We catch-up with Graphic artist Maria Qamar, otherwise known as "HATECOPY." Maria's design take a whole new approach to Pop Art and we absolutely loved bringing her and Hayley's style together for this loud and proud segment of Hayley's World.
The name ‘HATECOPY!’ possesses an air of intrigue and packs a punch. What’s the inspiration behind it?
You know, I just wanted a name that was intriguing and packed a punch. Just kidding. I used to work as a copywriter at an ad agency and I did not want to do that job. So, I started promoting myself to employers as the copywriter that hated copywriting but cared more for the idea, as opposed to the writing part of it. And somehow that worked out for me in copywriting. When the art stuff started, I couldn’t change my name fast enough. People started referring to my work as “Hatecopy's work,” so I was like “hey, I guess we are going with that.”
What was your experience like emigrating to Canada from Pakistan as a child? How did the move affect your formative years?
My family is a mixed family. My father is from Bangladesh and my mother is from Gujrat. My brother and I were both born in Pakistan and were there for 9 years, before we got accepted to move to Canada. I had never seen snow before. So I thought we were going to live in igloos and go ice fishing, all these fun winter activities you see in cartoons. The most interesting part of the move was the schools; back home, when you got an answer wrong in class, teachers would hit you. All the students were very excited for me to go to a place where that didn’t happen. It didn’t seem intense then, but talking about it now it kind of does.
Do you think that is maybe where a bit of rebellion has come from in you?
A little bit. I think it comes from everyone around me being a straight A student, overachiever, study hard put your head down… But I was the kind of kid that got solid B’s B-’s. I always thought there has to be something that I can get an A+ at. There has to be something else that I am good at. And that something else was always art for me. It wasn’t really a rebellion, it was just the way I lived and it was seen as rebellion because it wasn’t typically what you would see from kids back home.
What was it like when the styles of Qamar and Lichtenstein combined for the first time? Was this an idea that had been lying dormant in your mind for a while, or did it flow from your pen in the moment?
I was always obsessed with the idea that I would have a certain style. I think that is the hardest thing for an artist to do is to find that voice. So I was doing some research maybe 3 days after I got laid off. I had just left my corporate job and I was researching at home. I started with Lichtenstein, first thing I googled. That is the first thing you think of when you think of someone with a distinct style and when you hear that name you immediately think retro ladies and war comics. So I thought “I am going to draw something like that.” I already used to draw graphic, comic book style. So I look at my screen, then I look at what I’ve drawn and it looked more like me, a Desi woman. And what he drew looked more like a white lady. I thought, this is hilarious, what if instead of crying about not getting a phone call from Brad, she is crying because she burnt the rotis, or Arjun doesn’t love her. We see this in Indian soap operas all the time. What with the combination, east meets west kind of deal, it really worked. I posted it on Instagram and my friends thought it was so funny. One lady is saying she spilled the chai, and another saying she stepped on a sari. Soon it became a body of work. I thought, I have to do something with it. I suppose all that time in front of the TV amounted to something.
Your work has been positively recognized by incredible feminist icons such Mindy Kaling. After posting your first photo on Instagram, did you expect to amass such a large and loyal following? Were you surprised when others related so much to your life experience?
I am still surprised when people relate to things that I make. I am not good at following trends. I had no idea that other people went through this. I make jokes with my brother all the time about how dramatic our family is. Some weird advice we get from our families on how we should live our lives. It turns out A LOT of people, young people, brown people, in the west feel this way. Sometimes it feels like I'm joking around with my friends for a living, which is never a bad thing.
Did pop art always naturally feel like the best artistic outlet to explore and express your South-Asian and Canadian cultures? Did you ever consider other artistic styles?
I was always so bad at painting. I want to explore more sculpting. I like the idea of bringing ideas to life. The more I can do myself the better, in terms of creating things. I feel like I would always be doing something Pop Art. It seems natural because it starts a conversation. It’s a reflection of society. It’s what you see and then an interpretation of what you just saw. How you put it back into the world. I feel like my brand does what Hayley does in a way. It’s her interpretation of what society and the world is going through right now. Pop Art is the most natural for me because it’s commentary. If I was to do any other style I would want to learn more about character building and oil painting. I don’t know if you’ve ever painted with oils before, but it’s very therapeutic. I’m too scared, because I’ve messed up already with oil painting once, but it’s a whole new skill to learn. The biggest misconception for artists though is that once you know one thing you know how to do it all, because you’re an artist. Everything is a different skill that takes years of practice to perfect. Even if you look back to the oldest thing I’ve done and the most recent… it’s changed so much. Everything is just a process and if I wanted to learn something else I would have to really devote the time to it.
Your work tackles Desi stereotypes in bold and often humorous ways. Do you find people are more receptive to changing their ways of thinking and understanding when an important topic is presented artistically?
I'm not sure if it's necessarily stereotypes. A lot of my stuff is sometimes the hyperbolized version of something true. I think it’s a funny way to confront people that are giving you bad advice. So if somebody is telling you to stop looking for a job and to just get married instead, if someone sends a screenshot of one of my comics where they are saying that exact same thing, they can hopefully realize “oh my god, I’m that guy.” It’s like relistening to a voicemail you’ve left when you’re like shit, I can’t believe I said that. It’s a good way to light-heartedly check yourself.
