Artist Maria Qamar in Paris. Photography by Nina Slavcheva. 

FIGHT BETI, FIGHT! is the first solo show in Paris by Canada-based Desi-Pop artist Maria Qamar. Her signature ironic comic style, reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein and Marjorie Strider, is punctuated by defiant feminist messages that incorporate Hindi slang. The artist found her first audience on social media, through the Instagram handle @hatecopy, which today counts 195k followers. Finding resonance among art critics such as Roberta Smith of the New York Times and Mindy Kaling who featured her work in The Mindy Project, Maria Qamar transitioned into the fine art world last summer with her New York show at Richard Taittinger. With her show at Phillips now on view, Specialist Clara Rivollet sat down with Qamar to find out more. 

CLARA RIVOLLET: How did you become an artist? Was this career always the plan or something that happened along the way?

MARIA QAMAR: I’ve wanted to draw and paint my entire life. I never thought of the arts as a job or career but rather something that existed as a part of me. I’m grateful for every day that I get to wake up and be an artist.

CR: Your digital presence played a major role in starting your art career. Now that you’ve broken into some more traditional avenues for success, do you still see those channels in the same way?

MQ: The digital platform is as real as it gets for me. It’s helped to form a community around my work that felt comfortable opening up with other members of the South Asian diaspora. It also helped to shape my confidence and to pay forward to the younger generation of South Asian artists looking to branch out into similar avenues.

CR: Who are some artists that inspire you, with whom you see a connection in your work?

MQ: Roy Lichtenstein, of course. But currently, the artists who I am obsessed with are Koal Jang, Vivian Greven and Ukiyoemon Mitomoya and Devan Shimoyama. 

CR: In what ways have your practice and style shifted in the last few years?

MQ: I’ve become more confident in my linework and accepting of my errors. It’s fun to put my old and new piece side by side to compare the details.

CR: Your work is quite personal, dealing with your life and your family. Do you ever worry about letting outsiders into these intimate parts of your identity?

MQ: If I could, I would live as openly as possible. If anything, I’m afraid I won’t get to share it all before I’m gone.

CR: Your works on view at Phillips have a clear motif of conflict and rebellion. Tell us a bit about the meaning behind this exhibition’s title.

MQ: I have fought and witnessed others like me fight for basic human rights and for a life of dignity. Our fight is against the patriarchy; against laws that dictate what a “woman” is and should be; laws that govern how we dress, how much we make,
who we fall in love with, how loud we can be and what spaces we are allowed to take. FIGHT BETI, FIGHT! is a call to daughters everywhere to come together and raise hell.

CR: Can you also explain some of the references to the desi culture in the works shown in the exhibition?

MQ: Words like Jee, Azadi, Zindagi, all point to freedom and liberation. There were a lot of rules in my family when I was young that kept me from growing simply because I was born a girl. The priorities were set to reach goals that served
dated patriarchal traditions and it was seemingly impossible to break free from them. To me, FIGHT BETI, FIGHT! is a personal revolution.

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