Big Ticket: Former Torontonian Karim Rashid and other top artists participate in citywide art project

Karim Rashid — born in Egypt and raised in Montreal and Toronto — has become an international design sensation. But he hasn’t forgotten his roots and spends a lot of time back in the city. Recently, he got involved with The Brain Project, a Baycrest Health Sciences fundraiser and open-air art installation, launching June 3, that sees a slew of incredible artists, such as Rashid, Mr. Brainwash and David Drebin, put their unique spins on large brain sculptures that will be displayed at dozens of sites around town — all to start a global conversation around brain health. We chatted with Rashid recently about the project, his own philosophy on health and coffee.

How did you get involved with the project?
I am the co-chair for the Canadian Art Foundation 2016 gala, so they approached me to see if I wanted to contribute to the brain project. Although I don’t have any real connection with Alzheimer’s, or brain issues, I am kind of obsessed with personal health and well-being.

To what extent?
Well, I’ve eaten organic food for 23 years, for example. But even then, I was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and it was a horrible time as I was turning 50. Even with all the exercise and taking care of myself, I still end up with cancer. I realized a lot of our health issues are to do with our environment, and our environment is pretty toxic in general for the brain or any other part of the body.

What are you working on for the project?
I put [my] brain sculpture beside my desk, and every day I added a word or a symbol or an icon. I had the brain for 60 days, so I’d pick up a marker and record a feeling I had at that moment of the day. I called it Knowledge in the Brain, because it is kind of my thoughts and my beliefs and my vision, in a way, not only for work but also about the world itself.

What do you hope people take from your sculpture and the project?
I think, for me particularly, some of the words are inspiring, the sentences are inspiring. It’s a bit of the way I kind of believe in the contemporary world. The project as a whole, it is about awareness.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
When you feel like you’ve contributed something that makes many others inspired, I think, or loved. You know, when you give. That’s the best way for me to feel a sense of happiness.

What is your greatest fear?
I have no fear. I’ve concluded that, after cancer. Fear is what holds us back.

What do you like to do when you’re back in the Toronto area?
I actually come back every two months or so. My mother still lives in Toronto. I try to take any opportunity I can to go. And I think, probably, I always like to just stroll down Queen Street West because I lived at Bathurst and Queen. There are so many galleries and small furniture shops. I love that feeling of small business, and it is getting harder and harder to find those kinds of businesses. And I always pop in to the Power Plant, AGO and DX [Design Exchange]. 

You have a love of good coffee. Where do you like to go in T.O.?
RSquared café on Queen West every time I’m here. And Frank & Oak: they have a little coffee shop in there that I like to go to a lot.