The Sani Sisters Present: A Conversation with Zoe Harveen Kaur

The Sani Sisters Present: Zoe Harveen Kaur

By Praveena Somasundaram

Digital artist Zoe Harveen Kaur has been working to educate and empower others with creations focusing on South Asian communities and cultures. The 22-year-old’s brand, ZHK Designs, has more than 44,000 followers on Instagram and she also co-founded the @browngirlmemes page. Kaur spoke with Sani’s co-founders, Niki and Ritika Shamdasani, in a “Sani Sisters Present Session” about her art, cultural education and entrepreneurship.

Kaur grew up in a Punjabi-Sikh family and currently lives in Canada. She said her early illustrations were about Punjabi-Sikh culture because it was what she knew best. Kaur credited working for Brown Girl Magazine with helping her expand her take on cultural art through learning about different topics and cultures in the South Asian community.

“I think that really opened up my eyes,” Kaur said. “So where I’m at now, is I want to be able to learn from the art as well. In my bio it says ‘educate and empower,’ and I think that also goes the same with me.”

The inspiration for Kaur’s art and cultural topics comes from her own research, as well as social media. With large followings online, Kaur said she gets direct messages from users with suggestions on topics, gets input from friends and family, and keeps a notebook with her own research as well.

Applying this research to her art, Kaur created a Taste of South Asian Culture series, in which she highlights different cultures from India.

“I honestly feel like that’s probably the best series on my page because I want people to feel like they’re being represented and I’m hoping that they can feel represented through the series,” Kaur said.

In addition to educational illustrations, Kaur has recently collaborated with different artists like Tesher to integrate South Asian art and music.

“I’m hoping that it’ll create opportunities for them, maybe with other people who follow me and maybe they’ll reach out,” Kaur. “It’s been really good in that sense. I think it’s been mutually beneficial.”

During her undergraduate years, Kaur studied political science, which she said has helped her when she creates art that is more political and focused on social justice issues in the world.

“I can differentiate what to post and diffuse the tension if there’s too much of it,” Kaur said. “Especially when things are going on in the world, I definitely want to highlight it, but sometimes you just have to choose what you want to draw, sometimes you have to choose what has the right intentions and what’s actually spreading awareness and spreading a message.”

Kaur said quarantine has brought a shift in her art because she’s had more time to learn about cultures and portray them through art.

“I’d always known in my head I want to educate people through my work,” she said. “Every piece of work is a form of education or representation, but when quarantine happened it was like ‘I’m putting out really meaningful pieces,’ and every single piece means something to me.”

For aspiring artists, entrepreneurs and creatives, Kaur’s advice was simple.

“If you have an idea for a business or for any sort of venture or you want to be a creative, honestly, just go for it,” she said.