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Redefining Art & Artist

“I’m redefining what it means to be an artist”: A conversation with Izza Anwar

A few months ago we featured artist/educator Jason Wyman’s civic art project #wheredoyoubelong. And last week I caught up on the project’s latest iteration with one of his co-collaborators and one of my favorite former students, Izza Anwar. Izza and I go back a couple years to ‘Flag Stories,’ a SOMArts-based multi-media project we were part of that took us to Malaysia together. I’ve missed Malaysian food and her company ever since! Since then her deepening exploration of art and community have led her full circle back to SOMArts where she’s a first-time curator of an exhibit currently on display.

Izza emigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan when she was 8. She’s in her last year of high school in San Francisco, eagerly awaiting college acceptance letters.

Check out our brief interview below, and visit the show at SOMArts where Izza and other artists will talk about their work this Thursday, February 4, from 6-9 pm.

Tell me a little about how this show came about?

With the #wheredoyoubelong project, Jason and I were discussing San Francisco and how it’s changing, and we decided to compose an experiment because we wanted to hear more youth voices. So back in November at Teen night at the Jewish Contemporary Museum, we did interviews with 18 people and asked them three questions: 1. What is something you do do daily? 2. What is the legacy you want to leave behind? And 3. Where do you belong?

Also we had an Adobe app where they could make a doodle or digital mark, and we asked them to send us a photo –one they had on their phone at that moment– that reminded them of belonging.

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Later we transcribed the interviews and organized the digital marks and photos. Then we took all this material and distributed it to 9 artists. Oh, also we used the interviews and Jason and I made a poem out of it. We took some stanzas and divided them among the artists. We told them this material is the inspiration and guidance for you to work with and create something new. So people created all these works from photos to digital prints to sculpture. And these final pieces are showing at SOMarts. There are 9 artists ranging in age from 17 to late 40’s – so we’re intergenerational, local artists.

Have you ever done anything like this before?

No, this is the first time I curated an art exhibit! I never thought I’d do anything like it! I had classes at SOMArts and walked through the gallery there but never thought my work would be up there. It’s really interesting and I’m blessed to have this opportunity. It’s a good learning experience to decide who participates, what goes up and what doesn’t and what the sizes of the work should be. It’s a first for me to be in charge of this.

What was most interesting to you during this process?

When we did interviews we were really inspired by the teens. Specifically regarding the legacy question. So many said they wanted to be remembered for doing something good in the world, that they want to change the world in a good way, or make people laugh, or be an advocate. And this was interesting because the answers from teens were really selfless: they wanted to do something for the world, parents, or community. We were inspired by these 17-18 year olds who are so optimistic about what they want to do. Seeing this and then making the poem and seeing it carried out by artists was really good.

Izza, can you believe it’s been about two years since we worked together on ‘Flag Stories!’ In that time, you’ve deepened your experience in the arts – what have you learned and has that changed you at all?

I know! Well I’m learning that being an artist or creating art is beyond just submitting a print or drawing, that it’s not just about stuff. I’m redefining what it means to be an artist. I consider learning art much more than being able to draw or make pretty pictures, it’s about representing yourself and others, and there’s no limit to who can be an artist.

At first I didn’t define myself as an artist because I was not good at drawing or a particular art form, but now I consider myself more an artist. Like, creating events and this exhibit is part of creating art, it’s about process, not just creating an object. It’s about: why are you doing this? Why someone creates art is really significant but we don’t necessarily think about it because we’re focused on this end product. In reality for me I think the significance came more from the process of creating the art versus the final piece. I’m proud of it but at the same time I hold more value in sitting through creating it and figuring it out, in the steps taken all the way from the blank page.

For more info on this project, visit:

Artists work at:

For the SOMArts exhibition details:

Below is Izza’s response to the question “Where do you belong”?
This answer always changes,
as do I with it

As a child I belonged,
in the endless mango groves,
on my grandfather’s farm

As a young teen I belonged,
with my sport teams,
through both victory and defeat

As a young adult I belong,
in the city,
with all its forms of art and expression

But at the end of the day
I always belong with me,
where I am encouraged to be myself

with all my weaknesses
with all my strengths.

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