25-year-old artist Maria Qamar, best known as Hatecopy, has built a cult following around her pointed pop art meets Bollywood prints. Both skewering and honouring the legend of the Desi "aunty," Qamar's work takes on a slice of life inhabited by South Asian women featuring poisoned chai, burnt rotis and the daily drama of living. The bright, poppy paintings have found big fans in the likes of Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham. Her new book, Trust No Aunty comes out on August 1 and pulls together her collection of aunties with recipes and practical advice on surviving womanhood, regardless of race.
I met up with her at her home in Toronto to talk about what kind of aunty she's become and the critical value of South Asian representation.
VICE: OK, for those who were not blessed enough to grow up with them, describe an "aunty."
Maria Qamar: An aunty is just any older lady. She could be part of your family or not.
But someone you're forced to respect?
Someone you're forced to respect, yes.
And who loves to intrude in your life?
They could. I mean there's auntys that are called the soft aunty which are there for love and they're kind of like this motherly figure. They care about you. But most of the time, auntys are just any older lady that in our culture we respect. We have to respect our elders and call them aunties. But sometimes when you're chirping somebody you can also call them an aunty. If they are like old school in their ways.
You just described one version of the auntie, what are some others?
It all depends on the context. So, I would consider my mom the soft aunty now. She's very nurturing and caring. When she was younger I'm pretty sure she used to be the Bollywood aunty because she's very dramatic, also, very animated and dramatic. There's also aunties that are the weight watcher aunty. When you're at the wedding or at a social gathering and you go for thirds and she's been keeping track and she lets you know that she's been keeping track of how much you're eating.
But she calls it "healthy."
It's healthy. Like you're getting very healthy. You're looking very healthy today. And then there is the over feeder aunty which is the opposite of the weight watcher aunty, where she doesn't think you're healthy enough. So you have to have 40 rotis in order to be satisfied. That was very hard to get away from cause you don't want to insult her cooking but you also don't want to die. So, yeah.
So, in that context, describe the inspiration for the name of the book.
"Trust No Aunty" it was kind of my little motto during my teens and my early 20s because it felt like all the criticism that I received was kind of keeping me from reaching my potential in the creative field. That was kind of something that I kept in my mind like "OK, trust no aunty, trust no aunty." Cause everything I heard was very like—the usual stuff. Be a doctor, lawyer, engineer or just be a teacher or something and get married to a doctor, lawyer or engineer. It was never like pursue your own path in the arts, we don't know much about it but you should go out and explore it and whatever. There were no real encouragements for me anyways. So, that was kind of my humorous take-on tackling all the bad advice that I've gotten.
Aside from the criticism what are some of the most memorable aunty moments that stick out in your mind and that have made their way into your art?
I would say a lot of it is modelled after the hyperbolic scenarios in soap operas. Like Indian or Pakistani dramas that show these women overreacting to a situation. Which then, obviously, reminds me of my mother. So a lot of them are modeled after her. And then there were some that were just from everyday encounters where I'm going for seconds and then somebody says, "Oh, you're looking a little healthy in the arms." And it's like, "what's wrong with my arms?"
Obviously, your family have seen your work, do they ever see themselves in it and go, "Oh my God I can't believe I do that"?
There's a part of the book where I talked to my mom about what [she] could have done differently [knowing] that I'm going to be doing this for life. And she said, "you know I wish I would've listened a little bit more…" But I also don't really blame them for thinking the way they do because they're kind of learning and growing with me. Back home, it wasn't really kind of books and arts and things like that. It wasn't really a career path that we really knew anything about. Think of it this way. We grew up with Google. When Google was first starting out that was my childhood. So you couldn't even go online and look it up and get more information. So, it's a cultural barrier and I think now they're kind of learning more about it as I learned more about it. And they're kind of growing with me at their own pace.
Is there an aunty trait that you find yourself doing as you get older?
I have a few, but one big aunty trait that I have is I feed everybody when they come to my house. I sometimes overfeed people.
It's true you just gave me a giant ice cream cone which I devoured. So thank you.
Food is also one of the ways that I kind of bond with people and I cook a lot like a lot of Indian food. So—
What's your number one dish?
Because I'm part Bengali it's always daal, rice and fish—that's like my staple. If there isn't rice in the house, it's not my house. And fish, obviously, I fry the shit out of every fish. And that's like my meal. Even in college, that was like, it cost nothing to make. It's a staple and it tastes amazing. So, yeah.
I would definitely be the Bollywood aunty. In fact, my husband was looking through the book and he was like, "I don't want you to take this the wrong way. But there's a picture in there that really reminded me of a face you make."
Oh my god.
And it was just a very dramatic face.
Oh yeah. Definitely.
And I was like, "oh yeah shit. That looks exactly like me."
Online stalker aunty, that's me also. Fun fact, I stalk everybody that follows me on Instagram. I click on their profile, I find out who they are, who their friends are. Even if that's on private I'd be like, "oh, why? What are you all about? Where are you from?" But yeah. I've lurked everybody that follows me. Facebook also.
Good to know.
If somebody leaves a negative comment on my Facebook page or whatever, I make sure that I go on their page, go through their friends list, find out who their friends are. And I think I actually made a post like that, I was like, "if you ever leave anything negative on my page, I'm going to find out who your mom is on Facebook and I'm going to tell her that you're being mean to me.
I do that, too.
Yeah. I stalk everybody.
How has being South Asian inspired your work, outside of aunties?
Obviously, the work is inspired by the South Asian community but it's also just who I am. A lot of people come and go like you make Desi art. I don't make desi art. I make art and I'm a Desi. And I'm brown. So that's just the nature of what I do, I'm going to speak through it, speak about it through the lens of a South Asian woman. And that's the only way I can describe what I do.
And it's amazing how starved we are for the representation. You see it and think, "fuck, I've never seen this before. But I've lived with it my whole life. Where has it been?"
For me, it was important because I was so tired of talking to people that didn't understand who I was or where I was coming from and I was always felt like I was justifying or explaining my culture so much and I'm like, "why am I doing that?" So, when I was drawing, when I was making my work, I was like, "OK I'm just going to talk to us for a second." And I always explain my body of work, or my social media or whatever as kind of like one big inside joke or a conversation amongst like a hundred thousand cousins. So we're all kind of in it together. It's refreshing to see that I'm not alone in feeling a certain way. And that other people have their input and other people have something to say about this little bit in our culture that we find funny or strange or something that we need to change amongst ourselves or whatever.
It's also the reason why I don't translate a lot of the words that are in the artwork because it's not really meant for anybody outside of our community. But if you are curious then you can go to your Desi friend and ask "oh what does bakwas mean?" And that's a nice way to learn about the culture. It's outside of like yoga, butter chicken, all this like, weird—I don't know, whatever stereotypes the media has created for Desis. But I feel like the more we talk to ourselves the more we kind of retain our sanity. We're not alone. We're in this together, it's fine. Let's just grow together and work together to become successful on our own terms.
Follow Amil on Twitter