December 23, 2021

Disabled And Here illustrator feature: Haadia

Hi! How would you like to introduce yourself? Every time I went to the coffee shop, the bartender asked my name to mark on the cup. I always said, “It’s Haadia, like Sadia or Nadia. But with the ‘H,’ what could be a better way to introduce myself to a stranger. I’m Haadia Khan, and I have double D - Deaf and Diabetes. Deafness from birth and diabetes from a teenager.

I’m a freelance artist who loves to paint/draw for a living and am currently living in the DMV area (Washington DC, VA, and MD). I cook and enjoy traveling when I have free time.

Haadia portrait

A Pakistani woman smiles widely at the camera while holding up the skirt of her long white dress. She wears a soft orange hijab with white flowers and is standing in front of a house and foliage.

When and how did you get started with art and illustrating? In middle school is when I fell in love with Monet. His art inspired me to get involved with every stroke; each of them has a story. Until today, he’s my favorite artist, and whenever I go to see new art, nothing can beat Monet.

Every brush I use allows me to express my feelings onto the texture of paper; every single stroke shows the world what my impression is. I truly believe that I was born to be an artist; I was born to know contrast and highlight.

When the technology developed for art (graphic design, UX/UI, etc.), I wanted to express all of the strokes to everyone in the world, so here I am with my tablet, drawing as much as I enjoy.

How do your lived experiences impact your art? When I grew up as HOH (Hard of Hearing), no one really recognized me as HOH but a dumb/disabled and a bland artist. That was when I decided to wear a hijab (Muslim scarf). It’s protected me from the whole world and changed their perspective on me and my works. I wear them to protect my hearing aids or HIDE myself from the cruel world.

My interpreters during class always told me when someone behind me “talks trash” about my clothing or my actions. I sometimes feel it's a blessing in disguise that I don’t have to hear them hurt my feelings; what is the point of it? I just move on happily. If you ever ask anyone about me, they will all say I am kind and quiet.

I’ve always been in mainstream school (meaning deaf in hearing class). In the hearing school, I was the only deaf kid in high school. Instead of speaking in front of the class, I converted my voice into a painting, with a lot of political / hidden aspects.

Black and white sketch

Black and white sketch featuring a person shouting in the right foreground, their face painted like the Syrian flag, including a star on each cheek. A tangle of hair makes up the background, along with another out of focus person holding up a "Free Syria" sign.

I like to mention the minority issues in this world. Since everyone around me tends to paint what’s in Western society, it is too ordinary or broad. I want to tell my strokes to the audience and allow them to understand from my perspective.

Becoming diabetic changed a lot for me. Deafness isn’t an obstacle. It’s like I have survived the hard part of being HOH, and I’m currently facing a new test: diabetes.

I have a pump that connects with my body that helps to deliver the insulin and corresponding the blood glucose number. I sometimes joke that I’m a robot because of my hearing aids and the pump machine — beware! Haha.

I once thought that this is a life that I have to embrace and I know that God tests on those He loves the most. Life goes by, and it teaches me to embrace them by expressing them through art.

Having deafness and diabetes makes me feel unique and more vital than ever; I make sure I keep myself positive and healthy. With this mindset, it changed my art from hidden politics into beauty. I see beauty in everything, and I share that with my art.

Is there anything you wish more people understood about d/Deafness or Deaf culture? I wish that no one will ever say, "Oh, don't worry about it, or I will tell you later." My whole life is all about that; I feel so frustrated and feel left out by everyone. I was never able to communicate with my grandparents my whole life. I look at my cousins or brothers having a conversation with our grandparents (their life stories, old folk stories, etc.); I felt sad and never got a chance to connect with them. It is supposed to be the best bond, don't you agree? I want people to know communication is KEY.

My mother once told me that when she was little and far in the village somewhere in the country, she had a cousin that was completely deaf. His family treated him as a servant because they didn’t know how to communicate with him nor teach their native sign language/language.

Art museum illustration

A Deaf Pakistani woman wearing a hijab sits on a bench at an art museum, immersed in a world of florals and soft hues. She places her powered-off hearing aids on top of a sketchbook to her right, closing out the surrounding noise. A tablet and stylus pen have been set down on the left side of the bench.

Did you know that there are more than 300 sign languages in the world? Why not all embrace their language and share it with the world. Sign language in this world is so unique; learn them to connect with us all. Unity is what we need.

As of this interview, we’re about a year and a half into the pandemic in the US. Do you want to talk a little about what life has been like during COVID? It’s the same as before, as I’m always in my own world. Except during Covid, I decided to push myself to get involved with my art Instagram and open an Etsy page.

I saw on your Instagram that you painted a mural over the summer! What is the backstory there? Network! The network is vital when it comes to supporting a small business. A local businesswoman opened her restaurant during Covid. How bold was that!

So her daughter reached out to me via Instagram and a mutual friend. She asked me to paint 2 walls of murals — mind that it was my first time trying out a mural, as I always love challenges. Boy, I was nervous and scared about things going wrong.

It took me 2 weeks to work on the 2 big walls (one is 27 ft wide while the other is 13 ft wide); when I started, I wasn't sure how this mural would work — how many layers I would need to repaint to make a color bold, make a fine line, etc.

Haadia mural

A restaurant with Haadia’s mural on the back wall. The mural features a woman with her eyes closed, dressed elaborately in red, blue, and gold. The woman has a headpiece featuring an evil eye protection amulet, while the backdrop is adorned with flowers alternating in orange and white, with red centers.

In the end, it worked perfectly for a Turkish restaurant with an Ottoman Hatun (woman in Turkish) and Evil eyes protector Fatima. I hope my work inspires other people to do murals. It is easier than I thought! I also hope I can paint more murals sometime soon because it is so much fun!

If you could pick, what superpower would you enjoy having? That is an excellent question; I would say teleport? I love traveling and what could be better than a quick trip to any destination. It's my dream to visit all the historical sites in the world, especially the mosques/masjid. I love to see how history applies to current events or how it has evolved. Come with me to Turkey tomorrow; it will be a day trip!

Wrapping up: what are the best ways to support you and your work going forward? My goal is to spread awareness about my identity as Deaf/HOH, immigrant, and as a hijab-wearing woman. I always want to meet more artists and collaborate with them; what can be a better way to share your work with others? Don't be afraid to reach out to me with your art!

My art Instagram: @haadiakhnart. Why not support a small art business, like my Etsy? I also do commissions — if you need a new logo, family portrait with a home in the background, custom wedding card, etc, I’m your girl.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Photos & illustration from Haadia Khan
Interview by Elea Chang

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