Meet our new Communications Coordinator, Aquil Virani

October 6, 2021 by Aquil Virani Featured, News /

About me: I know professional biographies sometimes tend to be formulaic, so we thought it would be fun to share a more personal post here on the ICASC blog. Imagine visiting me in my childhood home in Surrey, BC, sitting on our comfy leather couch with my mother sharing embarrassing photos of me as a kid.

 

Two photos of Aquil as a child with long, curly hair.
Aquil as a child.

Childhood: I grew up moving around the Lower Mainland in BC in the 90s. My early years were spent in North Vancouver before we settled in the suburbs. My dad is a Chartered Accountant of Indian heritage who immigrated from Tanzania in the 1970s. He met my French mother – a teacher and social worker – in the UK and several years later, they started a family on the west coast. I grew up with three older brothers in a tight-knit Ismaili Muslim community in Surrey. We went to mosque every week. We addressed any adult as “uncle” or “auntie.” We played street hockey pretending to be Vancouver Canucks. We explained Pokémon to our parents who did not understand.

 

Nine family members pose for a family photo in a darkly lit restaurant.
A blurry photograph of Aquil with his father, brothers, and other family members at a restaurant in Vancouver, BC.

Art in my life: Drawing has always been fun for me. (Think of all of the possibilities!) I drew a lot as a child. I made art. I built stories with action figures, hockey figurines, and sketchpads. Art was a refuge from my roughhousing older brothers. I could amuse myself with a pencil, create something tangible in just a few minutes, and notice steady improvement. In elementary school, we drew spiky monsters and named them silly things. In high school, I could not understand how some of my friends were “not into art.” In grade 11, I created my first collaborative artworks to show my classmates how easy art-making could be. I had an intelligent and encouraging art teacher, Ms. Baranszky-Job, who wrote interesting questions on stickie notes in my school sketchbook.

 

A collaborative artwork on two easels featuring hundreds of small rectangular designs in a grid.
One of my first collaborative artworks in high school connected a sharpie line among every student in the entire school. Each student was free to contribute whatever they wanted – whether a scribble or a signature – as long as it was a continuous line.

Serving community: I think the self-healing aspects of art cannot be understated. But as I became a young adult, I found myself wanting to channel my skills into serving others. Serving a purpose. A cause. To react to political issues and injustices around me. Take actions that connected people and encouraged reflection on important ideas. I wanted to combine modes of “creation” and “facilitation” in a meaningful way. I began to explore “art for social change.” I was hooked.

 

Aquil on stage with several college administrators with hundreds of students in rows of chairs, watching.
A presentation at Paul Smith’s College where I facilitated workshops and created collaborative artworks with freshmen students every year for almost a decade.

Today: As I join the ICASC team in a communications role, I have several creative projects on the go. I am the 2021 Artist-in-Residence at the Canadian Museum of Immigration where I’m asking the public to celebrate the immigrant heroes in our lives. I am still receiving responses to my ongoing LoveMail project that uses mail art to connect during the isolating pandemic. I’ll soon be launching a creative anthology book of Ottawa-based Muslim creatives titled Ottawa Inshallah. And I recently received an email from a stranger who was touched after hearing about my 30 Letters project on CBC Radio’s The Doc Project.

 

Aquil wears a toque in wintery Ottawa and smiles at the camera with The Doc Project logo in the corner.
A selfie image from earlier this year, taken for The Doc Project on CBC Radio, a radio documentary program that featured my 30 Letters project.

I am lucky: These days, I feel so privileged to live as an artist, even if our work can feel undervalued at times. I feel lucky to engage with so many wonderful communities of artists that target social change in their work, to support and advocate for my peers, to explore creative possibilities. Please get in touch any time by emailing me. I will be happy to hear from you.


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