Meet the Muslim Artist Tackling Race, Gender & DC’s Gentrification
Following the Women’s March on Washington in D.C. this past Saturday, we sat down and chatted with local Maryland artist Merima Repesa, also known as Merimart.
At just 20 years old, Merima has already presented her work in numerous exhibitions, at stores like Urban Outfitters and venues. Her art work was featured at events and the National Museum of Women in the Arts and most recently at the March on Washington.
Born and raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland, she is outspoken. Merima is Muslim and unafraid to express her opinions on the current social-political climate of the country and on issues she feels are important. Her work is thought-provoking, relevant and sometimes even humorous. Check out her interview below to see how she’s helping to push forward the new women’s movement in her own unique way.
How did you first get introduced to art, what’s the earliest drawing you remember doing?
So this is gonna sound super cliche but I’ve been drawing ever since I could remember. [Even in] Kindergarten I was always that artsy fartsy student, the one that you would always look at whenever a semi-creative project was given to do all the work basically. Earliest drawing was maybe a Mother’s Day card for my mom in Kindergarten for sure, but I didn’t start taking art seriously until like my senior year of high school, going into my freshman year of college. That’s when I started doing art exhibits and shows and stuff really getting into the gist of the art scene here in D.C.
Did you go to art school?
No, right now I’m in school for business/marketing at Bowie State University.
What’s your biggest insecurity and how have you learned to accept it or tried to mask it?
My biggest insecurity is not being good enough to accomplish my goals as young as I can. This insecurity only comes up when I compare myself to other artists that are successful at my age or younger. But it’s something I’m always working on as a person, to try and build confidence in myself.
Who are three artists who have inspired you and your work?
Marina Abramovic, Banksy and Reginald Sylvester.
What is your most treasured possession?
Probably this necklace
The crescent and star, Islam is like a huge part of my life, that’s why.
What are your favorite things to draw and what are your two favorite or two most meaningful pieces?
My favorite things to draw are anything I feel as though people will take a second look at or get angry or agree with. I like doing anything that causes a reaction good or bad with people just stirring the pot and my two favorite pieces would be of course the Trump/Hitler one because even after almost two years its still 100% relevant unfortunately. And the second piece would be this political cartoon that I did of a vacuum called the Gentrifier sucking up over the D.C. metro lines and again it is unfortunately still super relevant to this day, even though I made it back in 2015.
You include lots of elements of D.C. culture within your work? Why do you think that’s important?
Right, so most of my work in general revolves around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia socio-political culture and the reason why is because I grew up around here and it’s much easier to make art when its genuine and you grow up around it. I have no business making work relating back to New York because I didn’t grow up there so therefore I would be a “poser” and it just wouldn’t feel right, it feels better knowing I’m using slang that I grew up with using and hearing, around subjects that I grew up having to deal with or having my friends and family deal with so its just much easier to make work to.
How did you come up with the logo you use for your brand?
It represents growing up in a tug-of-war battle between Eastern and Western cultural traditions, growing up a Muslim in a country that still views Islam as a religion that promotes and encourages terrorism, and finding peace and liberty where it seems nowhere to be found. I want to bridge the gaps between differences that don’t seem like they could ever come together.
When did you first learn what feminism was, and why do you think it’s important to feature feminist concepts in your art work?
I first learned what feminism was or like, the wrong type of feminism my senior year of high school when sort of the Twitter feminism wave started going on, even though it is like a huge shallow part of feminism, you know just posting your body however you look like whenever, whatever you look like or wearing nothing at all, not shaving your armpits and posting that too. A lot of people didn’t approve of it because they’ve never seen it before nor was it normal for society to see it.
But I was a 100% with it, because if your willing to put yourself out there and its not like your doing anything harmful to anyone else, I believe it isn’t anyone else’s business. Its just social media has become our reality now. It’s like if you don’t post anything on social media did you really do that or were you really there? So I don’t really understand why it’s such a huge deal for people to call out on that sort of like attention seeking when its just life now. But yeah thats when I first like fell in love with feminism and then I realized what it actually was just being a decent human being and wanting equal rights for everyone, not just women but every gender possible.
Do you feel like your definition of what feminism is, is changing as you get older and learn more?
