Nafisa Iqbal is a second-year graphic design and fine arts student at the Parsons School Of Design in New York, hailing from 8,000 miles away in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Her work has previously been published in local Bangladeshi magazines and newspapers such as Shout, Blitz, and The Dhaka Courier. You can find her on Instagram.
1. Mars was named after the Roman god of war. Before the Romans, the Greeks called the red planet ‘Ares’—the Greek counterpart of the Roman god Mars. Even before the Greeks and the Romans, the Babylonians named it ‘Nergal’ after their god of fire, destruction and war. The symbol for the planet Mars is a circle with an arrow appearing from its upper right. This is supposed to depict a shield and spear. The red planet has a long history of being associated with war and bloodshed.
2. With reddish soils that look entirely soaked in blood, Mars gets its tint from the iron oxide in the dust on its surface. The presence of iron in our hemoglobin is also what paints our blood red. If, however, our hemoglobin were based on copper and not iron, our blood would be green. Then, perhaps, we would have named our own planet, with all its greenery, after the god of war. Wouldn’t that be an apt name?
3. Stop signs. Traffic lights. Fire extinguishers. Fire alarms. Fire trucks. Ambulances. Police lights. Danger signs.
4. She fixes her sari and dips the tip of her ring finger into a small pot of vermilion sindoor and draws it up the parting of her hair. The red in her hair tells them she is a married Hindu woman.
5. Even before she was allowed time to grieve the death of her husband, her mother-in-law, with tears in her eyes would wipe the vermilion from her parting. The faint red ghost of the vermilion would remind her every day that she was now a widow.
6. War is red and so is love.
7. My mother said only confident women wear red lips and she wasn’t one. She wore almost translucent glosses and dusty plums and neutral, boring browns, or nothing at all. I drank a lot of Kool-Aid, softly swishing the red liquid in my small mouth and pursing my small lips inwards for them to be stained red. Success: cherry lips! Side effect: marvelously red teeth.
8. My favorite photograph of myself is one from when I was four years old. I am wearing a yellow polka-dotted dress, standing in the bedroom of my old house. My eyes are smiling more than my mouth and that’s how you know a smile is genuine. I am looking at a vase of gigantic roses, flirting with the crimson of blood and danger and passion.
9. I had my first period when I was nine years old, on the day of the World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Brazil. The shock of rusty red in my underpants made me burst out in tears. In the rush of figuring out what to do, my mother hit her forehead on the corner of the bathroom door. A reddish bruise haloed around the cut on her eyebrow and a drop of beautiful ruby red found itself on the cool white bathroom floor.
10. Agnosia is a disorder that causes the inability to distinguish or recognize objects, faces, places and voices. In Oliver Sacks’ book The Mind’s Eye, a woman named Lillian with visual agnosia fails to recognize most images or objects in a visual recognition test. One of the first things Lillian did identify, however, was “a beautiful red pepper.”
11. If ever it happened that I had to live with such a disorder, what would I recognize? Would it be the supple ruby skin of a red pepper? The bright red of a fire hydrant?
12. Sometimes, I watch videos of people with colorblindness witnessing the world in color for the first time. I always cry.
13. Homesickness is red. Homesickness is pouring excessive quantities of thick, red Heinz chili sauce into your food, but it never being spicy enough. Not like back home.
14. No, homesickness is the absence of red. Homesickness is no dried burning red chili peppers to assault your nose. Homesickness is no crimson chili powder to scald your tongue. Homesickness is no reddish, bloodshot, watering eyes and no flushed pink face after eating something the menu said was ‘spicy.’
15. Some believe that Santa Claus is a myth that comes from Arctic shamans and magic mushrooms. Siberian shamans would eat the psychoactive Amanita muscaria mushroom on the day of the winter solstice. Santa is believed by some to be a personification of the Amanita itself, his red and white garb mirroring the coloring of the Amanita caps. Others believe the myth of Santa Claus originated from the shamans themselves who would wear the reddish brown and white pelts of the reindeer.
16. In the earlier days of film, especially before the 70s, the fake blood in films appears a brighter, more opaque red, with the texture of latex paint. Oftentimes, tomato ketchup was used to achieve the effect of blood. Nowadays, our more photogenic blood is made from Karo corn syrup and a bit of red food dye. This allows the blood to be more versatile, its coloring changing with the lighting and surface.
17. Analyzing a scene from Quentin Tarantino’s universally known Pulp Fiction, a film quite liberal with its use of blood, one is able to see its realistic depiction. The splash of blood on John Travolta’s face seems light, while the blood on his white shirt soaks into a deeper crimson. The blood that splashes onto Samuel L. Jackson’s head of curly hair is wine-red against his dark hair, while the blood on the beige fake leather of the car seats is a syrupy ruby.
18. Red is . . . anticipation. Anticipation as I bury the needle-sharp end of my compass from geometry class under my skin and draw lines of red. One, two, three, four, five, six lines of slippery, aching maroon gashes.
19. Red is recovery at 16—the color of the ink that says, “LOVE YOURSELF” on the palm of my hand. Red is a reminder.