RAZA TARIQ is a genius who refuses to constrain himself to labels. He doesn’t
belong to any scene, culture or genre: his only goal is to make art that is. The title he
assumes: ‘Polymath’ is correspondent to his ever code-switchent approach. Deeply
fashioned by a vigorously guarded but seemingly Islamic spiritual worldview with a
strong anti-everything flavour, his works are thought mechanisms provoking feeling
in physical spaces.
Punching a six-foot hole in the wall of the establishment, his new work, ‘NO
THANKS’, rejects an offer to study Fine Art from Central Saint-Martins, the best art
university in the world. Fulfilling a plot he devised at the beginning of this year to
apply to and then reject the school.
Two days after his exhibition, RAZA went out for dinner with Saia, his friend from
Seattle who produced his album and often scores his films. I catch him as they near
the end of their mixed grill to learn more about this new proclamation:
[RAZA has just discovered something which has soured his mood. A Nickelback
song from his childhood plays, which lightens him for a moment. He begins to
reminisce. Saia and I listen to him intently.]
Gabriel: Has Nickelback or the music your parents played you as a child influenced
your art in any way?
[RAZA begins to pour himself water.]
RAZA: The funny thing is that my mum is deaf, so I always had this grudge that I
didn’t have the cool music experience that some other people had from their parents.
But my dad’s taste range was so broad that he couldn’t help but like bad things as
much as he liked good things. My art is tacky in the best way.
Someone came to my exhibition, read my offer and said “Fine art? Isn’t fine art for
really intricate, technical painters?”.
And I said: “Yeah I am a really intricate, technical painter”.
I applied, got an unconditional offer and then I said ‘NO THANKS’!
[RAZA mutters to himself responsively and sighs]
Gabriel: How do you feel about people looking at ‘NO THANKS’?
RAZA: I can see it in the first 5 seconds: they look at the piece, they look at me, they
look at the piece again. I can see what they’re thinking.
Gabriel: I know some people didn’t like it…
RAZA: Some people came to interrogate. They only had one question. There was
just one question everyone asked me all day. ‘Why?’. You know what pops into my
head: One Word. But I have to give them the right answer.
[We both laugh]
Gabriel: Do you want to say what that one word is?
RAZA: What, the ‘Why’?
[I nod. RAZA gets up to stretch. There’s an awkward silence where RAZA stares at
me intensely. He breathes in. Saia looks up at him and waits]
[He gestures enthusiastically]
Gabriel: This is…?
RAZA: This moment of silence. The moment in my head is the thing which you don’t
need to say to know. The thing that is heard without making a sound. To know why is
to be silent…
Then I look at the people for a while and say: “Universities are conglomeratised
establishments and I don’t believe they’re any different from…”
Gabriel: Do you ever think there could be real change within these institutions?
RAZA: You will not win the battle inside their house, you must bring them to your
space. Force them to come outside the front door instead of watching from their
[I click soulfully as if I’m at a poetry night. RAZA has performed two spoken word
pieces this summer- first at Soho House’s music festival and then contrastingly an
impromptu performance at ‘The Books Dem’s black literature cookout.]
Gabriel: That’s cool.
[RAZA jumps up with a eureka look on his face]
RAZA: When someone comes to fix the wi-fi, the gas leak or the drain of your house,
where are they going to fix it? Outside! The wires are outside, the drains are outside,
the window cleaner cleans from outside! They don’t come inside.
[I ask about culture and he rants for a while on Power Rangers, capitalism and the
magazine that this will eventually be published in]
Gabriel: What is your Why then? Behind this work?
RAZA: To say no thanks to all the things we shouldn’t say thank you to and to show
[I cut in prematurely]
Gabriel: So what thing do you owe gratitude to?
RAZA: The Thing… The Thing to which we owe gratitude.
Gabriel: The Thing. Right… okay. I guess this Thing is present throughout all your
other works. Is it intentional for you to make it present?
RAZA: It’s a thing.
[We both laugh]
Gabriel: Can you talk to me about some of your other works?
RAZA: No thanks.
[I’m taken aback. Saia laughs]
Gabriel: Okay… wow. Why are you focussing on ‘NO THANKS’?
RAZA: I wouldn’t like to focus on it. I’m so over it. Someone said they need their
degree. I don’t disagree. My friends go there. But that’s the problem. The
misappropriation of our need.
[Saia nods, smiling. He’s moved to London to study sound art at UAL]
The choice itself is mundane. Value only exists within you, which your environment,
whatever it may be, serves to extract.
I feel that. What’s your favourite medium to work with?
[RAZA gets down on the floor and starts doing press ups]
Gabriel: Um… Okay. And light is present throughout all your work?
[He continues doing press ups on the restaurant floor]
[Saia and I burst out laughing]
Saia: I knew you were going to say Light.
Gabriel: So can I ask why?- I guess the ‘Why’ is the Light isn’t it?
[I laugh, flustered, but trying to keep a straight face]
Gabriel: So, I’m starting to understand the logic-
RAZA: No. When people ask why, I say it’s because I felt like it. It really bothers them, but these same people live their life every single day without reason. You don’t
know why you’re on Earth and you’re asking me about this piece of plastic?
I stood for the first hour of my exhibition playing the Girl Power playlist on Spotify. If I
wanna quote Ice Spicee in my Instagram captions instead of spelling out the
socio-political-spiritual orientations of my work, so what? I’m done being pleasant.
I’m done being pretty because then who am I saying cheese for? The same people
my mum was smiling for when she went there 30 years ago?
If you get it, you get it and if you don’t, go read the article.
[RAZA gets up from his press ups]
If you can’t see reason in yourself, then why are you looking for reason in the work?
[I start clicking again. He cackles ecstatically]
Gabriel: So would you say that it’s a mirror?
RAZA: Definitely. This is the same copy and pasted email that they all have in their
inbox. They could have easily gone on their phone and read it again, but this specific
piece in this specific way had them so rattled.
[RAZA murmurs something about rejection and laughs, making light of his earlier
Gabriel: When people react this way, what do you think they’re rejecting?
RAZA: I think no is essential and that life is only yes’s or no’s. You can define
everything with those two words: what something is or what it isn’t. Because that’s all
that it is.
The denial of something is just the acceptance of another thing. And the acceptance
of another is the denial of another. So what is occupying this consistently vacated
space on either end?
In maths, two positives add, as do two negatives, to make a single positive. You get
more positives than you ever do negatives. We are always increasing spiritually.
These people will never reduce me.
Anyways, it’s the first thing we do as Muslims. The very first word of our testimony of faith is No.
Written by Gabriel Dedji
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