Skip to content
Jamal Burger
Jamal Burger
Scroll Down
INTERVIEW
TOBi & JAMAL BURGER
PHOTOGRAPHER & COMMUNITY ACTIVIST
Toronto, Canada
Shot by iPhone 12
PHOTOGRAPHY
MARK CLENNON
TOBi
What is the importance of community in art?
JAMAL BURGER
I believe community relates particularly to art in specific ways that are so important and special to right now. Historically speaking, kids in underserved communities, black youth in particular, have gravitated to sport, art and entrepreneurship. Art is so important today because as the doors open up for various reasons, the communities we're creating in the art space provide something more relatable to our youth and not just to them but to our friends and to our family. Our parents especially. They didn't know that success could be seen in art. Art has created positive spaces for everyone to explore where risk is still a thing, but our livelihood isn't necessarily on the line. Within the art space, we see kids realizing that they can accomplish their goals as designers, composers and choreographers and to me that's beautiful. Because of community, future generations won't feel like their options are limited to an athlete, drug dealer, or rapper. They see what people who look like them are creating and that lets them know they have options. Options were all we ever needed, and knowing that there's a community in place to catch your fall, makes taking the risk worth the while. Art will be the reason why more kids of colour make change, and I can't wait to see the spaces we cultivate through this momentous shift.
TOBi
You centre many different identities and voices in your work, has that affected the level of empathy in your life?
JAMAL BURGER

I work and speak with kids on a daily basis. My dream has always been to figure out how you can mesh creativity with community in a way where the only limit to our impact is ourselves and our commitment to change. Finding a way to implement a vast network of thinkers of all ages into my workflow has been the biggest blessing. Prior to investing myself into community, I've always felt like my work was formulaic. Now speaking and interacting with such a diverse range of people, I find my understanding for others and myself improving simultaneously. My level of empathy is impacted on various levels. I'm constantly reminded of how I grew up through the kids I work with. It humbles me, and I stay close to my story and in turn that helps me help them. On the other end, entering rooms I would have never expected, I was challenged with picking up on their thought process immediately. That quick learning curve has enabled me to see how people think outside of the way I grew up and what I do with that is bring back the positive and share these gems with the youth because my dream is for them to be better than me. If I can be mindful and caring towards them and exemplify the idea of giving back - when they become better than me, I don't ask for anything. I just ask that they make the same time my team and I did for them, in their own way so the notion of paying it forward stays strong and continually develops. These voices have all contributed to mine in such unique ways, that now I take pride in my understanding and my ability to communicate and advocate for the future.

My additional thoughts:

It's important for everyone to stop and ask themselves what they wish was there while they were growing up, so that either when or along the way - the time and effort is made to improve and reshape those experiences for the next generation so their path is a bit smoother than ours was. Everyone can give back, and the approach to that needs to be personal. We all need to be self-invested into addressing our specific traumas and/or experiences. Whether it be with one person close to home, or for the masses. That energy is what we need to dive deep into, to make change in this world.

[...]