Diasporic artists continue to contribute to the evolving community that is London, Ontario. Alia Tamar is skillfully translating her process of identification into the poetics of representation. Born In The Bahamas, Alia Tamar grew up between the island and Colombia, this duo cultural background along with her move to London is explored in her distinctive work. Alia’s practice not only aims to explore the complexities of her diaspora, it also takes apart the layered and relatable conflict that is mental health – teasing but never giving into the subject matter, leaving the viewer to connect the dots. Even though her work at times figuratively resembles the artist, describing her work as self portraiture comes reluctantly. Tamar renders the figures as translations of emotions rather than mirror images. Self reflection extends to many facets of Alia Tamar’s life, and in the case of this interview, her work as an artist. We caught up with Alia before her move to NYC to discuss how she discovered her love for painting, how she tackles themes of mental health in her work and how she is your go-to-girl for everything pastries.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THEMES AND TOPICS YOU PORTRAY IN YOUR WORK?
The themes I cover with my work are memory preservation. I attempt to document and illustrate experiences in my life that I feel have impacted the way I live and view the world. I also reach back to my culture, being raised in both Colombia and Bahamas; it was very difficult to feel like I fit in, [in either of those places]. So with my art I incorporated the tropical leaves with the bold patterns to create a safe space for myself in my paintings. In these spaces I tackle the topics of mental health; both personal and in general, such as anxiety and depression and being a young woman growing up in different environments and learning to accept yourself. I just be painting to create a safe space where i can feel at home because i don't feel like i belong anywhere. I don't really ask the viewer anything because its not for them. Its for me. I make my art to comfort myself and kind of make me feel like i have a purpose.
HOW WAS IT MANEUVERING THROUGH THESE IDEAS IN A CITY LIKE LONDON?
Living in London was definitely strange. It's a pretty dull and uninspiring town at first glance. But the deeper you get into the community the more interesting it is. I met a lot of important people who pushed me and encouraged me to follow my passion of becoming an independent artist. There's so much untapped potential. I’m glad that that's where i was able to say i officially started my career.
YOUR WORK CONSTANTLY PORTRAYS A FAMILIAR FIGURE IN DIFFERENT WAYS,ARE YOU CREATING SELF PORTRAITS?
(Laughs) I get this question a lot. I don't really paint myself, but guess in a way I do. I try to channel how I feel or what I’m going through in the different women I paint.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS FELT THIS WAS WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO?
No! I was one of those kids who always wanted to be something different every other week or month. I would force my mom to get me different things, put me in classes and I would be about it for like a week and then I would drop it. I wanted to be a pastry Chef, a ballerina, a salsa dancer. I got pretty far in that actually. So I have these random skills. Except for ballet – that didn't work out at all. I got into art because my Mom was an artist. She went to school for it but had to drop out because she had me. She had to find something more financially stable to support us. She never pushed painting on me. In the Bahamas creative careers aren't really advertised, it's not a realistic pursuit. It was in my first year of college, I was having a really hard time so I painted a lot. I started to see a lot of local artists around town pursuing it as a career and I was like ‘I didn't know you could do this!’ So I decided to put myself out there with my work .
WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT WHERE YOU REALIZED THIS ART THING COULD BE IT?
My first art show, so very recently. My first show was kind of like me not showing every one else but myself that I could actually do it. It's one thing to paint and another to do something with your work. I always painted small and always admired large scale paintings so I decided to give it a try; went out to Bijan’s and got my first large wood panel. I loved the way it turned out so much I decided to do a show. I was really proud with how everything turned out so after the show I asked myself what else could I do. I decided to make prints that I sold at Filthy Rebena, and Grow & Bloom. I learned a lot during that time and I still am.
DO YOU FEEL LIKE LONDON IS SUPPORTING YOU AS AN ARTIST?
Definitely. I think that there's a lot of opportunity in London. All the business owners have been really supportive by selling my work. Specifically Natalie & Darlene [of Filthy Rebena]. Their constant encouragement really pushed me. Hearing two established woman tell me that I could do it was really powerful, as well as the exposure they gave me.
‘‘ The deeper you get into the community the more interesting it is. I met a lot of important people who pushed me and encouraged to follow my passion of becoming an independent artist. There's so much untapped potential. I’m glad that that's where i was able to say i officially started my career.’’
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING PART ABOUT BECOMING WHO YOU ARE AS AN ARTIST?
Believing in myself; taking the chance and turning my dreams into reality one step at a time. I doubt myself constantly, so it demotivates me from creating, because I wasn't raised with the mindset of art being an ideal career.
IN THIS DAY AND AGE OF SOCIAL MEDIA DO YOU FEEL THE PRESSURE TO BEHAVE AS A BRAND RATHER THAN AN ARTIST?
In the beginning I did, I thought that if my Instagram page wasn't official and if I didn't have a social media presence, that I might as well just call it quits. While I do still believe your social media presence is helpful, I think hard work and connections in the real world are far more valuable and important, depending on which path you’re trying to take.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST OBSESSION? WHAT DO YOU FEEL EXCITED ABOUT?
My latest obsession is transitioning my art from 2D into 3D. I have such big ideas that I need to get working on but its all a matter of resources. So I'm excited to finally be able to fully do the artwork that I want to.
IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU ALLOW RISK AND FAILURE INTO YOUR OWN DAILY PRACTICE?
I take risks with the colors I use. I tend to get very comfortable with a set of colors and tones and then I get bored, but for some reason I still don't want to veer off into a new color scheme, even though I know I should. If you look at my paintings in order, you'd see a group of them have similar if not the same colors. But yeah, I botch up color combos in my art all the time, that's just the way it is.
WHERE ARE YOU A REGULAR?
In the Bahamas I like to go to the beach a lot to just empty my mind. I love going under the bridge to get THE best fried snapper with peas and rice and plantain. In London I spent a lot of my time at Filthy Rebena.
WHAT'S ONE QUESTION YOU WISH YOU WERE ASKED MORE OFTEN?
I wish people would ask me more about pastries and desserts. I literally know the best places to go for pastries everywhere I go.
Story By Kerry Ssemugenyi