- Published on Sunday, 04 September 2011 10:00
- Category: Art
When one thinks of Muslim art and culture, Dallas, Texas may not be the first place that comes to mind. A city known for big hair and even bigger personalities, Dallas seems like it would be the farthest thing from “the Muslim world” you could imagine. But hidden within this quintessential, western American city lives contemporary artist Adnan Razvi.
Working out of his private studio, Razvi creates provocative and challenging hybrid pop/graffiti artwork that deals with contemporary issues both foreign and domestic. Adnan Razvi recently sat down with Aslan Media to discuss his upbringing, what turned him on to art, and how he approaches his work.
Aslan Media: Give our readers an idea of your upbringing. Where were you born and raised and how did that impact your formative years?
Adnan Razvi: I was born in and spent most of my childhood in Chicago. I grew up in a household with a multitude of cultures; my father is originally from Pakistan and my mother is originally from Uganda. My mother immigrated to Chicago from Uganda, a refugee fleeing the murderous regime of Idi Amin. My father came from Pakistan. Both have lived here for most of their lives.
My grandmother’s stories of our history and her own struggle always served as a reminder of our past and kept me very conscious. Moving to Texas in 2000, was a beautiful re-awakening for me. I did most of my “growing up” in Texas and it nurtured my creativity and imagination immensely. In my opinion, the diversity and beautiful social/cultural acceptance you find in Texas is unique to anywhere else that I have been in the world.
AM: Were your parents artists or artistic in any way or involved in the visual arts? What influenced you as a child to begin your work in the art world?
AR: My father was is not very visually artistic, but very supportive. My mother on the other hand, is extremely artistic. She is into re-decorating the house, designing and creating curtains, and even designs sculptural art pieces. I think the want to truly express myself gave me the drive to begin creating art as a child. To voice my opinion, and change others opinions about what is and what could be.
AM: What age were you when you decided to commit to art as a career?
AR: I realized at a young age that I could change my immediate world through art. As I grow older, I realize I can change the greater world through my art. I can’t remember the exact age maybe around 11 or 12 years old. I used to listen to a ton of Gil Scott Heron, specifically his album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox. Man, the power in his words, what he was talking about defined what was possible to me. He changed my perception of reality, and I figured if an artist could do that through music then I could be able to do the same thing…but visually. Don’t get me wrong, though, I don’t look at art as a “career”. Art is a facet of life, a lifestyle, a burning passion and desire it makes my blood hot every time I think of a new idea.
AM: How much do you feel your training in university influenced your artistic aesthetic?
AR: I attended the University of Texas at Dallas. It is a gem of a university in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Their art program is phenomenal. Being surrounded by growing as well as accomplished artists really pushed me to the next level. I was constantly provided feedback and unending positive support from my peers and professors. I would say that it gave me the courage to take on more complex projects I envisioned and not to remain comfortable in a stagnant trend that seemed safe. Within UTD’s art program, constant growth is happening with all the artists that are lucky enough to be a part of the movement. It helped my artistic aesthetic greatly and gave me the sense that I could accomplish anything I imagined.
AM: Was your degree in Art? Do you feel that to function as an artist in contemporary society that a degree was a beneficial undertaking?
AR: No my degree was not in art, but in Historical Studies, although I took an enormous amount of art classes. I feel, as an artist in contemporary society a degree is, without a doubt, a beneficial undertaking. You learn what goes on behind the scenes to landing a gallery show. You become well versed on the different facets of putting on an exhibition, interacting with your peers, and understand the history of what you are doing. Do I feel it is a requirement though? Of course not. There are countless artists who succeed wonderfully without an art degree. Although based on comparison of those with an art degree and those without, it gives you a strong edge based on the knowledge you acquire over 4 years of education. I studied History, which serves as a wonderful tool when giving meaning and depth to my paintings and their underlying message as they usually carry historical references. Although compared to my peers who do have a degree in Art, they have a competitive edge of knowing what to expect in certain situations while I have to learn along the way.
AM: Have you ever felt that you have been treated as a pariah in society in the West?
AR: Never. I am “the West.” To look at myself or feel as something different will force me to exclude myself from what I naturally am. “The West” is a beautiful collection and mixture of people from different cultures, religions, and orientations. Texas, for instance, is probably THE most accepting place I’ve ever had the pleasure of residing in. I personally have never had a bad experience. Although I do know some that have had to battle the mentality of a slight few that are ignorant. I am never worried about being viewed as different or outcaste, as long as I am honest to my craft and myself. In my opinion you must celebrate and embrace what you are, by being conscious and positive to yourself, you will through action invite others to do the same.
AM: To what extent do you feel your culture and heritage has influenced your art aesthetic?
AR: My culture and heritage have had a major impact on my artistic aesthetic. Most of my pieces comment on culture in some form. I tend to mix bright colors with strong messages. I enjoy commenting on issues that not everyone is exposed to and change viewpoints of certain cultures in regards to others. I use a mixture of contemporary urban art mixed in with ideas not usually associated with my culture. The use of graffiti letters, with playful comical images seem very lighthearted yet the messages they carry with it usually has a strong serious tone forcing the viewers to think about the subject in a certain manner. This causes them to look back at the image and re-assess what they have seen causing them to interpret the image as a whole with a different focus entirely. This process in itself is what happens in regards to discovering and understanding different cultures. There are always two sides to every story that needs to be depicted, and I try to accomplish this through my work.
