Zoe Harveen Kaur: ZHK Designs

Tell us a bit about yourself and your life! What led you to creating ZHK Designs?

Zoe: Hi! My name is Zoe Harveen Kaur and I’m a 20-year-old student at Western University in London, Ontario. I was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, however when I was 18, I decided to leave Alberta and study in Ontario. As a South Asian person, I grew up in a westernized Punjabi-Sikh family with both my parents and my older sister. My dad has an extremely large Punjabi family in Calgary and my mum also has a large family in England, so I grew up surrounded by my culture and a very strong Punjabi community. Growing up, I have always been fond of my culture; I watched Bollywood movies all the time with my grandparents, I went to Punjabi school every Friday night and I only listen to Punjabi and Hindi music.

Pictured: Zoe

Pictured: Zoe

Though I have explored other spheres of life, my culture is extremely important to me and I wanted to highlight that as much as I could. Through my adolescence, I realized that a lot of my peers didn’t know who Punjabis or Sikhs were and they could not differentiate between different South Asian cultures. This lead me to create ZHK Designs. In my first year of university, I started painting South Asian people on denim jackets and started selling them. From that point forward, I started exploring my culture more, but I was solely focused on the Punjabi culture. Once I finished second year, I realized that I wasn’t completely educated on other cultures as well, so I began to do more research and I started illustrating key features of various cultures.

Through the summer of 2018, I created my Instagram page and my Redbubble. ZHK Designs was created to educate others and enhance various identities, cultures and backgrounds through art. I wanted to create a page that was not only directed at the South Asian community, but could be a safe space for all individuals.

What's the mission behind your brand?

Zoe: The intent of ZHK Designs is to represent and empower the South Asian community through art. ZHK Designs was made to represent different backgrounds while highlighting the beauty of various cultures. ZHK Designs strives to educate individuals of all backgrounds about the numerous cultures in the South Asian community.

What was your relationship with your identity like and what did it mean to you at the time? How has your relationship with your identity changed over time: what has that meant to you now and how did this affect ZHK Designs?

Zoe: Through my childhood and my adolescence, my culture was always very prominent and I have always been extremely proud to be a Punjabi-Sikh woman. Because I grew up in a large family, I always attended cultural events and celebrated religious holidays. There was no doubt in my mind that I loved my background because it was associated to my family; it gave me a sense of safety and comfort. I grew up in a bubble in which my culture was linked to my parents and it was my identity because it belonged to my family as well. When I attended high school, it became more apparent to me that my culture was bigger than I thought. I realized that I wasn’t fully emerged in the Punjabi community and I only knew about one culture in India.

Title: Eternal Love

Title: Eternal Love

Through my high school years, I developed an intense interest in Indian art and music. I began to invest a lot of my time researching South Asian role models, artists, writers and other creators. This overlapped with my university years as well. Through first year, I began to develop an appreciation for Punjabi music, movies, food, and art. I mainly focused on the Punjabi-Sikh community as most of my friend group were Punjabi. Through the years, I have expanded my horizons and have done more research on different cultures in India. For me, I cannot represent my community properly until I fully understand the variety of customs and traditions in India and Pakistan alike.

Title: No Boundaries

Title: No Boundaries

When I approach ZHK Designs now, I try to include not only my own cultural values that I grew up with, but I also do an immense amount of research on various South Asian cultures. It’s extremely important to me that everyone feels included, so I want to broaden my knowledge and include a variety of cultural experiences in my artwork. I’m constantly looking at South Asian Instagram pages, listening to South Asian music, reading South Asian books and talking to people from various backgrounds so I can be exposed to new things.

I have become a lot more aware and willing to learn because of ZHK Designs. My interest in learning has allowed my art to grow and get better, and it has allowed for more individuals to relate to my artwork. At the end of the day, I want individuals from all backgrounds, identities, and walks of life to find themselves in my artwork. I want to be able to represent all parts of the South Asian community, no matter what gender, religion, culture you identify with.

How does the world affect your goals or what you hope to achieve?

Zoe: Through the digital age, achieving my goals has been extremely doable. There is an intense amount of support through the South Asian community on Instagram. Instagram has been an amazing platform to showcase my artwork and the amount of support from my peers has been nothing but amazing. I haven’t encountered many obstacles in that sense; since there aren’t a lot of South Asian artists, I’m able to display my art and get a positive response back.

Title: Bindis

Title: Bindis

In fact, the South Asian artists that are out there are extremely unique. I haven’t faced artists who have the exact same style – everyone shows their culture differently. I think that is what makes achieving my goals doable; each artist creates something different and educates others in different ways. The entire premise of ZHK Designs is to educate and the Instagram community allows me to do that.

To you, why is diversity important?

Zoe: Diversity is particularly important to me because I think it creates a foundation for community. To celebrate differences in society is beautiful. I think that everyone has the right to be different and express their individuality in whatever way they want (without harming others). Even within the South Asian community, there are so many unique cultures and traditions that are so interesting. By having a diverse community, it allows individuals to learn more, and I think that’s what life is about.

What tips do you have for young aspiring creators, entrepreneurs, and/or activists?

Zoe: To all the young creators/entrepreneurs/activists out there, learn from your experiences. I think the biggest advice I can give to anyone is to experience everything and take advantage of the opportunities that you have. No matter how big or small these opportunities may be. Life is about learning and gaining knowledge, so if you want to achieve your goals, continue to try new things and live life to its fullest.

If you have small opportunities or chances to try something new, take them! If you think something isn’t working for you, change it by doing research and ask questions. For me, the only way people can be successful is by learning and experiencing details of life. If opportunities don’t come your way, seek them! Message the people you admire, reach out to magazines or organizations, get involved with your community. Do whatever you can to have meaningful experiences because you will learn from them and you can apply that to future events.

See more of Zoe’s work on her Instagram and website.

Gretta Kissell