"I do not like the man who squanders life for fame; give me the man who living makes a name." - Emily Dickinson
Something happened this year. For the first time in my life I was recognised. Not once, but twice. It was a regular day of going to Xerox to scan in art and as I stood there arguing over something (as usual), a t-shirt designer recognised my stuff and we struck up a conversation. No biggie, it was actually a refreshing change to the usual clientele you find in Xerox – fundamentalists photocopying evil plans, or people printing out Visa applications for the UK. Both annoy me; the former because they always try to be so nice to me despite my distrusting sneers, and the latter because they are actually working towards leaving the country. This first interaction was normal enough, friends in common and all that good stuff. It was my second encounter that proved entirely too much to deal with.
Later that night, I was unsure what was happening (if it is at night you can guarantee I am inebriated) and I was also forced (which is the only way you’ll ever actually get me out of the house) to go to Azza Fahmy to find a gift or look at stuff or whatever it is you do in stores. As I was obsessing over key chains and cuff links, suddenly someone taller and much bigger than me (Egyptians, I have discovered, are rather vertically challenged, so it’s a shocking occurrence) and screamed, “Are you Hassan Hassan!?”
I was stunned; completely and utterly flabbergasted. Here was someone I had never even stumbled upon in my Facebook ‘people you may know’ tab. He was also wearing a bright red
pashmina scarf and was entirely besotted. My first reaction was to say, “No, my name is Ahmed, what the fuck you talking about?” But that would have been mean. Also, this was a real life occurrence with a fan. A fabulous fan my friend and I had actually noticed before, walking in Zamalek with his red scarf in all its glory. So I was intrigued, incredibly flattered, mortified and doing my very best not to laugh out loud, because this was all far too ridiculous to actually be happening. But it was. So, I stood there awkwardly as he told me how much he loved my art, read all my articles and was such a fan. I have to admit I did get a little scared, because paranoia is totally how I roll, but I managed to keep things in check and not ask questions like, “How did you recognise me? Who are you? Do you have a wall complete with my pictures and a voodoo doll? Can I borrow your pashmina?” I cringed, fumbled and thanked him profusely. Who was he talking about? Certainly not me, I’m not a real artist.
But then I decided that if people who tweet can call themselves ‘Citizen Journalists’ or ‘Online Activists’, then I can most certainly call myself an artist. The main issue lies in the fact that if I’m going to be an artist, I most certainly don’t want to be a failed one. So I have to adhere to the 21st century and market my stuff, have exhibitions and do those kinds of things. Also, I don’t want to be the Van Gogh variety of artist, so wrapped up in my own depression and failures that I’m suddenly forced to rip my ear off. I’ve grown rather fond most of my appendages. So in order to spare myself that fate and because I need money, I will sell out. The concept of selling out pains me, but then the thought of not doing what I love for money (Oprah has taught me well) pains me more. On the flip side, the thought of the self-pimping and marketing (shudder) is equally painful. The thought of inviting people and making them come to exhibitions and selling myself pains me. It’s all a very painful experience. And I find myself trapped in a plethora of tiny conundrums that leave me with a slew of unanswered questions and a bunch of people with opinions.
And opinions make things awkward. It’s made criticism significantly harder as well (I find anger is a great response). It’s the compliments that require slightly more finesse. If you for example say “that sweater looks good on you,” I will immediately point out the fatal flaw that ruins everything. If you tell me you like the colours of a picture, I will say I’m horrible with colours and don’t you think I should stick to black and white? These are the flaws that I see; I’m really not being humble. Humility has never been a trait I adhere to. Self-loathing? Certainly. Humility? Never. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but also very pleased at the same time. But, I have decided it’s my curse to feel one emotion and it’s polar opposite at the same time. I cannot be proud without being embarrassed. Depressed without being happy. Thin without being fat. But I’m an artist, so it’s ok.