June 15, 2018
From hating copy to being Insta-famous
Seneca grad reaches fame and stardom with pop art
Her Instagram handle almost gives it away. But at 27 years old, Maria Qamar, a.k.a. Hatecopy, can now laugh about the time when she failed copywriting at Seneca.
It was the final exam and Qamar had dropped her phone while getting off the campus shuttle. As she turned to look for it, she witnessed her phone being run over by the bus.
“You know when you are young and your phone is your life? I basically missed the exam because I was crying over lost selfies,” she recalled.
Ironically, not only does Qamar have ample selfies now, but the Instagram account she created while a student at Seneca has catapulted her into a self-made desi pop artist who counts Mindy Kaling (of The Office and The Mindy Project) as a fan. Her work, inspired by American pop artists Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, has exhibited in Toronto, New York City and London, and featured in BuzzFeed, Vogue, Elle, Flare, BBC World, CBC, Cosmopolitan, San Francisco Chronicle and others.
As far as more than 135,000 followers are concerned, Qamar is a celebrity known for her personal “bad beti” (“bad daughter” in Hindi) brand that has caught fire with the likes of Nike, Google, NYX Cosmetics and BonLook eyeglasses. Qamar has also published a book titled Trust No Aunty, a comical “survival guide” to dealing with overbearing South Asian aunties, and made the cover of Toronto Life’s Stylebook, in which she’s dubbed “a millennial maestro”.
But still, “my dad thinks it’s a phase, like goth when I was in sixth grade,” Qamar said.
Born in Pakistan, Qamar came to Canada with her family when she was nine years old. While she has wanted to draw and paint “since I was born,” her parents, both scientists, wanted her to do something more serious.
“There’s a stigma in my culture that art is somehow not an honorary profession,” she said. “It’s funny for me to say this now, but I didn’t go to art school because I wasn’t allowed.”
She chose Seneca’s Creative Advertising program because a copywriter sounded “profesh” enough for her parents, who thought she was attending business school.
For two years, Qamar lived in the Residence at Newnham Campus and took the shuttle to Markham Campus for her classes. She had three roommates and they dressed up their suite “like Christmas.” According to Qamar, they also “stole” a couch from the main lobby.
“We had it right behind the door in our tiny living room. We’d sit there and watch Game of Thrones,” Qamar said.
After graduating in 2012, Qamar began working as an ad copywriter. In 2015, she was fired from her job — a turning point in her life.
“I was actually relieved,” she said. “I was already questioning the industry in that it’s like Mad Men, I was one of the very few women. Society has these weird boxes to put women in.”
"I had to put my ego aside and say, ‘I don’t know anything, you have to teach me."
- Maria Qamar
Qamar spent three days looking for a job on LinkedIn, including applying for what she called “stupid jobs.” One Toronto company, which had initially offered her an interview, told her not to bother coming in because they thought her Twitter profile picture was “too risqué”.
With enough money saved to live in Toronto for four months, Qamar began drawing.
Her first post of her art on Instagram, posted just days after she was fired, shows a sketch of a tearful woman wearing a bindi on line paper. A speech bubble reads, “I burnt the rotis…” Qamar commented on the post, “what if Lichtenstein parodied Indian soap operas…”
“I wanted to post funny stuff for my friends,” she recalled.
Soon, people started clamouring for her to make prints. Still jobless, Qamar walked to her local Staples and made five posters of her art. They sold out in one day. After that, Qamar took a crash course on painting from a friend. “I burnt the rotis” became her first painting.
“I’ve been humbled by the work I have to do and I haven’t strayed too far from what I was doing before,” she said. “I still work with brands. It’s just that I work for myself now. The way I work hasn’t changed.”
Qamar attributes much of her success to Seneca.
“I was obsessed with the program and I took it seriously,” she said. “I was rowdy before and butted heads with my professors a lot — I didn’t have a sensor or filter back then — but the program teaches you to be passionate about something. It taught me discipline and the power of 360 thinking.”
While Qamar’s art begins on paper and on canvas, her creation has been transferred onto clothing, such as custom denim work for Elle Canada, and other products.
“Nothing teaches you about failure like advertising,” she said. “When I lost my job, I had to really be a student again, and that’s what I got from Seneca. I had to put my ego aside and say, ‘I don’t know anything, you have to teach me.’”