Certain aspects because like I said I first thought it was just for women to get up to the scale of men but then I realized, well there there are 100’s of other genders out there wanting the same equal rights, wanting to be looked at as a human being. So yeah its constantly changing but in the best way possible since things are being added on always.
Tell me about the parachute you made for the women’s march this past Saturday. What inspired the creation of it?
The design that I came up with was made in like 20 minutes when my first one got disapproved and I was super scared about not getting the opportunity. So basically it was a heart with a peace sign going through the middle and within that was like a woman’s physique and it was four skin tones meant to represent for the most part different races, ethnicities, nationalities. The parachute was called “Representation Matters,” because thats what I saw at the Women’s March when I went that there was a lot of white people, like a lot.
I was almost uncomfortable with that many white people, but yeah just white feminism is a serious serious issue within actual feminism that needs to kind of be brought to light and realized by said white feminists that only care about certain aspects that only affect them within the feminism realm. Meanwhile there are women of color who can barely even be looked at as a human being let alone a woman,they need to start basically from square one.
Yeah there were a lot of white women, but I feel like for the first time there was a large representation of different cultures
Yeah for sure there were like different diverse groups and everything which was great, the women’s march was a really great thing don’t get me wrong, I just kept seeing certain signs not really geared towards everyone like the pink pussy hats and everything or the signs with vaginas drawn all over them were mostly towards white women, like that’s what a white woman’s privates look like, you’re not really representing all women. A woman doesn’t necessarily mean you have a female reproductive system, that’s not what gender is. That’s not what we’re trying to display. I mean, it was all done in good heart, no one meant to hurt anyone. They were just kind of representing themselves, what they see a woman should be but it was just a lot of misrepresentation by groups that weren’t within diverse cultures from what I saw.
What was your biggest takeaway from the march and if you had to come up with a name for the new feminist movement that was introduced there what would you call it?
The biggest thing that I took away from the march was how willing people are to get out there and fight because a lot of people flew out to come to the specific D.C. one since they knew that was gonna be the biggest. But that being said, it shouldn’t take a huge bigot coming into office for us to all realize, oh shit, things are happening we need to stop this. We should’ve already been caring but you know we kind of waited until the last minute and now we really have to deal with this for like the next four years or at least until 2018 when we can vote in more democratic members like in Congress, in the Senate, in the House, etc. As for what I would call the new wave of feminism, just the progressives just looking and moving forward.
What is the biggest goal you have for yourself for the future and how are you working towards achieving it?
My biggest goal right now, again as cliche as this sounds, would be to just touch as many people as I can and just try to change minds, mostly in kids like around my age and younger because older people are very set in their ways of what they believe, especially if they’re well over 30.
I know talking to my parents, it’s hard to change their minds on certain things just because they’re 50 years old, they’re like 50 years into the game. They’re not changing their minds. But maybe when we’re at that age we’ll believe the same thing like we believe this and this is right and anything knew is wrong. But that’s not the way we should be going, God forbid, you know hopefully we’re progressive for the rest of our lives. But I’m focusing on the younger because it’s much easier to understand and mold minds that are still being molded and growing, there’s a lot more room for knowledge and education just to become a part of their life versus being older.
What’s been the hardest thing for you to learn as an artist and what advice would you give to younger artists impacted inspired by your work?
Things don’t happen overnight, so don’t expect them to happen overnight. A lot of it is just dumb luck or being in the right place at the right time with the right group of people and also making sure to put yourself out there as well.
Taking risks is a huge part of what you need to do as an artist because there is no conventional way of being successful in this field you kind of just have to go out there and get it in whichever way you can. It’s a lot of trial and error and being discouraged sometimes when you compare yourselves to other artists and where they are in their career especially at what age they are. Like, I’m only 20 years old and I know I discourage a little handful of people above my age, but I mean I feel the same way about people maybe two years younger than me that are already getting this amount of money or this amount of partnerships or working for these types of brands. But there’s nothing I can do other than use that to make me more determined and encourage me to do more. That just means I’m not doing enough, so it just pushes me even more.
What advice would you give to other young artists?
Just don’t give up and don’t drop out of school, stay in school please. Don’t do that, especially if whatever you’re doing in school is an actual skill and you can relate it back into your work. That’s why I’m in school for business and marketing right now, because that affects my field very heavily and it would just be stupid to not keep going. I also can’t leave the house until I finish school.
Cover photos by – @thetrueamazing