Five years ago, designer and illustrator Nashra Balagamwala left Pakistan for the United States to study at the Rhode Island School of Design, and to avoid an arranged marriage. Now her student visa has run out, and she’s crowdfunding a game about arranged marriages on Kickstarter. It’s partly a way to fund her escape from a loveless union, as well as to support her application for an artist visa.
“There is a higher chance of people having a conversation about something when they experience it together,” Balagamwala told Hyperallergic. Arranged! – The Arranged Marriage Board Game is designed as an accessible platform for dialogue about the issue. In Pakistan, arranged marriages remain prevalent, with women often forced to marry men to improve their family’s social, financial, or business status. Sometimes refusals can lead to violence: Human Rights Watch cites an estimate by Pakistani human rights NGOs that there are around 1,000 “honor killings” a year, including women who married someone of their choosing or rejected an arranged marriage.
“Speaking up about this topic was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do,” Balagamwala said. “I’ve risked losing a lot, but I did it in the hopes that someday, a girl out there will look at this story and it will give her the courage to do the same.”
The players of Arranged! are three teenage girls, all pursued by one “aunty.” This matchmaker aims to marry them to any, and every, boy she can locate, while the girls find ways to avoid her, whether by pursuing a career, an education, or even gaining weight. For instance, one card reads: “You were talking about having a career. The aunty moves 5 spaces away from you.” Another increases your matchmaker appeal: “Your 24 year old sister just had her fourth child. The aunty moves 5 spaces closer to you.” Littering the board are suitors, with one “Golden Boy” possessing both green eyes and a coveted foreign passport.
“It was inspired by my own life and the numerous things I’ve done to get out of an arranged marriage myself, such as talking about pursuing a career, having male friends, or getting a tan — darker skin is considered to be less appealing in Pakistani culture,” Balagamwala said. “The game also references many other issues faced by these societies, such as the culture of skin whitening, dowries, and secret boyfriends.”
Balagamwala often addresses complex cultural and societal themes in her games. Paltering Politicians has participants role-play as Pakistani politicians, deciding whether to be political puppets or act independently, and in Crit Happens, players navigate a color chart that represents the emotionally grueling cycle of art school, from demoralizing critiques to constant caffeine.
Arranged! ends when all the players are married, either by their own choice or, more likely, by the matchmaker. The game is designed with bright colors and the kinds of lacy patterns that appear on wedding invitations, yet its mechanics underline just how powerless South Asian women often are in these arranged marriages.
“I think it’s easier to address it in this setting, because it’s more likely that you can get someone to play a fun game, rather than just sit them down and talk about such deep and dark issues,” Balagamwala explained. “What I’ve noticed is that at the beginning of the game, players think it’s all fun and games. However, they slowly start to realize the deeper issues that are present and have the urge to talk about it.”
Arranged! – The Arranged Marriage Board Game is fundraising on Kickstarter through September 7.
Three Looted Antiquities at the Met Repatriated to Turkey
Nine other repatriated works were seized from Met Trustee Shelby White, whose collection was subject to a criminal investigation.
This week, the world’s lightest paint, Pakistan’s feminist movement, World Puppy Day, and were some of Vermeer’s paintings created by his daughter?
The Wider World and Scrimshaw
On March 28, join the New Bedford Whaling Museum online and in-person for a symposium on global carving traditions from across the Pacific Rim.
Who Will Decide on the Future of a Miami Native Burial Ground?
Native activists say sacred remains and objects dug up from a Brickell construction site should remain there, but mega-developer Jorge Pérez is pushing back.
How Can a Curator Approach South Asian Futurisms?
How do I acknowledge my shortcomings while reckoning with obscured histories and the exclusion of subaltern narratives in the fine art landscape? A working checklist for curators.
MCA Chicago Presents On Stage: Frictions
Will Rawls, Shamel Pitts | TRIBE, and Barak adé Soleil explore Blackness, queerness, movement, and dance in performances at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
The Complicated Legacy of Camilo Egas
The Ecuadorian painter, a leading figure of Latin America’s Indigenismo art movement, has been both praised and scorned for his representation of Indigenous peoples.
Tom Jones Zeroes in on Ho-Chunk Visibility
“I think about the young kids, the teenagers, and I think being able to see yourself represented in art is so powerful,” says the artist.
Haggerty Museum of Art Presents Tomás Saraceno in Dialogue With Dr. Somesh Roy
The artist and researcher will explore soot’s effects on climate change and public health in this online conversation.
Hundreds of Artworks by NYC Teenagers Go on View at the Met
The talented seventh through twelfth-grade students are recipients of the 2023 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
NYC’s Flatiron Building Sells for a Whopping $190M
The sale to outsider bidder Jacob Garlick puts an end to the protracted legal battle between the iconic skyscraper’s five former owners.
McKnight Visual Artist Fellows Discussion Series at the Minneapolis Institute of Art
The series features 2021 Fellows David Bowen, Mara Duvra, Rotem Tamir, Ben Moren, and Dyani White Hawk in conversation with renowned curators and critics.
The Best Memes Roasting the “We ❤️ NYC” Campaign
A graphic designer on Twitter created a hilarious send-up of the universally reviled logo, and the rest is history.
Did You Know These Museums Were Free for New Yorkers?
The “Free Admission” campaign is advocating to make ticket pricing information more transparent to visitors, who may be confused or misled by institutions’ language.