artist mirak jamal's experience as a displaced refugee from iran has influenced his work strongly. now living in canada, mirak continues to show in the united states, despite the fact that he and his family were asked to leave on very brief notice 5 yrs ago by the u.s. government. however not deterred, he continues to make art that tells a story of a life that often times feels displaced but by no means lost. i recently interviewed mirak by email...
your work is heavily influenced by your family's deportation from the u.s. can you talk a little bit about what happened to you and your family?
up to this point, several un-ordinary incidents in my lifetime have strongly shaped me as a person, and with it my recent body of work. the most recent event was our forced relocation five years ago. we moved to america from germany in 1994...on july 4th to be exact. after a while we gained work permits, social security, and a "permanent resident" status. our ordinary lives were interrupted in mid-december 2002, when each member of the family received a very brief letter describing in a sugar-coated and diplomatic manner that we had 30 days to leave the country, and that this was the final decision and that an appeal won't be granted. why we received this letter was not explained, since this decision was not a follow-up to any court hearing or trial.
the unexplained mystery of this letter from virginia, and its harsh statement lead me to believe that this was nothing but an ignorant display of the bush administration and its patriot act in a post-911 america to rid itself of mythical "threats". this was a very unstable time for us, not only because of our friends and possessions that were left behind, but especially since we had nowhere to go. leaving a place in a short time is one thing, figuring out where to turn to when there were no options...that was worrying.
before your most recent show "portrait of a refugee" you came to find out that you and your family had been banned and could not visit the the states for ten yrs. how did you come to find this out?
i tried to organize an appointment at the u.s. consulate for a visit, but they informed me of a warrant and a 10 year bar from entering. their reason being that we failed to report our departure from america. i thought it was obvious that we had left after receiving the letter, and all the national buzz about the incident.
is there a way to appeal this?
i got my first actual appointment coming up very soon...we'll see! i try to stay optimistic.
how does your family feel about your work?
we discuss art quite a bit, it's probably the center of our conversations. they support me for everything art related, and feedback is important. my parents are both fine artists, and are both accomplished painters i respect, and i couldn't be more thankful of growing up in a creative environment. i'd like to do another show with them. even though the styles can be drastically different, i think that it's a nice concept.
your watercolors are really very beautifully done, often words are used in your work. are you a fan of type/fonts?
i love fonts. i've been digging up old drawings with my mom very recently. i was quick to notice my interest in fonts as early as the age of 4. i remember in germany i used to have drawing books filled with logos that i would copy from sports teams, skateboard graphics, and various bands. so everything school related had "Public Enemy", "Powell Peralta", or "Miami Dolphins" drawn on it...kinda funny. but this early interest would gradually develop into my youth dominated by the graffiti subculture. i also credit graff as what kept my interest in art steady through out all these years. i think my sense of bold colors is also heavily derived from painting graffiti pieces.
you've said that most artists use their art as a way to escape struggles as opposed to confronting them. how do you see yourself confronting your struggles through your art?
through my own personal life that has become political itself, i'd like to present universal struggles through an artistic, personal, and a human perspective. my point is not simply to create depressing work, but to reflect on that kind of subject matter through a hopeful depiction. hope is very important, and without it we won't progress. maybe i'm bias, but i consider my art to be visually calm, considering the concepts. it's just my way to paint something nice to look at, while saying "if you're searching for something meaningful, hey the concept is all there". i don't wanna shove messages down people's throats.
often artists exorcise demons through their work and then move on...do you feel like you are constantly processing the same struggles? do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? or do you think your history will always play a major role in your work?
what i've visualized so far seems to be a drop in the bucket. maybe i'll speak about the same themes in a different way in the distant future, i don't really know. but i'd like to elaborate further on parallels between my history, culture, and society at present. it also helps me define my identity as a repeated immigrant.
did you go to school for art? if so, where?
i attended the ontario college of art and design. but i have mixed feelings about art school. it works for some people though.
you have another 5 yrs before you can come back to the states, when you are able, will you? where do you think you will go first and why?
first of all austin, texas! i lived important years there, and have many friends there. i miss them. but I'd like to visit new york city, it will probably do me good. i've never been.
what's the art scene like in toronto? what are some of your favorite galleries and haunts there?
i have artist friends of various backgrounds here, but i wouldn't consider it a scene. i should probably venture out more often to these gallery wine gatherings. my damn painting habit just gets in the way. there are some good galleries on queen w. like MOCA, edward day etc.
who are some of your favorite artists? who are you watching right now?
hmmm, way too many to pick a particular list really. my influences vary...as i like anything from graphic design, illustrative work, contemporary stuff, abstract things, to architecture, and graffiti. it's hard, but i try to create a hybrid between all these influences, to keep me artistically satisfied.
what is in store for 2008? any shows coming up?
the year just kicked off and I'm already pretty damn excited. so far i have one solo show coming up in new york in august...and everything else will fall into place from there i'm sure. we'll see!!"
be sure to check out mirak's blog, to be left handed behind, where he uploads new work and information on what he's up to.