Books·How I Wrote It

Why Maria Qamar turned her art into a guide for girls growing up in South Asian families

Qamar explains how her collection of stories, recipes and advice came together for the book Trust No Aunty.
Maria Qamar has translated her South Asian background into pop art, which has garnered her Instagram handle @hatecopy more than 100,000 followers. (Touchstone/The National)

Artist Maria Qamar, better known as Hatecopy to her over 100,000 followers on Instagram, began attracting attention in 2015 when she shared her Lichtenstein-inspired drawing of a woman crying over burnt rotis on social media. Since then, her art has been admired at home and internationally, landing her on the cover of Elle Canada and getting a personal shout-out from comedian Mindy Kaling.

Now, Qamar is the author and illustrator of Trust No Aunty, a comic book filled with anecdotes and advice exploring what it's like to grow up a South Asian girl (Desi) in North America under the eye of watchful female elders. In her own words, Qamar explains how her expertly illustrated collection of stories, recipes and advice came together.

Breaking from convention to pursue her passion

"Hatecopy started getting noticed in 2015 and I was approached to write this book in 2015. It was right after my first exhibit, and I thought what am I going to write about? I feel like I haven't done anything. I had to think about what was going to go into this book. At first, it was a lot about my childhood and growing up. But then I thought it would be strange for me to write about the past — I'm in the most crucial time of my life, in that I recently got fired from my corporate job. I thought that was going to be forever because that's what our parents made us believe — you get a job, you hold it down for 35 years and you support your family.

"When I got fired, I started doing something so unconventional for somebody in my culture. There's a stigma against a woman in the arts in the community and I was in the process of owning that. I was in the process of going out into the world and saying, 'You know what guys, I'm an artist now. Suck it up.' That in itself was a huge obstacle and a challenge. For me to write anything in this book about myself, I had to really know who I was."

Carving out a space for the Desi community 

"Everybody has aunty that they deal with, but this book was written specifically for the South Asian diaspora — for girls like me who are figuring out how to hold onto our traditions while also navigating this new culture we've adopted. That's the reason why there are a lot of Hindi words in [the book]. Whoever is leaning into the conversation — whoever is not apart of the Desi community — can learn more about Indian culture without the Apu or butter chicken stereotype. This book is not just going to be circulated around South Asian communities, but I wanted to create something where I could say, 'Hey guys, I know we've been through a lot. Let's put everybody aside for a minute and just talk to each other.' That's why I don't translate a lot of the words because it's like I'm having a conversation with all of my cousins and everybody that is interested is simply leaning in and learning more about what we are talking about." 

Writing everywhere and anywhere

"I would try to carry notebooks with me everywhere, but I lost all of them because I'm so clumsy. So it would be bar napkins. It would be my arm. It would be a table. It would be in my notes on my phone. I would write down ideas everywhere. I still find receipts in my wallet and on the back of those receipts are different ideas or about the people that I would encounter that I had written down. I would find motivation everywhere, but I wouldn't have anywhere to jot it down so it would end up all over items in my purse. And I would lose them most of the times."

Maria Qamar's comments have been edited and condensed.