TORONTO: Wicked humour and dark truth come together in Toronto-based Maria Qamar’s art. The pop artist’s satirical work, which takes a jibe at South Asian ‘aunties’ everywhere, has gained a massive fan following across the globe – her Instagram handle @hatecopy, where she uploads her artwork, has over 70,000 followers and counting. Maria Qamar’s art depicts the dilemmas ‘brown’ women face regardless of whether they are in South Asia or living in the West. Her latest comic book titled ‘Trust No Aunty’ takes the puns to a step further. The book fuses together a classic Lichtenstein style with the melodrama of typical South Asian households, and highlights overprotective parents, scandalised aunties and young women defying them all. Maria Qamar was born in Karachi to a Bihari father and Gujarati mother and moved to Canada with her family in 2000 at the age of 11. Growing up as a ‘brown’ girl in the West, she faced several challenges arising from a collision of cultures and decided to pen them down in her sketches. It’s very recently that I have stopped pretending to be someone else. I moved to Canada from Pakistan in 2000. Moving to a Western society from Pakistan a year before 9-11, there was this — tension. That whole thing happened, where I wake up one day, and go to school, and everyone hates you. I was 9 or 10 at the time.I became really confused. I was bullied and picked upon. Called Paki a lot. Meanwhile I was just trying to make some new friends. So I started believing what other kids told me: That I’m ugly because I’m brown. That my food stinks.
My parents did the best they could to make me and my brother feel that we weren’t missing anything. But we did not discuss bullying or racism in the household. We just pretended it was not there, it was not a problem. But I didn’t want kebabs or paranthas in my lunch box. I started asking my mom for Pizza Pops or Lunchables … I stopped watching Bollywood, stopped embracing my culture. The one thing I didn’t let go of was the fact that I loved to draw. I used to keep a sketchbook, like a diary, you know? I saw it in a movie, all the girls kept diaries. I would come back home from school and just draw what happened. Today I went to school, and a white boy called me Paki. I’d draw myself sad, then wanting to take revenge, maybe throw bird poop at him, like in Home Alone. My parents found out I was drawing constantly after school. They saw the drawings hanging on my walls. So my dad told me we needed to talk. I think I was 13. He asked me what kind of a job I could get as an artist. I told him, maybe an independent artist, animator, illustrator. Maybe I could do storyboards. I knew there were opportunities. But my parents had just come from Pakistan. They were chemists. They had no concept of this field. My father told me that he thought I would be drawing people’s faces in a fair. My mother didn’t approve either. They thought art was distracting me from my studies.
I went to school for creative advertising. I got a job as a copywriter in an ad agency. But I always drew my pitches. I was drawing in meetings. Two years after working there, I was told I was going to get laid off. In my final week there, I was sitting in a meeting one day, and thought, today I’m going to draw something. I drew this woman crying, with the caption “I burnt the rotis,” and posted it on Instagram. One of the first (people) to like it was (spoken word artist) Humble the Poet. Then his fans liked it. And then (YouTube celebrity) Jus Reign liked it. Suddenly lots of people started liking my work.I don’t know when I stopped hiding. I don’t know when I started being proud of my culture. It was around the time when females of colour started speaking out online. They were talking about self-love and self-respect. I realized I was not alone. It’s so corny but when people like my work I feel like I have friends that I can crack jokes with. The only person I used to be able to make these jokes with was my brother, or my cousins who visited maybe once a month. When I see people laughing and tagging their friends, I feel happy I can connect and talk with more people.