Artist of the Week Noor Ahmed ’26 Sketches Cultural Literacy Into Her Fairytales

When Noor Ahmed ’26 FaceTimed her mom during the first week of orientation, the two of us excitedly gushed over her Procreate art. Noor has always been very humble about her work as someone who has never received formal training. Moreover, Noor has been in an artistic hibernation since her AP Studio Art portfolio. Nevertheless, with enough persuasion, I found myself sitting next to Noor for nearly two hours in Singer. 

Naturally, I wanted to know more about how she started with Procreate. 

“I got my iPad in junior year of high school, but in middle school I didn’t have a tablet or anything,” she said. “So I would use Autodesk Sketchbook and my finger, so a lot of the things that are still on my Instagram are just drawn with my hands.”

What Noor didn’t understand was that she ushered in an intense line of questioning about how she was able to create art for over four years with just her fingers. I was stunned – perplexed even – at her commitment to craft. 

“Listen, I had a dream. I love art. I mean, even now I don’t use my iPad a lot because it feels like a commitment to creating something finished,” she said.

In sheer dedication to craft and perseverance through calloused fingers, Noor created her art Instagram nearly six years ago. Since her art journey has been so heavily influenced by internet culture, many of her largest inspirations are other digital social media artists. 

“When I see posts on Instagram, I’ll save them to take little elements of pieces. I’ll think oh, I love how they do water here. I love how sunlight dapples on the ground. So I kind of have a list for myself.”

But at times, Instagram also stifles Noor’s creativity. 

“For me, a big issue is that I’ve had this art account for six years. I follow the starter artists who were all with me when I began and really popular artists who consistently put out bangers, which (to be fair) I did not realize that a lot of them do art professionally for a living,” Noor said. “So, I feel like there is this pressure to constantly put out amazing work: never slump, never fail. Never feel bad about yourself. Never take breaks and I don’t know, [my break and return to art] was really a labor of love in the way that I realized that art will kind of always just be there for me when I’m ready for it. It’s not like I’ve always seen it as something that has an expectation of me, but  I can kind of lean more into it.”

And oh, did Noor lean more into it. On Aug. 14, after a year of inactivity, Noor posted a redraw of Mitsuri from Demon Slayer. I remember picking up my phone, stunned. From the carefully highlighted tree bark in the background cherry blossom tree to the glittering water, Noor imitated from her saved posts, I was obsessed. Each blade of grass was carefully drawn, a blatant testament to Noor’s love for Mitsuri, but also her Instagram audience. 

“It was a redraw to help me ease back into drawing. So this was very much to take the pressure off,” she said. “I chose Mitsuri because she really inspired me, and then was just really pretty. I want to go there. I want to live here. And it had a lot of elements that I really never approached before like the water, which I’m super proud of.”

Unknowingly, Noor had reignited her artistic career. Her roommate, Chloe Kanemaru ’26, encouraged her to submit art to last semester’s Upper Tarble CelebrAsia festival. Reluctantly, Noor revisited her AP Studio Art concentration to honor the renowned Mughal Empress, Nur Jahan. 

“It’s my favorite piece of all time. My AP Art concentration was giving women of color agency and stories in fantasy or mythological settings. I have a goal to become more in touch with South Asian culture through my art,” she asserted. “Sometimes, I do feel really bad because I feel like I’m not giving my culture the representation it deserves. So this is definitely my attempt to kind of, you know, go full force. You are gonna get the hijab, the shalwar, the jewelry, you’re gonna get everything I love about this culture.”

She continued, elaborating on the framing of the piece. 

“I wanted to depict an arch because I wanted to give her a mosque and some cultural context. Just for myself, honestly, it wasn’t even as historically rooted. I also didn’t want to make her smile. I wanted her to feel regal. So I kind of tried to make it look like a fresco, or a piece of a larger painting. I wanted to give it a little bit of distance because I really respect it and I don’t fully understand all of it, especially historically. So I also wanted viewers to kind of have that same experience. I don’t really want them to be able to grasp onto her, there needs to be some level of separation between Nur and the viewer.”

As I wrapped up our interview, I was curious to see whether or not Noor would continue reworking some of her older AP Studio Art pieces. Given her passion and appreciation for the project, I was curious to see whether or not she wanted to explore the subject further with her new (insanely gifted) skills. She responded, “I really strongly believe in cultural literacy. I don’t want to have to represent all the time. I don’t want that to be my responsibility because the system is the problem. But, I wish I’d had this [representation] because we should keep progressing and pull from the good parts of the past. I feel like that is very important to have.”

Finally, she said, “The responsibility does have to fall somewhere and I just feel like this is kind of my calling, especially because I’ve had such a struggle with this. I’m representing my culture for that inner child. I have a long way to go, but it feels like healing one step at a time. I feel like I’ve been enriched by the process.” 

Almost two years ago, I promised Noor’s mom that I would get her back into art. I don’t know if I completely delivered on my promise, but I can’t wait to see the fairytales Noor’s stylus takes us to, and I hope she continues to explore the whimsically significant beauty both she and her drawings inspire. Follow Noor’s art account @nooriiisarts and leave a comment to support her astounding art.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix

Discover more from The Phoenix

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading