I sat down with 2Fik, Carleton’s Fall Term Artist-In-Residence, for a conversation about his art, his goals for his residency and the state of difficult conversations today. His exhibition Gear Shifts is a collection of his photographic and performance works from 2010 to 2018. During his residency, he has not only worked with Carleton students, but also with Macalester and St. Olaf Colleges, and with the Northfield community at large. With his creations, 2Fik aims to create a dialogue about identity and self, and how we are products of our social-political environments. His art challenges the way we look at our existence, rights and ownerships, and causes us to examine how we present ourselves in different contexts of our lives. His exhibition is on view until November 5 in the Hamlin Creative Space of the Weitz.
Q: Where does the name 2Fik come from?
A: Well, it actually is my real name. It’s not spelled 2Fik, it’s spelled Toufik. This is my real name, it means the courage and ambition that Allah gave you. And it fits me pretty well!
Q: The information pamphlet about you says that you were raised Muslim; do you still consider yourself Muslim?
A: I was raised Muslim, but I’m not anymore, I’m agnostic. But I was raised in a Muslim family from Morocco.
[Here I apologize for asking a question so forward right off the bat, and he responds]:
A: Oh please, if I would be offended for this type of question,I wouldn’t be making the art that I’m doing, believe me. It’s interesting how you reacted to this, it seems that there is now some questions that you don’t have the right to ask. People say, be careful because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, but the thing is that the definition of hurting someone’s feelings is pretty high at this point.
Q: What was the journey like for you to become the artist that you are today — who or what remain your biggest influences?
A: I’ve always been a creative kid, but at the same time I never thought I’d be able to do what I’m doing today, so I think it’s a question of how my brain was thinking of the idea of identity. In the beginning, it started with self portraits. Since 2005, I’ve been taking photos of myself in hats, wigs and hijabs, and some other coats and clothes. And a year after I found myself asleep and I realized I need to create fictional biographies for each character, each with their job, love status, ambition, and this is is how the work went in another direction. And I’m still doing it now. But I never thought I’d be that deep in developing this art. I never thought I’d be an artist, even after exhibiting for the first time I didn’t consider myself an artist, only after my second exhibition in New York City in 2013. It took eight years.
Q: Did you have another job during this time?
A: Yep, I had a day job. As a communication manager for a non-profit housing organization. I loved it. I just left my job in 2017, all the art was happening on the side. Evening, nights, weekends, vacations.
Q: What do you view your role as artist in residence here at Carleton as? In what ways can Carleton students engage with you the best?
A: I believe that art is about pushing people’s thinking. By inviting me here for three weeks, Carleton allowed me to bring art into a space of education and pushing people’s thinking about how they see things. Using art as a means to learning allows the integration of information in a different manner; the classes that I’ve been in, like Gender in the Middle East, or French, or Drawing, Photography, all these classes that I’ve been to talk about my art let me talk about my art through different lenses. There is also the concept for me to learn about my own art from feedback through the students. Plus I hope that I allow students to ask disturbing questions that they wouldn’t ask a teacher. That would be fun, if I managed to do this I would be happy.
Q: What is one positive thing as a community that Carleton is doing to foster an open and creative environment, and what is one thing that we could work on?
A: The openness to invite an artist like me is a positive, a total plus. The other plus is to think outside of the box. This isn’t the first time an artist has shown up in Carleton, which shows that something is happening. One thing that I think can be worked on is how students are taking the classes they have; we should be open to every subject, even if they can be disturbing. There is a certain capacity for students to push away concepts, ideas that can be deemed from the past. Like the way some authors talked about feminism, or how they used to write about violence. We have to stay open. If something is part of the history books, it is for a reason. We have to be careful to not mix up the points of views we have today with the ones we had 50 years ago. I think it’s important to look in the past to see what will happen in the future.
Q: Which one of your events has been the most impactful?
A: The most impactful I think was the runway workshop I did on October 25. It was pretty awesome because it was easily 18 people, a good amount who were guys, who showed up to learn how to walk in high heels. I’m really satisfied with how people participate; I’m more concerned about quality over quantity levels. I can have an event that doesn’t have a lot of participants, but still a great amount of debate and discussions.
Q: What do you want to leave Carleton with once your residency here is complete?
A: I would love to leave a sense of excitement and the idea that even a little amount of students will realize that identity is a fascinating topic that we can talk about in a light manner, while still being serious about it. I would love [for] identity to not become a taboo subject and the fact that you apologized to ask me about my religion is perfect proof; we are now living in a world where we are so afraid of asking questions that I’m genuinely afraid that we won’t be able to live without sharing who we are as people. We are in a system where our image is clearly not identity. So if me coming by can allow someone to be a little more open and wonder who the people are around them rather than just thinking someone is like this because they look like that. If I can get people to come together and be a little more open, that would be awesome.
2Fik’s last exhibition is “High He High Heels,” a workshop where men learn and perform a military march in high heels, and will be on Friday, November 2 from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m., followed by a closing reception from 7:00pm to 9:00 pm. After he concludes his residency here, 2Fik will continue working on his Dating App series which he has been working on since 2013, where he plays 100 characters with different looks and identities captured through photographs. 2Fik plans to exhibit the series in either New York or Montreal after it is completed in 2020.