Hanah Toyoda 2010-2011 Saffron Dreams Book: Artist Statement

Hanah Toyoda
Saffron Dreams Book: Artist Statement
For the American Dream Exhibition project, we were assigned different books to read
regarding the lives of immigrants and their experiences in America. My assigned book had been
Saffron Dreams, which was a story about a Muslim woman from Pakistan, Arissa Ilahi, who had
lived in New York with her husband. From this book we hear her side of the story as she goes
through her life, from living in Pakistan to traveling to America with the husband to whom she
had been matched. One day, as she was watching the television, she saw a news update that the
first plane just crashed into the Trade Towers. Her husband, Faizan, had worked as a waiter at
Windows On The World. We see through her eyes the hurt she felt and the oppression she had
gotten from the people around her, who had suddenly turned on her just because of her race and
religion. The artist book I created juxtaposes Arissa's American Dream with her soul-shattering
In my artist book, I planned to take both Arissa's and Faizan's stories and dreams and
juxtapose them in an alternating order. My first page showed the reality that Arissa had to come
to terms with. Earlier in the book, the newlywed couple gets intercepted by a beggar woman,
who prophesies that Faizan would one day dance with fire. “Firedancer!” She cried at them,
“Giant flames will be his blanket one day…He will dance with fire, one day, but he will not win”.
Arissa realizes later on that the haunting prophesy had come true. In my first page I depicted
Arissa, garbed in a scarlet and yellow sari, clutching her broken heart as the Trade Towers blaze
in flame around her. I chose to draw this picture on the computer, and after printing it out, I
crumpled and ripped it to symbolize her broken and damaged life after the death of her husband.
The wrinkles made by crumpling the paper look as if the page is shattered. After gluing it on
hand-made paper made out of rose petals and paper pulp, I wrote around the edges the words of
the beggar woman's prophesy, as well as painted flowers in the design of the henna that Muslim
women wear on their wedding day. This page symbolized the moment when Arissa’s American
Dream had crumpled and burnt with her husband.
In my second page, I take the complete opposite of the first. In a backdrop of pastel
lavender strides a healthy, alive, and well-dressed Faizan. Behind him blooms a red rose, the
symbol of the couple’s love for each other. Next to the rose are two boys from Faizan’s book.
Discussed in the book, the couple had come up with a plan where Faizan worked at Windows on
the World while working on his novel-to-be. Their dream had been that they would live
comfortably, instead of having a low-wage income, and that Faizan would one day become a
professional writer. This page symbolizes the fruition of their dreams; together they had been
able to succeed in America to find their place in society as they stride confidently toward the
future. Around the paper I wrote Arissa’s words as she reflected on Faizan’s book, Soul Searcher.
That “to fulfill his dream, his work [had] to be finished. It [had been] such an integral part of his
life”. This page required me to mix blue and white paper together, in order to get the soft
lavender color. I also placed rose petals in the pulp, giving the paper certain spots where it was
very thin and fragile. I think of these spots as the very fragile state of dreams, where if just
enough pressure is added, the dream can burst and become unfulfilled. This page juxtaposes with
the first because it shows how the couple’s life could have been, instead of how it had turned out
to be. The cool colors of this page, as well as the symbols I described, convey the opposite mood
of the first. The reality she faced was full of anger and anguish, as compared to the calm and
confident atmosphere the couple wanted to live in. The disarray of the first page, showing how
her life had changed so drastically and abruptly, is contrasted with the neatness of the second
page which shows the order to living a balanced life.
For my third page I once again switch back to the reality, where Faizan is working at the
restaurant. To show the complexity of this scene, I used a white piece of paper so that it wouldn’t
take away from the detail I wanted to use in the picture. The scene I painted shows him standing
in front of the window as an airplane careens towards the tower. The whole scene melds with a
cityscape showing the Twin Towers in smoke, as well as a design in the corner that acts as a
starburst, showing the flame that Faizan will eventually face. Around the paper I wrote the vivid
dream that Arissa had, her vision of what had happened to her husband during the plane crash,
when she “saw Faizan at Windows on the World in his burgundy and grey steward
uniform…with a wave he smiled and raced to the open embrace of the giant wings” of the plane.
This page shows that, although they had dreamed of being in a better place, the reality had been
bigger, which intruded into Arissa’s own dreams and existence. Her dream of Faizan had shown
her his part in their combined destiny, yet she had yet to experience her own.
For the last illustration in my artist book, I thought about Arissa and Faizan’s American
Dream, that together they could make it in America and become successful. The paper that I
made for this particular page was a mixture of red and yellow pulp, which created a sense of heat,
not in a harsh way, but a feeling of warmth and the love they held for each other. I painted both
Arissa and Faizan together in the center, where behind them was Arissa’s description of what she
had realized towards the end of the book. For her “New York held so much promise,
opportunities bursting at the seams. There was a sea of faces staring at [her]” yet, she mentioned,
that as she looked through all of them, she couldn’t find the one she wanted. At the end, she had
realized that she “was not one they sought,” but that they weren’t the ones she was looking for.
This last page shows that, even though their dreams had not been truly realized in America, their
reality and the concept that they had to start with still lived within their hearts where they hoped
it would eventually come true. It contrasts with the third page of my artist book because, as
opposed to starting off plain and ending up with something complicated, my fourth page had
begun complexly and ended up having something that was simple painted onto it. This relates to
how Arissa’s life with Faizan had started, as something that followed a daily routine, plain, and
ended up difficult and complicated with Faizan’s death. Their American Dream had been, at first,
to be successful and live their lives as important people. However, as Arissa moves on, she
realizes that the simple thing in the end that they had wanted was to just be with each other,
living and loving together.
Because of Arissa and Faizan’s intermingled destinies, I chose to draw the two as one
being for the cover. The key to Saffron Dreams was that the couple’s fates had mingled with
each other, even though Faizan had died. On his side of the page, I drew his henna symbols in
warm colors of red, orange and yellow. These signified the title the book had given him,
“Firedancer”. On Arissa’s side, her henna designs were put into depth, though with the same
base color as Faizan’s. Her relationship with fire had to be through the love she held for Faizan.
Across the entire cover, behind their heads, I copied the style of font that the book’s title had
been in, and written “Saffron Dreams” behind them. Although these words were hidden by their
faces, over the rest of the page I wrote, in different styles of letters, the name of the book so that
my audience would know what the artist book was about. On the back cover of my artist book I
decided to include more of the henna design, using the same color scheme as the front cover.
Around the spirals of red, orange, yellow and purple I wrote the poem that the author of the
novel had used, also titled “Saffron Dreams”.
In reading the novel and creating the artist book, I learned about the difference between
the American Dream and the American reality faced by the immigrants who come to this country.
I was also inspired by the story of the intermingled fates between Arissa and her husband. Even
though Faizan had died, his novel as well as the child Arissa conceived had left a legacy to the
memory of the man. The poem gives great significance to the book, because although it speaks
of different and strange things that humans are not able to do, I interpreted the poem as a
description of fate; that even though our loved ones may die, their memories still live among us.
Even though the people surrounding Arissa in the book had told her to forget Faizan, she
couldn’t do it, because of the life they shared and the significance they had to each other.
“They say that you no longer fly across the land in twilight’s glow
That you no longer wander by the lotus pools that dimly show
Below the whispering trees, and oh! They say you never haunt the streams
And woodlands! But they do not know; the world is wrapped in saffron dreams.”
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