How Raza Tariq said NO THANKS to Central Saint Martins
For Raza Tariq, the creation of art is guided by an inherent creative essence – something evidenced by the fact he made his debut short film aged 15 and has continued to work prolifically across a wide range of mediums ever since.
His recent project NO THANKS captures the unhindered, organic inspiration at the core of his artistic vision. Levelling at the bureaucracies and establishmentarian prestige of art universities as an entity, the London-based artist spent the best part of 2022 effecting his plan to apply for a Fine Art degree at UAL Central St. Martins and get accepted onto the course only to then reject the offer. The project culminated in an exhibition held outside the Granary Square located university, displaying a six foot tall print out of the NO THANKS piece.
We caught up with Tariq over email to talk NO THANKS, art universities and the ethos at the core of his creations.
Firstly, what’s your name and what do you do?
My name is RAZA TARIQ. I do Everything.
How would you define your approach?
I do Nothing. And then it happens.
On your website you talk about using your art to heighten your consciousness of your higher purpose and do the same for those watching – how does this manifest in your work?
Hahaha you got me. I regret using that word consciousness, that bio is a bit old, I need to make it harder to interpret. I think the word consciousness sounds ugly. A bit didactic, material-stemming. Like a physical process. That statement I made sounds almost quite impositional, that I’m “using” my art. I suppose I cannot evade the fact that I am intending but I believe much more that I am being used rather than “using”. Maybe it’s not didactic enough actually. Maybe I should shout a bit more. I suppose I have done since then. I lose my voice a lot hahaha.
Your parents are both artists – has that influenced your own creativity?
I actually lied, my dad is a doctor but he always had his Nikon FE2 on him since [he was] young in Pakistan – but obviously had to leave that behind to make his provision and meet the expectations of that time and place. My mum is actually an artist yes, despite a lot of resistance from her surroundings due to stigma around disability and her background, she has prospered and conquered. She went to Saint Martins after being made to redo college a bunch of times and doing a foundation year, so I guess perhaps that validated her but I look at all that shit as too little too late. Coming all the way over here and leaving their peace behind, all these degrees (my mum has so many she has a whole qualifications section on her website). The fact that they were made to dance and prove themselves before the court is stupid to me. They come from places of spiritual potency they don’t need this. We don’t need it. I guess they both had to do what they had to do. Now maybe they have unwittingly inspired me to undo!
Where do you look for creative inspiration?
I look up.
Talk us through the concept and intention of NO THANKS?
I’m romantic about a time when people were born and no one remembered what date that was. About a time when if you asked someone where they were from they would only be able to tell you the name of the next town over. A time when people were not qualified but learned. A place where everything down to your fucking toothbrush wasn’t an imperative subscriptionised greco-based institution required to just be! Like if Jesus was alive today would he have to register the disciples as a non-profit? We have this belief that ah it’s unavoidable you have a birth certificate, you went to xyz school, you are on the electoral role, but are you really? The name Raza Tariq is there but I’m not there. I’m here, talking to you. Actually by the time you read this I am not, I could be doing anything, but you, YOU! You are here right now, not there.
I know that’s drawn out but those were the thoughts flying around my head at the beginning of 2022. In this time to be alive am I only teased with the words “he calls himself a Polymath” or is the ceiling on me placed with the words multi-hyphenate or creative director. Fuck that shit! I am! I know Descartes said I think therefore I am but, I just Am. I am a Polymath. And no Polymath I know ever worked for a company, made commissions for creative agency briefs and they definitely didn’t go to a fucking “university”. What even is that? They credit Fatima Al Fihri with creating the “first university” but that’s such a limiter, it’s so much more than that. Fatima Al Fihri would box you in the face if she heard you say that. So I thought to box them in the face for her.
Could you walk us through the project’s timeline a little – when did the idea form, how long did it take to create the work and how much time went into planning the exhibition?
