known for their ornate jewelry. Headpieces, bangles, necklaces, rings, if its gold- we’ll wear it. What I want you to notice when you look at my paintings, is that the jewelry itself is an art form. It transforms you into an art piece—royalty.
The south Asian art that you see today came from a project titled, “Midwest Maharani.” Maharani means queen in Urdu. I want all women to always feel like queens through the regality of my art.
As an artist, I’m always pushing myself to get better and learn new techniques. I’m a painter through and through but I’m constantly exploring different mediums. Whether that be changing my canvas from paper to denim or learning how to add texture through procreate, the process is always evolving.
I hope you guys enjoy these pieces of me. Before I let you go, I always as the viewer to think about this question: “Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art?”