One of Sumaat Khan’s goals in creating artwork for the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month was to represent darker-skinned South Asian people.
The junior studying kinetic imaging was recruited through the Asian Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APSA) to create the digital illustration, which reflects the heritage month’s theme, “Sailing Oceans.”
“I think a lot of people, when they hear about an Asian heritage month, they don’t think about South Asians in their definition,” Khan said. “Places like India and Bangladesh and Pakistan, they’re often not included in it, just considered subcontinental despite the fact that they’re in Asia.”
Khan — whose family is from Bangladesh — has experienced this.
“[People] would be like, ‘What do you mean you’re Asian?’ and expect something else or think I was Middle Eastern,” Khan said.
Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander people also face a lack of representation in Asian narratives, Khan said. East Asia, consisting of nations like North and South Korea, Japan and China, tends to be overrepresented in comparison to other cultures.
“We only see this one type,” Khan said. “I think with the lack of representation, people assume that there isn’t anything to be celebrated about these cultures, even though they’re really rich and beautiful,” Khan said.
This lack of representation is in spite of the fact that the number of Indian and Filipino people living in the U.S., about 6 million as of the 2010 census, outnumber the Chinese American population at 4 million.
Khan said they also wanted the illustration to challenge typical Asian beauty standards and show queer representation, being that many people don’t realize there is a significant LGBTQ Asian population.
The blending of the figures’ hair into the scenery is reminiscent of the “Sailing Oceans” theme, which acknowledges the importance of nature in many Asian cultures, Khan said.
“As I was drawing it out, I liked the idea of their hair turning into the ocean and their hair turning into the sky,” Khan said. “That just kind of came out when I was drawing.”
Khan said they hope to create comics or do storyboarding in the future. Much of their current work, which includes photography, features people of color and addresses themes like sexual assault.
APSA, of which Khan is a member, hosts discussions to bring to light issues faced by Asians and Pacific Islanders. Khan said the organization is inclusive of members of other races, too.
“We try to encourage more Asian people and be more socially active and inclusive in their daily lives,” Khan said. “We’ll have topics about Asian-American history and a lot of things that were done to us throughout history and what we can do today to combat that racism.”
Khan said they look forward to attending OMSA’s career roundtable, to be held in the OMSA office on April 20, from 7-9 p.m. The event, co-hosted by APSA, will bring together Asian and Pacific Islander students of different majors to discuss their careers.
Khan hopes this event will represent Asian students in majors outside of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“I think people have the stereotype that Asian people are only in the STEM field,” Khan said. “I’m really interested in that, because being an art student who’s Asian, I’ve gone through a lot of conversations about how that works and how that’s ‘odd.’”
Other OMSA events include a public art show in Cabell Library between April 9 and 13; a zine workshop hosted by APSA at Cabell Library at 6:30 p.m. on April 16 and Hump Day Dialogues in the OMSA office on Asian American history and Asian “minority myths” on April 18 from 2 to 3 p.m. and April 25 from noon to 1 p.m., respectively.
“I really hope that a lot of people go out and want to celebrate our culture and appreciate it,” Khan said.