Painting the Self

Open Magazine | by Somak Ghoshal

In 2021, Zaam Arif, a Paki­stani American artist based in Houston, Texas, got a call from The New Yorker. The magazine was preparing to publish another Pakistani American, the writer Daniyal Mueenud­din, who shot into the literary firma­ment with his highly acclaimed debut collection of stories, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, in 2009. Then, like a pass­ing comet, Mueenuddin had all but disap­peared from the public eye. And now, a decade later, he was ready to emerge from his hibernation with a brand-new novella called Muscle, scheduled to appear in the prestigious magazine. The New Yorker wanted Arif to read and respond to the story through his art.


“I wasn’t familiar with Mueenud­din’s work at the time,” Arif, 25, says on a video call from his studio in the US. “But as I went through Muscle, I saw so much of myself in it.” As he read on, Arif began to make a few sketches on the side, based on his initial reactions. The New Yorker loved these roughs and commissioned him to illustrate the story.

16 February 2024