Interview with Artist Aquil Virani about His Hopes for Ottawa Inshallah-A Project Showcasing Muslim Artists from the National CapitalWritten by Chelby Daigle
'Ottawa Inshallah' is a bilingual art anthology being produced by artist Aquil Virani that will feature 25 Ottawa-based Muslim artists who dream of a better future. Submissions are still open until May 22.
Muslim Link interviewed Aquil Virani about his hopes for the 'Ottawa Inshallah' project.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to live in Ottawa
I’m a visual artist and graphic designer of Indian and French heritage and an Ismaili Muslim currently living on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory in Ottawa. My partner’s extended family lives in the surrounding area as well; she landed a job here which pushed us to move. It’s great to be here.
How did the idea for 'Ottawa Inshallah' develop?
In some ways, this project is a continuation of my artistic work that promotes the representation of Muslim communities on our own terms. I believe strongly in the power of art as a tool for social change. While I often have lots to say, I also like to pass the microphone to others; I think every discussion can be enriched by inviting the right people to speak and be heard. One way to dismantle the simplistic understanding of Muslim culture in Canada is to build a stage for all of us to shine. To combat the negative stereotypes and associations, I wanted to frame our expressions with positivity and anchor our expressions in optimism.
How did you discover the opportunity to have the project funded by the City of Ottawa and what was the process?
As a visual artist, I systematically seek out opportunities offered by funding bodies, often promoted on their website and in their newsletters. In addition to supporting individual artists, the City of Ottawa also offers a “Diversity in the Arts” program for community-based projects and events. I submitted a draft early so that I could incorporate feedback from the grant officer. After applying in November of last year with a project proposal and budget, I received a notification email in mid-March that the project would be supported!
Tell us about the workshops you will be offering and how they can help local Muslim artists?
I did my best to create a clear “call for submissions” document, but I know that questions can arise and it’s nice to be able to speak to a real person when preparing. First and foremost, the workshops are meant to be an informational session with a Q&A. I am also happy to use the workshops to connect with other artists and help them brainstorm, if needed. So much of art is social – bouncing ideas off of each other and seeing what’s interesting to someone else. Not all artists feel confident with their ideas right off the bat. For the workshops, I am a cheerleader.
How will winning submissions be selected?
Winning submissions will be selected by a jury of three leaders in the Ottawa-Muslim-Arts landscape. They will be judged according to artistic merit and relevance to the theme. The goal of the project is to display the creativity and diversity of our communities, both in terms of identity and artistic medium. Because we can’t possibly feature all of the deserving artists in Ottawa in the book, my plan is to include a broader “community” section where we feature the names and preferred web link of everyone who submitted something. This way, we’re not limited by the confines of the pages. Our community’s brilliance cannot be contained in a single book.
What do you hope the long term impact of this project will be in Ottawa?
The first goal is to build community among the plural Muslim groups in Ottawa. I also want to help raise the profile of Ottawa-based Muslim artists. Making creative work during a pandemic is challenging, so my hope is that this opportunity can provide a small, temporary beacon of light. To print a book is to leave a mark. To plant a flag in the current moment and say: this is what some of the artists and writers from our community were creating in 2021 as they looked to a brighter future.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes, thank you!(1) Marginalized communities, especially in artistic contexts, are often pressured to “perform their trauma,” leading to a stronger association with negativity, pain and injustice. While telling these stories is important, I also wanted to be clear that Muslim artists should be free to explore subject areas beyond islamophobia. (2) I am excited to see how the project connects us, but during the pandemic, everything is an experiment. In turbulent times, we can still reach out our hands and see what happens. (3) If you have any questions, please email me: aquilvirani[at]gmail.com. You can find details of the workshops this week in the call for submissions.
The Ottawa Inshallah project gratefully acknowledges, once again, the financial support of the City of Ottawa.
To learn more about artist Aquil Virani, visit his website here
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