Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I just graduated from McMaster with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art. I started in 2012 and had somewhat like a rough start; changed my mind, left, worked in between and then came back. It took me a while to figure out that Studio Art was the right progran for me but when I did I feel like it really paid off and shaped who I am today.
What is “I’m the Bomb”?
I created two, large scale banners that depict two women, one who wears the hijab or a veil and the other one does not. Both are wearing shades and they’re also wearing t-shirts that say “I’m the bomb” in the two pieces hanging beside one another. The piece kind of works on a few different levels. One of the most obvious levels is addressing our innate prejudice against certain groups of people and who is more privileged than others to wear or represent certain things or what kinds of stigma do we attach to certain groups of people versus others. It’s also a piece that, at least for me the way I view it, is empowering for the Muslim community. In the face of radical groups like ISIS today kind of making a claim for Islam and using the Muslim identity to do heinous acts, this is sort of to address,in an unapologetic way, that people have created this idea of who Muslims are based on falsehood. We can’t express ourselves in a way like that without certain questions being raised about whether or not we as just people are safe to be around. A lot of people took this piece in the opposite direction. It infuriated a lot of people and I was aware that it could possibly do that. I was aware that people might think it’s just recycling the image of violence back out there again. But I would claim maybe it could do that if the woman on the left was by herself. She’s not, she’s contrasted with another image, and in that conversation that happens between them is the point of the piece. The last level, at least based on the feedback that I got, was that a lot of people who identify as female are excited about how empowering it is. We don’t often get to say “I’m the bomb”, like I’m awesome, or wear shirts that say that. We often come across items of clothing that have different kinds of messages on them.
“This is sort of to address in an unapologetic way, that people have created this idea of who Muslims are based on falsehood We can’t express ourselves in a way like that without certain questions being raised.”
Can you tell me more about the feedback you received?
The first week that it was up, it went viral on social media and a lot of people thought that it was an advertisement on a subway done by H&M. So, in light of what H&M did in December, they took it as that. So some people got it, some people didn’t, but I was also aware of that when I made it. I knew what H&M had done and I knew that there was a possibility that people would take it that way and that’s okay, because it plays into the dialogue or the conversation surrounding the work. It’s upsetting that people didn’t dig a little deeper, didn’t try to figure out what it really was. Not for recognition or anything like that, but that it wasn’t an act of racism towards anybody and actually there’s a deeper message behind it. That was a tough weekend. I had a lot of hate mail but it was good overall.
Why did you choose to display this piece in the Student Centre?
For a while I had been creating work for gallery spaces and museums, and I actually struggled with getting people who were part of a community that didn’t interact with art to view the work. I was creating work for Muslims to view as well as other people and unfortunately, although there’s a move towards the arts in the Muslim community, most of the time the spaces, especially in Hamilton and the surrounding areas, are not occupied by people of color, let alone Muslims or religious people or people who like to create artwork about their religious identity. I knew that if I wanted to reach Muslims and talk about the things that address us and who we are and have that seen by everyone and not just Muslims, I had to bring it into a public space. I had never done anything on a public level before so I thought that since I had my graduating show happening at the McMaster Museum of Art that having it somewhere close by would be a good idea. I liked the idea of it being on display in the University specifically because it’s an institution of education, it’s a place where people are still shaping who they are. So it’s just a great opportunity to educate people in a place where they’re already learning.
“Community projects like this, where learning is happening outside of a classroom and you get to interact with it is a type of learning that’s more accessible…”
Why is this piece important to the McMaster community?
Other than the fact that there’s a big Muslim community at McMaster, I think that, at least from my time here, the arts program itself isn’t really known all that much. One thing that I find is really great about this piece is that if people get intrigued by it and dig a little deeper about where it came from they’ll discover the program. It’s good representation for something that brings a lot of experiential learning to the McMaster community and I think often gets overlooked. At the end of the day, you get a degree and you go to classes and stuff like that, but community projects like this, where learning is happening outside of a classroom and you get to interact with it is a type of learning that’s more accessible and it’s relatable to everybody. It’s that connection between the artist and the viewer that doesn’t necessarily happen in a classroom or a lecture setting for everybody because it just crosses that boundary and crosses hierarchies too. I’m not there when people are looking at the work. I’m not like some authoritative figure. So I’m able to just speak to people without having that baggage with me. It’s a form of experiential learning and I think McMaster can really benefit from having more of it outside of the McMaster Museum of Art. Not to say that what’s going on in the museum is an amazing, it is. But I’d like to see more artwork on campus because I feel like people enjoyed it.