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“I learned to love my identity, my history and my culture and I realized that’s what made me special.”

Interview with Rami Afifi
30 April 2020
I learned to love my identity, my history and my culture and I realized that’s what made me special.

When did you know that you wanted to pursue art/become an artist?

I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was a little kid watching cartoons like Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Grendizer. I was obsessed with the amazing character design and the cool worlds they inhabited. I wanted to be a cartoonist and make this kind of stuff myself. Another dead giveaway was when I’d get angry at my brother for not colour matching his Lego creations like i did, he’d have a blue door on one side and a yellow door on the other side and that drove me crazy!

What inspired you to become an artist

Cartoons and Lego were the first things, then I got inspired by video games (at one point I even wanted to design video games and almost studied game design at university and almost applied for a game design job 6 years ago). After that it was music videos on MTV and finally fashion, skateboard brands, sneakers, that kind of stuff. Oh and comic books! I spent ages trying to mimic comic book artists from Frank Miller to Mike Mignola, Frank Quitely to Jim Lee, Steve Ditko to Moebius.

In conversation with Rami Afifi

How has being a Palestinian influence your work

Its a huge part of what I do, a big part of my work is about identity and my struggle with what my identity is, I’m from a country that I’m not allowed to live in or visit, I grew up in another country that I could be in without a work visa (Saudi Arabia), I studied in the UK a country that also wouldn’t have me without the right visa and I eventually ended up in Jordan, the country of my nationality, but also a country that didn’t love me and at one point revoked my citizenship. I used to aspire to be Western growing up in the era of Americana when the US could do no wrong, the era of Hulk Hogan and Michael Jordan. Eventually that would all fall apart and I would move to the UK where I learned to love my identity, my history and my culture and I realized that’s what made me special. I now celebrate these things in my work and aspire to put the Arab world on the international art and design map.

As a male artist in the middle east, do you feel like you're defying any social norms

When I first started I definitely felt that was the case. Being an artist was not accepted in our culture. I was mocked by friends stating that I’d be the guy drawing caricatures on the side of the street in popular tourist destinations. Being successful has been one of my main objectives, to show Arab kids today that being an artist can be an aspirational career and not just a course for the uninspired and unacademic in life.

How do you come up with your art pieces, what's your main inspiration

My work varies, but in general I’ve noticed that I always have a starting point, like a seed, that I plant on the page, and then I work out of it, growing my piece like a flower. As for inspiration I try to incorporate as much of the subject as I can, people, objects and bits of text that describe it. I then fill in the rest of the spaces with obscure references to pop culture and inside jokes. My work is like a Where’s Waldo picture, a complex world filled with characters and jokes and somewhere in there an actual message.

In conversation with Rami Afifi

Beside painting/drawing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time

Hanging out with my wife and kids
Playing video games
Watching films, anything from blockbuster superhero flicks to independent cinema to Korean film (before Parasite was a thing!)
Watching cartoons (from 80’s retro to contemporary humor like Adult Swim shows), good tv shows, a lot of TV actually.
Music is a huge part of my life, listening to albums, going to live music shows whenever I can (we as a family do an annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury music festival).
Reading comic books!
Basically partaking in the huge landscape of pop culture.

What pushed you into taking your art to social media

I found it was the easiest way to showcase my work and expand my following, much more effective than websites as you had a sense of how many people were interacting with your work and who they were and allowed me to start a conversation with these people. It’s also a great place to scope out other artists, be inspired and grow. And a great place to get commissioned for work. Most of my gigs start off with an instagram DM.

What are you working on these days

One secret project with a very big client that should be live soon and another with a very cool local food brand that should have my artwork infiltrating a lot of homes in  Dubai.

In conversation with Rami Afifi

What's the project/collaboration you're most proud of

It’s a tie between the Media City fence and the Nike T-shirt collaboration. Media City was a huge showcase of my artwork, it allowed me to leave my mark on the city I now call home and the area I cut my teeth in, in Dubai. It opened a lot of doors for me on the freelance front and it allowed me to achieve one of my career goals, which was to win an advertising effectiveness award. The cherry on top was that I don’t even work in advertising anymore! The Nike collab was a more personal one as 5 years before that collaboration had happened I had made it one of my life goals to do a collaboration with the brand, I worked on my portfolio, worked on my contacts, pitched ideas and after a collaboration with the brand helping launch the Air Max Master and the Vapormax in the Middle East (my artwork was on the boxes), I finally got to do my own collaboration where they launched a Rami x Nike limited edition t-shirt collection.

How are you dealing with this pandemic and how did it affect your work

To be honest the pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for me, I’ve gotten to work from home instead of going to the office (I have a day job) which has meant spending a lot of time with my family, I got to see my youngest daughter’s first steps and her first words. I also get to enjoy more flexible work hours and can do my work when the inspiration hits as opposed to trying to force it. It definitely affected some of my freelance work. I worked with a rather well known apparel brand who ended up having to cancel the job after I’d finished the work and ended up not paying me for it which was a bit disheartening, and the jobs have slowed down a little bit, but to be honest I have been getting burnt out a bit by the work. A few years ago I had decided that I would do every single job that came my way and not say no to anything. This was great for helping increase my exposure, but it comes to a point where you have to be more selective and you have to push back on clients who undervalue your work and your time. It has also really helped me prioritize the jobs I want to work on and the people I want to work with.

Thanks Rami - Inspirational Stuff. Zero Nine Team x


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