That’s what artist Aquil Virani set out to do in celebration of his 25th birthday last Friday. Sounds crazy? That’s because it is. But impossible? Not at all. Some of you may remember Virani from our coverage of his Canada day exhibit last year, showing the Canadian self-portrait made with the help of Rebecca Jones and about 850 other collaborators from across the country. Last year, he also set out to complete 24 art works in 24 hours for his 24th birthday. Clearly, Virani isn’t afraid of a challenge. So, one week ago, I made my way back to Galerie Mile-End, enjoyed some delicious brownies, even bumped into an old friend, and, most of all, entered Virani’s creative world once again.
What I loved about this exhibit was that Virani didn’t try to hide the rushed feeling in his work. There were imperfections, there were bits of some pieces in others – the tape that had been used to paint straight lines in one of the paintings was then used as collage material for another piece – and even the curation had a sense of urgency to it. But this doesn’t mean the works lacked any reflection or meaning. Virani managed to make 100 thoughtful and thought provoking artworks, including stencils, photos, collages, watercolours, paintings and drawings, in his time limit. They covered everything from politics to the personal; they were funny, silly, but also asked meaningful questions about our society and values. Artworks 10-12, the series “Let’s keep Justin to his word”, for example, is a stencil of Canadian prime minister Trudeau over pages from the The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s mandate. Another, works 13-18, “Today’s female beauty standards and a banana”, are six photographs taken of a banana with the word ‘pretty’ etched into it. Each photo shows the banana in a more advanced state of decay. In his artist statement, Virani explains: “Much like a fruit at the grocery store, our society views female bodies not only as objects, but as ripening objects that develop, mature, and then begin to deteriorate.” But then, a little further along, we were treated to a page from Virani’s 1997 notebook, where I read the cutest short story that had me laughing and smiling for a while: “There was a gint his name was Tyler. There was a girl too her name was Kristin. She was in love with Tyler. The end.”
Virani’s creativity shines through this project. It was playful and fun, but throughout it all, you clearly understood that he had (and has) something important to say and to share with his audience. Virani displays this same quality in his behind the scenes video, which you can watch below. While reflecting on the process, he remembers feeling positive and optimistic. But many days, he ended up asking himself, “Holy cow, how can I do this?” Stressful to say the least, this exercise was one of self-trust: trusting in his mind, his creativity and his passion. And maybe even a challenge for us to push ourselves to do these kinds of experiments and projects more often. Virani actually did give me a challenge before I got to the exhibit: since we hadn’t had time to hold an interview, he told me to come with one question for him to answer. I asked if he prepared for this endeavour in any way, where did his inspiration come from: in the moment or did he plan the pieces before. He explained: “It was a bit of both. I couldn’t really stop my brain from thinking about it.”
I broke the rule, though, and asked Virani another question. What’s next on the agenda for him? “A break.” Understandable. If you want to keep up with Aquil Virani’s work and projects, check out his website right here.
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