Artist Journey: Nabi H. Ali
last updated 21 June 2021
Artwork from Laxmi’s Mooch (Penguin Random House) illustrated by Nabi H. Ali
Bright Artist Nabi H. Ali gains inspiration from the world around him to create the soulful style he brings to art and children’s book illustration. Though he has had a complex journey of unlearning and reclaiming, it has also been one of self-discovery and love. As we continue to celebrate Pride, we sat down with Nabi to learn more about his journey as an artist, and also his take on the significance of this month. Nabi’s art sets him apart in colorful, unique ways, but his heart for the world to be a place where words are followed by actions calls us all to a higher standard.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I have dreamt of being an artist ever since I was in elementary school, but I didn’t know if it was a realistic goal. I eventually went on to major in International Relations at UC Davis, but my first year was so catastrophic that I realized it wasn’t worth it to pursue something other than what I was passionate about.
When the day to day of work life feels mundane, what keeps you thinking creatively? If you could describe your artistic style in one word, what would it be?
I like to look at old paintings from South Asia, particularly Mughal paintings. I’m always taken back by the attention to hair detail, foil work, and rendering of fabrics. It pushes me to improve my own skills. I also enjoy going on drives so I can look at the outdoors— the shops, the streets, the people, the trees and birds. Seeing the hum of life around me inspires me to imbue my work with that same liveliness. All of this inspiration leads me to describe my style as “soulful” !
We are celebrating Pride Month! We’d love to hear more of your story, and how the meaning behind this month resonates with you.
I have a very long and complex relationship with Pride Month, partly because I’ve come out as different things so many different times! In high school I was convinced I was a bisexual cisgender girl, and then agender, and then in college I saw myself as a transgender man. I recently unlearned my compulsive attraction towards men (which had been imposed on me through a deeply gendered and conservative upbringing), and I slowly became more comfortable with identifying as third gender- an identity often used as an umbrella term for all trans and gender variant/non-conforming people in South Asia, but it’s something I’ve come to reclaim.
Pride Month for me means the liberty of queer people who originate from historically marginalized backgrounds. I think many people have forgotten the Pride that began with the work of black trans activists, with the power of the queer working-class, and are instead opting for rainbow imperialism and pinkwashing. But my Pride is not the pride of billionaires and politicians.
What message do you hope your art shares with young readers during Pride month and months after?
I want readers to see their identities as a source of power and resilience, but most importantly, of beauty. Sometimes it is hard for us to love ourselves when we are locked in our own heads; art and art appreciation are great ways to leave the cage of shame and self-loathing, because we finally get to see those like us depicted vibrantly, with love and care. I hope my work can fulfill that mission, and I wish to inspire others to do the same so that we can share the fruits of this goal.
Tell us a little about your experience with Bright! What has it meant to you to be a part of an agency?
I joined Bright in 2018 after I was approached by James Burns. With almost no experience in the illustration world (as I had studied animation in art school), jumping headfirst into kidlit was a little daunting. When James landed my first gig, I couldn’t believe someone was interested in having me draw for their book!
Ever since then, Bright has directed me towards one amazing opportunity after another. One of my biggest goals as an artist is to contribute towards South Asian representation, and I’ve been able to do that so far through Shelly Anand’s Laxmi’s Mooch, Nadia Shammas’s Ms. Marvel: Stretched Thin, and now I’m working on a graphic novel by SJ Sindu called Shakti.
Miss last month’s Artist Journey blog? Learn all about Howard Gray! Check back each month to learn more about the featured artist, and how they came to shine so Bright!