Sabah Nawar is a multidisciplinary designer and artist with a focus on illustration, web design & development, and identity design. She graduated in May 2017 from West Virginia University, where she majored in graphic design and minored in art history. Sabah’s work ranges from explorations of being Bengali-American in the west, to observant studies of consumerism, materialism, and how society perceives mental health. With a sharp eye for detail, color, and type, she aims to make her projects thoughtful, vivid, and refined. She is currently based in Pittsburgh, PA.
THIS WEEKEND, WE CAUGHT UP WITH SABAH:
1. When and why did you start your craft?
I started @8bit.noir in August 2017, a few months after I graduated college. I received my degree in graphic design and while I was designing/coding my portfolio and applying for job opportunities, I noticed that the majority of my work was just design: student work as well as a couple of freelance projects and internships. The more I looked at my portfolio, the more I was disappointed that I didn’t use my years in college to explore self-expression because I was just designing for other people. I wanted to make work that reflected my ideas (and occasionally my humor), thus @8bit.noir was born.
2. Tell us more about you, your craft, your inspirations, and your vision.
A lot of my inspiration comes from pop culture. My work inspired by pop culture results in creating someone who looks like me because I love movies and television but barely see myself reflected in them. I’m also inspired by things that exist in my everyday life, as a woman of color or from my childhood growing up with Bengali culture (e.g. trying on saris or a bottle of Thums Up).
It’s strange because I feel like my vision and the aesthetic of my illustrations are still a work in progress. I’m Bengali but I still kind of feel like a loner because I never really felt like I fit in with the rest of my Southasian peers: I never wanted to be a doctor, I’m bad at math, and my Bangla is terrible. On the other side of the coin, I don’t feel American because there are these unspoken “guidelines” of what makes somebody or something American. I think working on my illustrations is a reflection of me feeling lost when it comes to my identity. It’s a way to create a space where I’m comfortable with myself because comfortability was something that I didn’t often have growing up.
2. Were you supported by family or friends when you began your craft?
My mom kind of supported my transition from becoming a business major to a graphic design major, but it took my dad a bit of time to realize I wasn’t going to medical school lol. He is supportive now. I knew my mother would support me because she is an artist herself but she was concerned about how I’d do financially since graphic design is a competitive field. As for 8bit.noir, they don’t have instagram but I have shown a few of the illustrations that I’ve created to them and they’ve been appreciative
My friends have been super awesome and supportive of my work which has helped me a lot. It’s through them that I realized even though my artwork is inspired by Bengali American culture, it’s work that’s relatable whether you’re black, white, lgbtq+ or all three!
3. As an artist in the Bangladeshi diaspora, do you feel represented in the larger art community?
I do. It’s been almost a year since I started illustrating as 8bit.noir and in that span of time, I’ve discovered so many Southasian artists in the West that are making great work. Seeing all these other artists, especially Bengali artists, embracing their culture makes me feel comfortable being myself and making the art I want to create. I’ve also gained a few freelance clients because they found my work through Instagram, so the exposure has been really nice!
3. What advice would you give to your younger self about your art? What advice would you give to new artists coming into the larger art community?
To new artists (and especially to my younger self):
Don’t compare yourself to other people. Don’t compare numbers. Good ideas matter more the number of followers or likes you have. When you compare yourself to others, you’re just going to get depressed and anxious and fill yourself with negative thoughts. I’m still struggling with that now, but I think as long you’re honest with yourself, you’re going to be fine. Every voice matters!