Is there a memory you have of someone reacting to your work in a particularly profound way?
Yeah, there was this thing we did for our exhibit, which was called Bad Beti, which started with me drawing this skull. It was wearing indian jewelry, and I made it into a pattern where all the other skulls were normal and then this one was angry and red and laughing and it was very sinister. Bad Beti means “bad daughter” and this was sort of representing how sometimes you feel like you’re the one that is fucked up. As soon as we posted that, a lot of makeup artists started recreating this look and posting it on Instagram. This was right around Halloween and Diwali. People were dressing up in this look for both celebrations and I was like “wow this is really good promo for our exhibit. Hopefully these people show up to our show!” We didn’t intend for it to be a look of any way. I think that was one of the ways people related to something we did without us even knowing that people cared or felt this way. It was just a way for us to express ourselves and it ended up being a movement of at least 1000 people. There was also a lot of people doing drag with this Bad Beti theme. This was definitely empowering.
How do you feel about cultures outside of yours connecting to your artwork? Wearing your designs?
A lot of East Asians relate to the work in the same way that our cultures are very similar. We both got a lot of pressure to do well in school and not to focus on the arts so much. To focus on the sciences or the maths or the theoretical based stuff. And they have been like “I don’t understand some of the words that you write, but I get the gist of it because I get similar advice from my family and friends.” It wasn’t intended to be something that the whole world can relate with. I still treat it as an inside joke between my cousins and I. So it’s nice to see other people feel the same way because it is a surprise. I guess looking at it from a non-Desi perspective is that women can also relate to the pressures of society outside of what the families pressure is. A lot of men hit me up too and ask me why I don’t make more for them. They tell me to draw my uncles or dads and I just don’t want to sit around drawing moustaches like that all day.
What has the transition from classic canvas to fashion been like? Do you feel it’s a natural progression or something you really have to work at?
I guess the idea of clothing for me was that if I’m not designing the actual clothing, what is the point? I got pressured to put my art on a shirt. I wasn’t really satisfied with it. I was sure that I could do more. I would personally want to wear this shirt proudly. I want people to be proud to wear it and I want the people that support my work to look good. So that is when I started to design the more graphic prints similar to Hayley. I started putting my art on more pieces I would actually wear, like the bodysuits and skirts. I love how the brights have that element of confrontation. Like when you're at a fam jam and you’re wearing one of my prints, it’s a very good conversation starter and icebreaker. It’s wearable art and you can’t find it at a Forever 21. You chose it because it speaks to you and it reflects how you are going through life. It’s special. It’s so important for me to make clothing that is something I would want to wear and that is personalized.
When it comes to your own clothing style, what do you feel most confident in?
I wear a lot of black. That’s most women that live in cities. We work too damn hard to sit around and colour coordinate. But, I am trying to involve more colour in my wardrobe. That’s why when I make something I want to ask myself if I would wear it, because my wardrobe is 90% black. If I put this in my wardrobe, will this pop? I need this to be the statement piece. Today I am wearing no black! I’m wearing white and rainbow... I am really making an effort. It puts you in a brighter mood too and makes you a little more approachable. I feel most confident when I am wearing a statement piece because it’s making a point.
What would you say has been the biggest risk you’ve taken during your career as an artist so far?
I think because I have been living life day by day, I don’t really realize when I am taking a risk. A risk is such a normal part of my life. I think freelancing and relying on myself could be a risk... But I don’t really see it as risk. I see it as more of a learning benefit. I think the risks would be to compromise my freedom by working at an office. Starting this whole thing was a risk because I had no money to start it and I have had to pay rent somehow. Luckily, I like Ramen... So I am fine. I enjoy eating cup o’ noodles.
What helps you transition into your creativity mode. Can you start to paint and find inspiration while in action, or do you have to be hit with inspiration before touching the canvas?
A lot of my ideas come at like 4 in the morning. I don’t sleep at all. I write them down in my phone ASAP. The only way I can start painting or drawing is when I am in my space. And if I am completely focused. It is very hard for me because I need my own space. Right now it’s hard because I’m hanging out with my parents in the suburbs looking for a new place in Toronto. I have my childhood bedroom, so I don’t really have a place to create. I would love to find a space that has more creative people or a an entire apartment to myself just for the clarity. But it is really hard for me to focus. Unless I have a deadline coming up. I have to do things like 2 minutes before it’s due.
Are there other artists in your family? Do you feel like you help your inner circle, friends or family to get more in touch with their artistic side?
I don’t have any other artists in my family. My brother and I though used to draw comics together. He was my biggest competition as an artist as kids. He was always better at drawing than me. He was more of a realist. Mine was more graphic. But then he decided to become a doctor, so I guess I am the one to continue this.
Had you ever considered pursuing a career as a visual artist or did it take you by surprise?
I have always wanted to be an artist. It was the one thing I always wanted to be. I still don’t really know anything but art. A lot of the stuff I did in advertising was creative based. I really didn’t like writing. I still don’t like writing. But I have to do it. Even half my work is text. That I am okay with though because then I control what I write and the messaging. Typically I am a really bad writer though. I think I was asked once to write an essay and I wrote the plot to a Bollywood film. That’s what I’m into I guess. The most writing I do is on Twitter.
Browse more from Maria at www.hatecopy.com