I had the pleasure of invading Maria Qamar's (aka HateCopy) brand-new studio not long ago. As she unpacked her canvases, we were able to sift through her portfolio collection and chat about her creative drive and influences. Inspired by the parallels between Indian soap operas and classic American comic books, Maria has created a strong series of tongue-in-cheek paintings that playfully explore Desi pop culture through a contemporary lens. We discuss art parties, the glamourization of female artists and the representation of people of colour in the city's art scene.
Why Hate Copy?
I used to be a copywriter and I guess I didn’t want to be one. (laughs) It’s funny how a lot of people go by their online usernames now, the usernames you craft up when you’re seventeen. I wanted to advertise myself ironically so people would hire me for who I was and not what I did. If I would have know, I might have picked a different name but I guess it just stuck.
What drew you to pop-art style imagery?
The aunties and scenarios I create are based on a parallel I discovered between American comics and Indian soap operas. For example, when you see an Indian soap opera, the camera zooms in and highlights the characters’ expressions in a really animated way. If you capture a film still of that and compare it with a panel from a classic American comic book, it’s the exact same thing coming from two extremely different cultures, which I thought was hilarious. So I just went with it.
How do you think your identity as an artist differs being in Canada versus back home?
I haven’t been back since 2006 so I don’t really know because I haven’t lived my adult life there. There’s definitely a stigma around being an artist back home, though. It’s more about the hustle, about getting a 9-5 job and sticking to it to support your family, starting your family early, that kind of thing. The goals are very traditional. Of course, if I would have stayed I wouldn’t have the same opportunities and privileges as I do here. Here I feel I can do whatever I want and to be honest, sometimes I feel a bit braggy doing it because I know my parents didn’t have that. They brought me here for me to have access to these opportunities so sometimes I catch myself in my privilege.
What advantages and disadvantages has social media brought to your practice?
Social media has been a huge help because it gives you the eyes that you wouldn’t normally get in a traditional gallery space. Let’s just face it, women of colour just aren’t represented in galleries as much as white men and women. Instagram, for example, is really helping us get noticed in that sense… There’s no gender bias, no bias of any sort. You stumble across art and if you like it, that’s it. Your work is judged simply by how good or how relatable it is rather than what your social standing is and whether you went to school for art or not. I definitely don’t have the same ‘status’ as someone who attended OCAD, you know? That wasn’t an option for me, so social media was there to help me out.
Do you find yourself frequently labelled as a ‘political artist’ simply because you’re a person of colour?
I guess my existence itself is inherently political. I’m not only a woman, I’m a woman of colour and an artist, I don’t work a 9 to 5… Everything about my existence is a little bit controversial just because I am.
Would you say the homogenization of South Asian cultures has shifted since you first moved to Toronto?
Honestly I feel like people will just find other things to hate us for. For example, there was this huge thing about bindis and cultural appropriation and someone created a hashtag called #whitegirlsdoitbetter. Why are you doing that? Just let it go. Check yourself. It’s still an issue. I got bullied for being brown in school, and those kids that bullied us were hearing those racial slurs from their parents, right? Especially now after the terrorist attacks and phobias that white people have against darker-skinned people… it’s still a thing. I don’t think it’s gotten any better. Our goal should be to educate ourselves to think before talking against somebody. Respect is needed.
Do you think your work would have been produced or received differently if you were a male artist?
For sure. I wouldn’t be sexualized as much. I wouldn’t be asked to have my photos taken and such. What do I need a photo shoot for? You have my art already. So many male artists go through interviews and features without showing their face once, but as soon as people find out I’m a woman that’s what they go for and to be honest, I don’t really want that kind of attention. Yes, it’s cool to dress up and have a photo shoot but that’s not the goal.
Do you find that in general artists need to bring a face to their work due to social media? Do you think it’s become a part of how they sell their work, marketing themselves along with their art?
Totally. That’s what’s so different about nowadays. You’re not just buying the art, you’re buying a lifestyle. It’s become more about the image and for females especially because there’s this sort of glamour involved in it. Art is not always a glamorous thing. Most artists have very complex personalities and ideas that you can’t just package up in a dress and say oh, by the way she’s also a girl. Sometimes it’s difficult to discuss my art and sell myself as a serious individual at the same time.
What do you think would need to change in Toronto to increase the representation of people of colour in the art scene?
Give us actual gallery spaces. I see a lot of people of colour in DIY, underground venues but there’s only so many bars I can put my art into before I get tired. Let’s put art where it belongs. It’s unfair to have to create our own spaces when we should be shown in proper galleries, receive proper government funding and equal representation. I feel like some dignity is missing.
What’s your take on art parties?
In a lot of my shows, yes there’s been art but there’s also a DJ and then dancing and that’s not really what I’m looking for. Come see art and go to the bar afterwards, you know? If it’s an art party and we mean it to be, then it’s cool. But a lot of the time, I hang my art and then everybody is wasted, elbowing my work and there’s a lack of respect. They come for a selfie, get drunk and nothing gets sold. If I wanted that, then I could just have my art showing on a screen and leave the actual stuff at home so it doesn’t get damaged.
What advice would you give artists that are just getting into their practice?
I think practicing your skills is most important. Keep pushing to accurately represent what you want to do. Once you have everything that you need in your toolbox, it’s important to play. Be a kid, don’t take it too seriously. If your goal is to get famous with your work then forget about that. It will come when you work to improve and find a solid message.