Malik Dieleman is a Toronto-based photographer and multi-disciplinary visual artist. His work includes photography, videography, illustration and graphic design. He is a recipient of Project 31’s photography scholarship and graduated with distinction from OCAD University with a BFA in Photography in 2020. His images have been published in magazines such as PhotoED, Among Worlds, and Love Is Moving. Find Malik’s photography on his website and follow him on Instagram. He was interviewed for Love Is Moving by one of our columnists, Canadian hyper-surrealist painter Josh Tiessen.

Josh Tiessen: Malik, one thing we share in common is that we’re third-culture kids. How did growing up in France, Senegal, and Canada shape your interest in art?

Malik Dieleman: I was fortunate to experience a variety of cultures and landscapes at a young age, and I think this instilled a value of physical location and environment in my work. I attribute a lot of my interest in photography to these frequent moves to different places. Taking images became a way for me to capture the ever-changing world around me.

JT: What ultimately drew you to photography?

MD: I distinctly remember my sister receiving a point-and-shoot camera as a gift, and I was quite jealous. Over the years I borrowed it so much from her that it eventually became my camera. I would bring it everywhere and take (really bad) photos during recess, on the school bus, and while exploring the woods near my house … There was something magical about clicking the shutter button and creating an image—freezing a moment and memory in time. The camera lens quickly became an extension of how I saw and experienced the world. When moving to Senegal, I was quickly given the title of “photographer,” and it’s never left.

JT: In 2020 you graduated from OCAD University with a Bachelor of Fine Art in Photography. Tell us about your experience attending art school. What were the highlights and struggles you faced?

MD: The best thing about my degree was hands down the variety of mediums and processes I had the time and space to experiment with. My program was quite multi-disciplinary, allowing me to take courses like printmaking, bronze casting, colour theory, drawing, filmmaking, etc. which complemented my core photo courses. I also discovered so much about historical and contemporary art, which I now believe is an important part of finding inspiration and deepening any art practice.

At first, it was a struggle for me to display my art projects for critique and not take feedback personally. It would feel like a part of my heart was put up on the wall for criticism. I had to learn to separate myself from the work I produced. Another thing I found challenging was the lack of post-grad career preparation. While I developed my art practice, practical business skills and life-application weren’t enough of a focus throughout the program.

“Storm” by Malik Dieleman. Digital and film photograph collage.

JT: What advice then would you give Christians who are considering art school?

MD: Keep creating. It might be hard to see a lot of progress in your skills day-to-day, month-to-month, but you will make so much progress over the years. Spend more time on the projects you’re excited about. Go above and beyond for those ones, if you can. You won’t be able to give 100 per cent in everything, and that’s OK. Spread it out. Have grace for yourself.

Be yourself. Stick to your values. You will find that most people will respect that, even if they don’t agree with what you believe. Why waste energy being someone you’re not? [Maybe] you entered a secular institution thinking you could be a “light in the darkness.” So be one. Don’t let your eyes get used to the dark so fast. You reflect God, the Creator, by creating yourself.

Take risks. Don’t be put off by rejection. You’ll get a lot of it. Starting even in first year, create a portfolio and look out for exhibition/art submission opportunities. Submit, submit, submit; apply, apply, apply. You will get so many noes, but all the yeses are worth it. Also, don’t wait until fourth year to make business cards.

Think more about how you can use your art projects to express and engage your faith. Use art as a form of worship, or devotion. It doesn’t need to be evangelism, it doesn’t need to be literal, it doesn’t need to be the gospel. It’s OK if you don’t know everything about Christianity. It’s OK not to have every answer. In fact, you should ask more questions than you give answers.

JT: Wow, this is some awesome advice, especially since Christian artists can often feel marginalized in fine art programs. I am curious how your initiative MAKE_! with InterVarsity Canada seeks to support artists in this season?

MD: I got involved with the InterVarsity Christian fellowship on my campus early on when attending OCAD U. Connecting with and learning from other Christian creatives has been such an important part in my own journey as an artist. It allows a space for me to explain some of my artwork in view of shared faith. During my final year, the InterVarsity group initiated MAKE_!, a gathering space for artists of any discipline—visual, word, performing—to get together, share a meal, reflect on questions of life and faith, and make art. These gatherings lead up to a showcase of the work created in community. In 2021, I helped organize and host the first showcase (virtual due to COVID), which had the theme of Displacement and Belonging. It was a pleasure to include one of your pieces, Josh. MAKE_! meetings are ongoing, hosted by InterVarsity at OCAD U, however they are open for non-students to participate. Later this year, MAKE_! will be exhibiting an in person art and faith showcase in Toronto.

JT: I was happy to be part of that show and think what you’re doing is incredibly vital. Switching gears––can you share with us about your own photographic style and philosophy and any projects you are working on at the moment?

MD: In my final year at OCAD U I developed a series of what I call environmental portraits: photographs of subjects within physical spaces that are personally significant to them. This blend between person and place is really interesting to me. Much of my work reflects on themes of location, identity, and faith. Experimentation is a big part of my process as well. At any given moment you’ll likely find me trying a new form of artmaking!

I am a big fan of a historical darkroom image-making process called cyanotypes, which produce bright blue and white prints. I am currently developing a resource book about how to create and tone cyanotypes.

JT: I really respect how you continue exploring new artistic mediums since graduating, even while articulating a clear thematic vision. I wish you all the best in your future creative endeavours!

Josh Tiessen is an international award-winning fine artist, speaker, and writer based in Stoney Creek, ON. In 2020 he graduated with a Bachelor of Religious Education in Arts, Biblical Studies, and Philosophy. He has had solo exhibitions in galleries from New York to LA. His latest art monograph book, Streams in the Wasteland, released in fall 2021.