For #OCCUPYARABART’s first exclusive artist interview, we spoke with London based, Algerian-Bulgarian visual artist and graphic designer, Meryem Meg.
As an artist Meryem embodies all that is fascinating about being raised across cultures and across countries. Born in Bulgaria with the following years spent in both France and the UK, Meryem recently graduated with an MA in Graphic Design from UAL.
Meg has designed for Nike, Levi’s, O2, Beni and Poetic Pilgrimage and whilst all Ms Meg’s work is touched by her very particular flair her personal projects draw influence from her North African heritage through symbolism and traditional methods of ‘mark making’.
In describing her own work Meryem writes ‘my passion for race, gender and identity has continually surfaced within my design and artistic practice. I am continually striving to empower women and create visual affirmations through my art’. It is in the black and white series ‘Under Fertility’ that we see this mark marking work most powerfully as means to express ideas of ‘woman’. Through the traditional patterns, in stark black and white and employing a sense of rhythm and repetition that is compelling to the viewer, the series speaks of cycles and reproduction; the weight, responsibility and the joy that comes with what it is to be a woman.
Meryem, what does your work represent?
All the moments in between a 25 year old Algerian-Bulgarian in London trying to figure it out.
Our platform is for contemporary Arab art, how much does your mixed heritage influence your work and do you like to be considered as an Arab Artist?
My heritage is a huge part of me, and I am very influenced by both my African and European side, but I don’t like to be labelled as anything. Female/Muslim/Arab artist in general makes me cringe when I see it associated to my work. Yes I’m Muslim, my faith and culture are very much a huge part of it. But there is so much more. I go from listening to Mos Def, to Aznavour to Romeo Santos to Bulgarian Folk. South American art fascinates and fuels me, and I have the an obsession with AbdelLatif Kechiche and crude cinema, and when Junot Diaz writes about the Dominican man, he’s describing the Algerian man also. We connect to the human condition.
Tell us more …….
Everything I consume shapes me. I’ve never truly felt any city to be home, I’ve been moving since forever. So my reality as an “Arab Muslim Female Artist” isn’t what you think it would be. With ways of seeing I wanted to underline our complexity as human beings first and foremost. Not as Exotic or Mystical or Silent. I wanted to get a point across. With the other facets of my work, it’s much more personal, there’s nothing Arab about it. I struggle understanding it myself most of the time. Above all, art is therapy and it’s a pure act of selfishness and healing.
Do you feel there is still a need to combat orientalist perceptions? Do you consider this?
For sure, it is very real and still present, a lot of the time from within also. It has been institutionalised; people don’t know the weight it carries. I see a lot of people labelling them self as ‘orientalist’. It is destructive. You are fighting against it constantly. We have so many facets. Most people see me; see a ‘hijabi’ and they have already made their minds up about me and the kind of background I have, even as an artist, it is draining to constantly have to justify yourself. But by just doing and existing we can work against that.
You’ve called this series ‘Under fertility’, is there a feminist approach to your work?
I celebrate women.
Why did you choose to work in black and white for this series?
Initially it was comfort. I know how to control it, there is less to think about when creating. It allows me to fully put down marks with instinct, rather than breaking that flow thinking about how two colours work together. Black and white is powerful and allows you to strip back visual information. It is more direct, less to focus on. You are just looking at the marks and the way they interact with each other. Colour transcends me, but for this series I wanted something a little more raw / dark yet elegant. I spent a year in B+W. I loved it.
What medium do you like to use?
Posca pens are my best friends, Markers, Spray paints, bamboo pens, ink, and acrylics sometimes.
I chop and screw occasionally digitally, especially when working on publication work and screen prints.
What scale do you work on?
I like to work big generally. I used to go through so many sketch books but don’t do that any more. I have heaps of paper, all A2 and larger, and work my way through that, even when sketching and planning, I feel less comfortable in smaller spaces. I like to feel my arms extend when I’m working. I love huge surfaces, and wish to go even bigger with future works. Even with publication works, I’m trying to produce them bigger.
Do you have a research process?
What do you want the viewer to experience from your work?
What do hope to achieve?
The will to always have a need to create.
Where do you see the future of contemporary Arab art?
It’s so great to see that there is so much going on at the moment. I wish I knew more about it than I do. But I do know that the internet has made it so easy for people to connect in that way. Politically as well as artistically it feels like there is a new wave and voice submerging within the arts. It is accessible and beautiful.
#OCCUPYARABART eagerly anticipates Meryem’s new series, an exploration in colour….