After all the conceptual thinking it was pretty straightforward. I applied to UAL Central Saint Martins in like January 2022, the best art school in the world, and therefore the best school in the world, with the vow between me and the Divine to reject them and make an art piece out of my acceptance called “NO THANKS”. I treated the whole application like a joke, honestly. My personal statement was beat poetry in all caps. My portfolio had the fucking ISIS flag on it! It had Idi Amin teethily smiling down the eye of the PDF. They bought that shit! I got in while standing on the platform at Wilesden Junction with my bredrin and sent a HAHAHAHA message to the groupchat I first announced the idea in. Then I waited right up till the deadline to reject them, it just so happened that I had been summoned to some private Dolce and Gabanna party my friend was DJ’ing at when the deadline hour was about to strike. I did it there and then, I had some lady who was in the middle of telling me a story about getting shouted at by Karl Lagerfeld and then being saved by Prince to stop what she was saying and film the moment. After all that I put together the piece from the acceptance letter on Photoshop in about 20m and then ordered a 6 foot PVC print of it there and then. I started the campaign about 3 weeks before the first day of term and every other day was dropping clues until people caught on to exactly what I had done. It’s mad I told them so little but I feel like people really were detectives with it. They started this whole trend of commenting different inflections of the titular phrase in different registers and languages with the signature emoji combination🙅🏾♂️🙏🏾.
Did everything go to plan with the project and exhibition?
Yeah definitely I think with everything I do I get better at executing exactly what I had in my head. From the campaign to the exhibition, I think it went as well as it could have gone. Thousands of people saw it and I definitely made the scene I wanted to. I did have to carry it (the piece is super heavy) with my friend across London and on the Hammersmith and City line which was a bit mad!
What was the response to NO THANKS like? And did Central Saint Martins respond?
The response was sick! I think exactly what I was expecting, the perfect balance of confused, insulted and curious. Most people were engaged enough to stand talking to me for a while and a lot of people definitely thought it was cool that I could stick it to the man on their behalf. Although I don’t really see it as that sort of thing.
Staff came out and did that looking around everywhere nonchalantly thing while throwing obvious looks at the piece which they had really come out of the door to look at, it’s funny I could see them hiding their smile. At the end of the day some teachers came out as they were leaving and had a really nice conversation with me about it. They said I did the right thing. After the exhibition, I may or may not have got a lot of my followers to comment variations of the phrase on one of their Instagram posts, which was a bit cheeky. My bad.
What were your thoughts on arts institutions prior to NO THANKS? Did this change after completing the project?
Bro in all honesty I don’t have some like dedicated section of my rage reserved for arts institutions a lot of people were asking me that sort of thing, like if it was about fees or something political, but I see myself as a spiritual quietist. I don’t hate arts institutions, the people who work there or attend, I just work for a different cause. But part of that cause is to render that of these institutions redundant, spiritually.
You mentioned trying to sell the piece for the price of tuition fees – have you sold it yet?
The price of attendance listed on the letter and therefore on the face of the piece is £9250 a year x 3 years. I think it would be so funny to sell it for that amount. I spoke to someone at Sotheby’s who liked it and also Dave’s art advisor but they’re both airing me now. I’d like to sell it to Dave! “Picture Me”, the SBTV and Fire in The Booth teenage freestyles, they were the original NO THANKS! Hahahaha. Also maybe the family of Virgil Abloh, he kind of inspired this piece, with him going to CSM and getting rejected by Louise Wilson because he was over qualified. I would want them to use the money for the POST MODERN fund, but not the university part, something else hahaha. After all this piece has been called post modern, but we are post eternal so how can we be post modern? Post period? Not if we are forever?
You’re currently developing your debut feature-length film. Can you tell us more about this?
Yeah it’s a script I wrote when I was in school. It’s spiritual. It’s greater than a film it’s motion, it’s spiritual. It’s white on white just like NO THANKS. It’s a rejection it’s an acceptance. It’s on draft 33 now. I want Daniel Kaluuya to star in it alongside one of my best friends from secondary who just got out of prison. I gave Daniel the script so let’s see. I wanna make it this year with Apple and A24. I also have a book I’m gonna release this year, and a complete album + some singles. I have some huge exhibitions planned of my work and I also wanna DJ on a yacht. Hit me up if you have a yacht.
Is there an ethos or statement you wish to express through either your art as a whole, or the NO THANKS project specifically?
When Ibn Rushd met Ibn Arabi he asked him what he thought of logic and Ibn Arabi responded affirmative to the glee of Ibn Rushd and then immediately cancelled with a negative. Ibn Rushd was confused. Ibn Arabi expressed that Yes and No are the same thing. That’s what I’m on. Yes and No until there just is.