Popularly known as Hatecopy, 25 year-old artist Maria Qamar was born in Pakistan before relocating to Mississauga at 9. Raised on a steady diet of anime (the Studio Ghibli films and Pokemon were her favorites), Qamar would often come home and illustrate experiences that upset her – in her youth, she was often bullied due to her heritage.
Her perspective as a woman of colour – and specifically a Desi one – is central to her art. As Hatecopy, she’s taken ownership of her experiences and identity, empowering herself through her work. Her Lichtenstein-esque pieces take no prisoners, succinctly and humorously celebrating Desi culture in a way that has earned her a dedicated following who see themselves (and their reality) reflected in the images she creates.
Leading up to Blank Canvas’ opening exhibition this Thursday, we spoke Maria about her creative beginnings, how her cultural identity is reflected in her work, and what she’s learned in her time as Hatecopy.
When did you first start creating?
When I was old enough to hold a pencil.
Growing up, what kind of artistic influences were you drawn to? How have those changed as you’ve gotten older, and in what capacity do you believe your influences affect your current work?
I was influenced by a lot of anime and American comics, mostly because of its ability to convey serious issues in a not-so-serious format. A lot of my personality was formed by these influences and my work is a direct representation of that.
Has the subject matter of your work always focused on shared cultural experiences?
Of course. Assimilation is tough, appropriation is trash and if you get me started on this topic I’ll never shut up about it.
At what point did you decide to pursue a career as a visual artist? What made you feel that you were on the right path?
I made sure that whatever I ended up doing (and whatever I will continue to do) allowed me to express creativity in any form. There’s no right or wrong path, it’s just a matter of experimenting with what feels right for you. Art feels right for me.
How are your pieces conceptualized and produced? Where do you draw inspiration for the scenarios in your work?
My work depicts scenarios I’ve personally been exposed to, and some I’ve witnessed from soap operas. The challenge is finding the right moment which captures the intensity and drama of growing up Desi. My favourite parts have less to do with family drama and more to do with romance.
The upcoming exhibition at Blank Canvas focuses on themes of character and identity – in what ways is your art a reflection of the identity you have created for yourself?
My art is what you get when you hear the word “No” too often. The work conveys a lot of sass, uncompromising amount of colour and dark humour.
What is it about your work that you believe resonates so deeply with South Asian audiences? Do you believe this speaks to a demand for a perspective that is often experienced but not shared?
There’s something about the little rebellious moments in our lives that we hide from our families (and aunties) that make the work shareable amongst friends. I recreate scenarios from our youth that formed our colourful personalities as first/second-gens in the west. In the time I’ve spent here, my favourite moments were those that got me in a LOT of trouble, because I had done something a “good Desi girl shouldn’t have.”
A lot of the strength of your work lies in your ability to find the humour in your specific cultural perspective. Many of the pieces have value as shared experiences within the Desi community, but do you believe your work can have educational value for non-Desi fans?
The concept of an Aunty isn’t exclusive to Desis by any means, and I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from fans and friends of all races who seemed to relate and laugh along just the same. The educational aspect is that Desis are so much more than these shitty stereotypes portrayed in American media, and it’s important to put more of our culture out for everyone to learn about.
LESSONS, GROWTH and MORE
What have you learned about yourself in the process of creating?
I’ve learned to stop apologizing for who I am. I’ve always been a confident speaker, presenter and a writer, but I’ve recently learned to invest some of that confidence into my art.
You’ve built a significant following on social media, which is a lot like your art in that it feels very humourous and personal. What importance do you believe your social media following has played in your career?
Social media was a great way to get noticed, of course, but more importantly it introduced me to others who shared my vision. I’m very lucky to have acquainted myself with other amazing creatives because of it.
Who are some fellow artists based in Toronto whose work you admire?
What are you passionate about outside of your art – are there any causes you would like to lend your voice to?
I’m passionate about creating anti-bullying initiatives in schools across Canada. Currently, I am partnering up with The Canadian Safe School Network to do just that, with the help of a few other prominent voices in the media.
What’s next for Maria Qamar, both in terms of the evolution of your work as Hatecopy and your individual personal growth?
I’m always exploring new techniques so I can continually challenge myself to be a more skilled artist. Right now I’m juggling between animation, murals and digital art.
Maria’s work as Hatecopy will be showing at Blank Canvas’ Opening Exhibition this Thursday, April 21st 2016 (1544 Bloor St. W, Toronto.)