Today we are highlighting the work and achievements of one
of our alumni: Tajliya Jamal. Taj has had a long history as a student in AFK
programs, turned artists assistant and now as an exhibiting artist alongside
her partner in the Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art. As a recent grad from Emily Carr
University, Taj shares with us about her experience at AFK and how it lead to
where she is now as a curatorial assistant at the Evergreen Cultural Centre.
You can find more of her work on Instagram @tajliyaj.
1. What is your history with AFK?
I first went to Artist’s For Kids summer camp
when I was about 12 years old, and I didn’t stop going each year until I finished
high school. Now I return when I can to help out at the summer camp; it’s nice
to give back in some way to a significant part of my childhood.
Taj working alonside peers at Paradise Valley Summer School of Visual Art, 2009.
2. What's your favourite memory with AFK?
There are many different memories that I look
back on fondly, so I think it’s difficult to pick something specific… As a kid
lot of my favourite moments were making friends with peers who cared as much
about creative work as I did. I also think fondly about the yearly campfire
night [that took place at the Paradise Valley Summer School of Visual Art] where everyone sat together like a big family and could enjoy each
other’s presence and the peaceful energies of the land around us. Now as an
adult my favourite moments are seeing the same spark I had in me appear in
other children, and of peaceful bike rides between rows of trees :)
3. What inspired you to pursue a career in the
It’s pretty stereotypical, I was always
drawing and writing and making things as a kid, so I didn’t think I could do
anything that wasn’t a creative career. Of course, I had many doubts around
high school; people love to caution the viability and stability of creative
work, but I’m really lucky to have had active support from my parents, my high school
art teachers, and of course from everyone at AFK. It was especially encouraging
to meet so many practicing artists at a young age, and to see the variety of
people working at the camp (many of whom have careers involved with the arts in
Taj working on a self-portrait project at Paradise Valley Summer School of Visual Art, 2013.
4. How did AFK set you up as you went into
Emily Carr? Or your new position at the Evergreen Cultural Centre.
It’s tough to think of something specific, but
I think AFK’s summer camp provided a space for me to devote myself
wholeheartedly to creative production. Of course, you can get that from art
classes in school, but to have the experience of being surrounded by peers that
were just as devoted and wanted to grow was really special. I think that raised
my expectations of others and of myself, and helped me push harder in my
creative work, and my work ethic overall. Exposure to so many working artists
was extremely educational as well, and definitely taught me better listening
5. What type of work are you doing at the
Evergreen Cultural Centre? What's your favourite part?
My position is curatorial assistant; I get the
amazing opportunity to do lots of research and writing, and exercise
problem-solving. Admittedly, there is a lot of tedious email-writing and phone
calls, but the focus is always on learning more about other artists, and
developing a stronger arts community. My work also deals with better
representing artists and increasing accessibility to diverse audiences of
various age groups and cultural backgrounds, so there’s a lot to consider. I
feel very lucky to learn about and be a part of the behind-the-scenes work that
gives artists support -- it’s tough work but it is so essential. I really
respect Evergreen’s curator Katherine Dennis for the work she does, and I have
a new appreciation for the work of all curators out there!
6. Explain a little bit about the piece Torpor.
What is it about, how was the collaboration aspect, what was it like expanding
your medium to animation?
My partner, Randi Hamel and I came up with Torpor in
response to the intense fatigue and lack of relief for ourselves and so many of
our peers. “Torpor” refers to a state of lethargy and mental inactivity,
and we wanted to make a space that would relax but also engage visitors.
Leading up to this project, I had been drawing these repeated patterns that
would help me stay somewhat focused and awake. These patterns kept coming up
everyday in my notes, sketchbook, and prints, and I realized I wanted to see
them moving. That’s how the animation medium became a clear next step for me;
I’m lucky my partner studied animation and was able to not only create this
work with me, but teach me the fundamental skills of animation. I’m really not
equipped with the technical skills to put media together, so those aspects were
taken care of by my partner. I took to light-tables, animating patterns by
hand. It went better than I thought; this kind of project could never have been
made, let alone thought of, without the conversations and ideas sparking
between my partner and I.
Students sit beneath the digital media and sculpture work during a Gallery Program, 2019.
7. What was it like when you found out your
piece was going to be in the gallery?
Honestly, it took a while to actually sink in.
Daylen Luchsinger, who I’ve known for years, had come to see the project at the Emily Carr
grad show and told me that he really liked it. He casually mentioned something
about showing it, though my assumption was that it would be for a small event
or workshop. Later, things set into place more clearly, and after realising our
project would actually be shown in the Gordon Smith Gallery as part of a full
length show, I was overwhelmed. It’s an amazing feeling to have been a child
looking up to so many talented and hard-working people, to develop strong
relationships with them, and then to have the chance to step up and be on equal
footing with them.
Using various techniques including print
media, publishing, and animation, my work engages the power of visual
storytelling. Often working autobiographically, I choose to tell stories of
vulnerability and invisibility in order to invoke empathy in my readers and
viewers. Many of my works deal specifically with invisibility of multiracial
identities, and subsequent feelings of discomfort, belonging, and difference.
These topics are drawn from both personal experience and research. You can find more work on Instagram @tajliyaj.