Senna Ahmad: Nurturing a New Generation of Muslim Artists

Senna Ahmad is a graphic designer, photographer, and makeup artist in the DC area. Visit her website and Instagram to learn more about her work.

My name is Senna Ahmad. Since I was a child, I’ve been obsessed with making things look good. My obsession ultimately became the source of my career, and now through my work I dedicate my life to helping people view the world as the beautiful place it is.

Art is not something I do for mere enjoyment—it’s what I do to keep myself sane. I like to think I’m constantly in the act of creating, whether deciding on my makeup for the day, or working on a year-long photo series. As long as I’m creating, I’m content.

I believe that there is a lack of mentorship for creative young Muslims who want to pursue arts careers, and I aspire to provide that mentorship for my community as I continue to grow myself. I envision a future where there will be just as many resources for young Muslim artists as there are in other career fields.

I’m a Pakistani-Muslim-American who was born in New Jersey. It wasn’t until after high school that I really embraced my “hyphenated” identity—I always felt I had to either be “American” or “Pakistani,” and that there was no in between. I began college with the goal of becoming a high school English teacher, a career that I figured would have some “honor,” according to my South Asian family. But I struggled to complete the courses in a topic I was only slightly interested in.

It took me two years, several failed classes, and a bout with clinical depression to realize that I simply could not complete a task unless I was wildly passionate about it. I started doing wedding photography gigs and several other events to make some money on the side. I saw it as a hobby and an easy way to make money, but I also felt for the first time in my life that I faced challenges I was actually excited about. I realized that if I was willing to take on these challenges wholeheartedly, then I could turn my art into a career. Since then, I have dedicated my life to helping others through art.

Luckily, my parents supported my artistic endeavors, but I understand the struggle of wanting to take that love of art to the next step—in a sea of doctors and engineers, there are only a handful of Muslims artists. Although this makes it easy to reveal untold narratives I can use in my art, it makes it very difficult for the community of Muslim artists to thrive. My ultimate goal is to create that space for free thinking Muslim artists.

I believe the most important way to nurture these artists is through mentorship. Many Muslim artists from my generation have had to figure everything out on their own, from talking to parents about career paths to finding financial security. Without guidance, it’s easy to get frustrated and give up. I feel that it’s my generation’s responsibility to provide that guidance and become mentors to younger artists, to provide life and career advice that will make it a little easier for creative Muslims to find their way.