AM: Whom do you create your artwork for, do you have a specific audience in mind? Do you create just for yourself?
AR: A little bit of both actually. I create my work for myself as a means of stress relief and expression. Yet by releasing tension it is usually to comment on issues that I take in from my surroundings and interpretation of greater society. By commenting on such issues I am inviting a greater audience to take part in my depiction. Some pieces are catered specifically for certain audiences that will look at my piece and feel a certain emotion or confidence after viewing it. I do that for a specific purpose. Although I really love focusing on young people as an audience, because the youth are the most honest and have the power to change the future.
AM: Has the oeuvre of other artists influenced your-self as an artist? Who were your favorites?
AR: Yes!! I am influenced daily by the array of artists I am blessed to interact with. Currently I work in an artist collective called “Solvent”. We are a very diverse group of creatives and are growing creatively individually and especially as a whole. I would say my favorite artists change all the time. I have an undying love and respect for the work of Ibn al-Bawwab, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Mir Ali Tabrizi, Seyyid Kasim Gubari, BLU, Keith Haring, Blek le Rat, Banksy, Dondi White, EWOK, Revok, Rime, and Frank Tringali….this is just to name a few the list could go on for years.
AM: Have those favorites changed over the years?
AR: Without a doubt, I am always evolving as is my style and influences. I plan to let my art change and grow so my influences must indeed change and grow.
AM: In your own words, what has the response been to your work? Do you have any interesting accounts of how someone reacted to your art in either a positive of negative way?
AR: I have received an overwhelmingly positive response to my work. I really enjoy when people can identify with the overall message I am trying to send with the specific piece I am exhibiting. I sometimes even get the honor of being the catalyst for long discussions on those issues, which is always a great pleasure. One viewer insisted that I send my piece Be A Rebel or A Slave to the United Nations to help with awareness. The piece was specifically commenting on how in the year 2009 there over 5,400 women raped in the Congo. When explaining the piece, I emphasized the aspect that many of these atrocities take place as a pure form of warfare. I also went on to explain how it was not someone creeping through the night as one may expect, but through traumatizing methods of subjugated gang rape. I also explained that many of these nations do not have adequate centers/shelters for women who had to suffer through these atrocities. After viewing, many people told me they did a great deal of research on the topic and were astonished by what they found. An interesting reaction to a piece I created was an individual telling me quite frankly that my piece entitled I’m Muslim Don’t Panick was an oxymoron because how could one not panic if there was a Muslim present. By viewing the piece he let me know what his true thoughts and feelings, which was very honest of him to do so. I created the piece in order to make individuals think about if it was ok or not ok to feel tense around Muslims.
AM: With all the unrest in the region right now, and the revolutions of the Arab Spring, do you feel these themes or issues that relate to revolution have appeared in your work?
AR: Oh without a doubt. I recently completed a piece called I’m Not A Terrorist. In it I completed a image of a woman in a hijab. The color of the hijab is purple representing regality yet the face is a skull showing the truest form, which was being an American, or belonging to a specific nation. Many when viewing would see it as something to be feared when in reality our bones are our rawest, most honest form. Anyways I wrote in Arabic “I am not a terrorist” backwards to signify that to classify someone as something based on their appearance is a backwards and ignorant. This helps the person viewing the painting understand that women that wear the hijab are people and normal and have allegiance to their respective country as anyone else does. The piece in entirety is about helping others realize that we too are human beings, once they work through the fear of us that they hold within them. Once they realize that then they can identify with the beautiful revolutions taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.
To be revolutionary is to revolt, to revolt is to turn away in mental rebellion. My work in some instances causes the viewer to break the chains shackled upon them to view certain subjects in an entirely different light causing a revolution in their interpretation of people of a certain culture/religion.
AM: Do you think your work is controversial?
AR: I do not hesitate to use images that I have been taught may be controversial or uncomfortable for viewers. Chaotic layouts, Lips representing sexuality, stoic figures wearing lipstick; I try not to shy away from the controversial in regards to the message. To many viewers it is not controversial in the least and to some it is very controversial. I think we can agree it may be not a “safe” option for everyone, in comparison to a landscape painting.
AM: If not art, then what would you be doing?
AR: Probably deepen my study in Martial Arts, open a dojo/gym, teach people qi-gong, meditation, tai-chi, and yoga. I live a very active lifestyle. Also doing tons of historical research on the different civilizations of the world.
AM: Do you feel that you will ever reach a point where you will become bored with art?
AR: No. I’ve had the same thought process since I’ve been conscious of my surroundings. This same process drives me to make art.
For more information on Adnan Razvi, or to view more images of his work, please visit www.mr-razvi.com.
By Erin Joyce, Aslan Media Art Editor