photo: Nathan Thomas.
What does it take to step into the art world of a city intimidatingly overflowing with non-appreciated creative potential?
iHeartBerlin writer Andy sat down with his friend Qeas Pirzad—scene-beloved socialite, out-and-proud Sagittarius, every dance floor’s favorite disco queen, and up-and-coming contemporary artist—to find out what that challenging path can be like.
The result is an intimate conversation—laying open the artist’s personal creative journey, venturing into the consequences of following your dreams, and the revelation that doing something out of the ‘Berlin box’, makes you even more ‘Berlin’ in the end.
Hey Qeas. Last year, you took a step many Berliners only dream to take: You’ve quit your day job to become a full-time artist. Where did you take that courage from?
Can you even become an artist? I always thought it’s something inside of you and you need to learn how to express what’s in your mind… But yeah, I realized at some point that I haven’t done anything creative in five years.
If you have a solid job, and you make more money than most people around you, you get comfortable. But everything becomes about working, working, working, and I felt like I was losing my creativity. So, one day, I made the choice and quit my job.
photo: Tomas Eyzaguirre
Isn’t that a scary move in a city known for too many artists but not enough money?
Yeah, it is! But if you don’t believe in yourself, who will, right? And I knew that I had to prepare and save up for this step. But Berlin’s financial capital never stopped me from doing it. These days everything’s digital and connected. You can sell online, you can connect with curators all over the world, fly to a different city for two or three months but still be based in Berlin.
I—for example—recently started working together with a curator in Los Angeles, Autumn Breon Williams, who is also helping me with my first solo exhibition here in Berlin. These kind of connections weren’t as easy 30 years ago but they are now, so we should make use of that. I think you cannot tie yourself to a specific space because then you are defined by just that space. And—of course—you have to put yourself out there. That’s scary, but if you don’t, how are people supposed to know about you?
Also, when it comes to money, Berlin is changing a lot. There is more and more capital coming into the city, which makes a new set of people look seriously at what’s being presented from the art scene. It’s changing what’s at stake.
More money: That sounds like more capitalism, big business, and less creative freedom. Isn’t that pretty ‘un-berlin’?
I feel like, Berlin is quite aware. Berliners—unlike people in other cities—are aware that they can voice their opinions and that they’re being heard. People don’t just live here, they are Berlin. They make the city cool, not its rough aesthetic and club culture. I think money won’t change that.
“Breathing Life” Digital Collage, 2019, Qeas Pirzad
You aren’t a native Berliner. Tell me about your cultural background and influences.
I grew up in Amsterdam. Despite growing up there, the first culture I was exposed to was Afghani culture, I only got introduced to Dutch culture when I went to school, and later—by studying English in school and by going to the movies—I learned about a more Anglo-American culture. Switching between languages and cultures, and different versions of myself in these settings, was quite normal to me from an early age on.
What version is the Berlin-Qeas then?
Berlin-Qeas is the middle ground of these versions. Berlin was the first place that wasn’t expecting me to be or behave a certain way based on my appearance or where I was from but based on how I am as a person. However, coming here kind of happened by chance. I didn’t know anything about Berlin before, I only knew about the wall from history class.
I was studying at the art academy in Amsterdam, and for our exchange program the rest of my class wanted to go to Madrid, but I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone and not blend in. So, I went to Berlin—and never left. Maybe that’s the unifying factor of people coming here…
So, is it freedom of expression that makes you stay in Berlin?
Yes, partly, but It’s especially the type of unique connections you can make with people here. The friends I made in Berlin, I haven’t made anywhere else—even in my 23 years in Amsterdam. They can be your chosen family, people who believe in you and support you no matter what. If you put the work into them, these bonds can be life-lasting.
“Deviating Skywards” Digital Collage, 2019, Qeas Pirzad
You were or still are a Berlin club kid. What have the dance floors taught you?
I have always seen it like this: Dancing is a very liberating way of expressing yourself, and that’s a big part of the city. Going to certain spaces here, you get to express a specific, vulnerable part of yourself that is not being judged at that moment—and through that, you experience unknown freedom in that specific space. What was important to me in Berlin, is not making a specific space attached to that freedom, because then my freedom is restricted within that space—it’s similar to trying not to limit my artistry to Berlin.
I needed to take what I learned about myself on the dance floor with me and apply it to my actual life. You have to understand that a club—no matter how much freedom it gives you—closes at some point. Your dream is over and you have to come back next week.
Let’s talk about your art: Your first series of paintings is called “The First Awakening”. What’s behind the big, mysterious title?
This series is very personal, expressing my journey from childhood on to my current life in Berlin. It’s about that moment when you wake up and realize that the reality you live in has been created for you. In many cases, your family, or even your religion, have a fixed idea of what you should be. Your life is pretty much laid out for you, and you follow. But some people don’t like to do that and like to make their own choices. That is my journey, and, I think, a journey many can identify with, especially in Berlin.
“Relishing in Chaos” Digital Collage, 2019, Qeas Pirzad
It’s not a conscious decision. And I know that it’s not particularly ‘en-vogue’. If I followed that intention in Berlin, I’d probably create something graphic and provocative. Surrealism deals a lot with dreams and how we perceive reality, and that has always been a source of inspiration to me. But I don’t make the conscious choice to be a surrealist artist, I try to recreate what I see when I close my eyes.
Does Berlin inspire your work?
Yes and no. I have a weird obsession with the ’60s and ’70s, I love Diana Ross and Disco. This wild and colorful aesthetic is not necessarily around me in Berlin, but I also never felt the pressure to comply with Berlin’s love for monochromes. I feel like, people here appreciate it when you bring your own twist to it. And I think that makes me be inspired by the people around me the most. A specific Berlin artist who has left a huge impact on me is Mikey Woodbridge, who I’m also honored to call my friend. People like to put MIKEY. in a box—whether musically or visually—but to me MIKEY. has always been an individual who I never tried to categorize, because their art felt so authentic to who they are. And that inspires me.
What can we expect from your first solo exhibition?
It’s gonna take place on the 12th of October in the space of UY studios, who support me and my work as a part of their community, which is exemplifying what makes Berlin so special to me. I’m excited for various reasons. First—of course—because it’s my own show, but it’s also the first time I have worked with oil. Originally, it was supposed to be a set of 14 paintings, but I started to paint more and more. So, it might end up being at least 18 images in various sizes. I’m excited to bring all the pieces together, to see my work come to life in that space, and to put myself out there. It’s scary—but in a good way.
“The First Awakening”
by Qeas Pirzad
Opening: October 12th, 2019, 20h
Location: UY Studios – Pflügerstr. 11, Berlin-Neukölln