“I always look back at the art I made during my undergrad years and go, 'Wow, I was really young and really angry',” laughs 26-year-old Azzah Sultan. The daughter of diplomat Dato’ Syed Sultan Idris, Azzah’s childhood spanned across countries, from Abu Dhabi where she was born to Malaysia, Finland, Bahrain, and Ireland. At 16, she moved to New York, later acquiring a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Parsons School of Design.
“Back then, I was frustrated with the way I was viewed as a Muslim woman. I felt like I constantly had to make work about being Muslim, and I started feeling trapped, like I was in a box or label, and that was all I had to talk about. At one point, I knew this was counter-intuitive and in a way, it sort of fed into the tropes and stereotypes surrounding me. So I started making work about my upbringing, ethnicity, nationality, cultural background—all the things that were confusing to me. I started using art as a way to navigate this world and understand it a bit more.”
In 2016, Azzah collected head scarves from Muslim women across the US and sewed them together to create the American flag for her Home Sweet Home installation at The Bushwick Collective Art Exhibition in New York. Challenging the notion that Muslim Americans were somehow less American because of their religion, her work caught the attention of Jenna Ferrey, one of the founders of boutique art firm Trotter & Sholer, where Azzah eventually had her first solo show titled Anak Dara which incorporated batik prints from Penang in 2020.
"I make it a point to work exclusively with galleries and people that are more open and not very exclusive. I tend to stay away from galleries that see me as a trope and use my work for hype," adds Azzah, who also has a master's in fine arts from Washington State University. Currently, Azzah is busy with her residency at The Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota.