Nishat Nishat


Nishat Nishat

Tell us a little about yourself.
I'm a Bengali American and software engineer. Pre-Covid I used to love getting lost in a new country every other week.

Where did you grow up?
Chittagong, Bangladesh and NYC.

Where do you live now?
I just moved back to NYC from San Francisco.

Where do you look for inspiration?
My own memories and the stories of people around me. I'm always in awe of the strength that some of my closet friends and family have. That in itself is inspiring enough but I also love capturing memories. I love to recreate the feeling of a place I've visited or a moment that seemed like it would never happen again.

What or who is inspiring you these days?
Old photographs of the Bangladeshi countryside from the 80s to the 90s. They can be haunting. I particularly love the solemn photos of pukurs (ponds). Something about the still waters and lonely greenery reminds me of the journey I've been on for the past year in healing ancestral trauma.

For people that may not know, what does it mean to be a hijabi woman?

I think it's different for each hijabi. If you were to ask the older Muslim generation they might label hijabis as representatives of Islam. But in the digital age it's too polarizing and burdensome to bear the weight of the actions of the entire Ummah. So for me, being a hijabi means choosing to embrace modesty and my religious identity. It means carrying on a set of values no matter the situation.

What's a major misconception people have about hijabi women?
That we are oppressed. If you choose to wear the hijab of your own free will it can be liberating, "Nudity empowers some, while modesty empowers others".

How does your hijab empower you?
It's a constant reminder that I'm not afraid to stand up for my beliefs. It's taught me how to react when people don't like you for nothing other than how you look. It gives me the strength to be outspoken, to take what I want, and to demand rights for others as well.

What challenges do you face being a hijabi woman?

Aside from casual racism and Islamophobia, hijabis tend to face a lot of judgement. Even the most liberal or open minded people pass judgement on my choice of modesty. People make up their mind about you before giving you a chance. Other Muslims judge you because you are not Muslim enough. Non-Muslims judge you because they think you are oppressed or that you are an oppressor.

Can you talk a little about the power of representation?

I don't think many of us realize just how much we internalize the media that we consume. You are what you think and your thoughts can be influenced by any outside source. That's why I love social media, you have the power to choose what kind of content you're consuming instead of being forced to accept whatever is mainstream.

I didn't believe in the phrase "representation matters" until I made the conscious decision to unfollow many popular influencers and instead follow body affirming activists and models. My confidence and my relationship with my body changed completely over time.

The same thing happened in college. Tech is extremely gender disproportionate. I was 1 of maybe 18 women graduating with a tech degree from a major city university. We were all each other's cheerleaders and without them I probably wouldn't have continued on in tech. Representation empowers because not everyone has the strength to continue on alone. It's invigorating to see someone who looks like you succeed and know that you can do that too.

Tell us a little bit about this shoot, what was the concept behind it?
I love how The Olio Stories pieces blend traditional and modern styles. It immediately reminded me of the harmony in the differences between my Amu and I. As an immigrant in America I struggled a lot with cultural identity. I've often been labeled as too bold, too masculine, too "American". A.K.A. ovbhodro. Unfortunately the norm for Bengali women is to stay with their parents until marriage and then raise children of their own. Not move out, live alone, and travel the world while doing whatever you want. The middle ground between culture and modernity, in my opinion, is honouring your heritage but keeping one foot in the future and one in your adopted country.

That's why a few images have black and white cutouts of my mother when she was my age. I recognize all that she has done for me and the wisdom that she's imparted but in the end I can only be the summation of my own lived experiences.

What's feminism to you?

It's intersectionality and honoring a woman's right to choose. It's standing in allyship with Trans and ENBY folks. It's mutual aid and self-education.

Current trend you love?

Early 2000s fashion coming back in style.

Current trend you don't love?

Also early 2000s fashion coming back in style because low rise jeans are so uncomfortable and I'm not ready to give up high waisted pants.

What can we expect from you in the future?

After years of working my ass off, I'm starting to feel the affects of burnout. I'm hoping to heal and go back to my creative roots in 2021.

Concept and model: Nishat. Follow her here.

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