Kulsum Tasnif

Site: www.kulsumtasnif.com Instagram: @kulsumtasnif

Kulsum Tasnif Interview.pdf
Date of Interview: 08/22/2020 Interviewed by: Nylah Khan

Tell us about your background. Do you feel your culture or upbringing has had an effect on your work?
I was born in England, grew up travelling between London and Muscat, and came to the US when I was in Junior High. My parents are from Pakistan so I identify as a Pakistani-American-Muslim. Growing up in a multicultural environment was enriching. I realized early on that this world is big and beautiful, and belongs to all of us. Being “the new kid” is not without its challenges, but it taught me to value people and not places. I deeply care for friendships and try to hold on to those whom I love. My art is about compassion, acceptance, understanding and belonging. These universal values that were instilled early on are a result of my unique upbringing.

2. How would you describe your art? Style? Preferred medium?
I’m a mixed media artist, which means that I like to explore different mediums to convey my message. My style and approach varies depending upon the story I’m telling. My Arabic calligraphic work usually takes the form of acrylic on canvas with added elements like fabric and beading for texture. I love drawing, so for one series I combined painting colorful borders and patterns with black and white illustrations. I enjoy collaborating, so another series entailed painting purses for women and documenting their stories in a collection of photographs. I’m currently studying art and design in graduate school which has led me down the exciting path of digital media. As you can tell, I don’t like to stick to one medium, but If there’s a common thread that connects my work it’s that I’m the one creating it!

3. What motivated you to become an artist? What inspires your work?
I don’t think being an artist was a choice for me. It’s just who I was ever since I could hold a pencil. However, the choice to study art and make it a career is just a big blessing. I was supposed to go to law school, but instead chose a path that brought me the greatest fulfillment. I’m lucky to have had supportive parents who encouraged me to follow my dreams. I double majored in English and art, so I was able to work as an editor to pay the bills, while the rest of my time was spent showing my work in cafes. Eventually that led to galleries. Being a professional artist with a family is tough if you don’t have the financial support, so having a partner who believes in my work means a lot. My art is driven by deep emotion--inspiration arises from my desire to communicate what I’m feeling.

4. Have you ever integrated topics of identity/race/social justice in your art? If so, how?
Oh most definitely. I am drawn to stories of human struggles and triumphs. In my series “Journey to The Good Life,” I spent years researching the refugee crisis in which I recorded voices of survivors of war and illustrated their stories. I had the opportunity to highlight powerful accounts of survivors from Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Burma, and Syria. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this series taught a lesson about the hope that survives through suffering. I worked on that exhibit for almost 4 years until I felt the need to take a step back. I decided that my next venture would be about female strength and empowerment. This came at a time when our country was still reeling from the result of the 2016 elections. That’s how the “The Protest Purse” was born. My resistance purses serve as documentation of an era in which voices are silenced, yet, remaining silent is not an option. It is an ongoing project that seeks to re-contextualize how we see protest, and allows insight into the hearts and minds of a diverse community of women. We have tackled themes from immigration and DACA to the “Me too” movement and cancer. I can’t wait to finish school so I can focus on this project again.

5. In what way(s) do you feel art has the power to create change?
Art is a powerful tool that speaks a universal language. It is a voice for those who can’t verbalize. It has the ability to move even the hardest of hearts. And when art moves hearts, those hearts move limbs.

6. Tell us about your experiences as a student in K-12 art education. Did your k-12 experience have a direct influence on your decision to continue as an artist?
I grew up in a cultural environment in which the arts weren’t encouraged. My mom tried her best to provide me with the tools to succeed. I always had supplies, but lacked mentorship. It was only when I came to the States as an 8th grader that I truly felt appreciated and valued for my inborn talent. I moved around a lot, so it was hard to make friends. But there was always a place for me in the art room, and my art teachers became confidants. By the time I was senior in high school I had three art classes. My teacher, Mr. Graham was a great influence in my life at the time, and had much to do with my decision to pursue an art major in college. He was kind, encouraging, supportive, and most importantly, gave excellent feedback. We kept in touch for years after I graduated.

7. What was your favorite art lesson as a K-12 student?
It’s been a while, but I’ll always remember the first time I worked with fabric and hot wax. I was in the 8th grade and it was my first exposure to mediums other than the usual water color, color pencils, etc. I dyed my own fabric, embroidered it with gold thread, and then created a floral pattern with hot wax. It was a memorable lesson because I also ended up winning my first art competition on account of it!

8. What is one message you want to give to art educators?
Art educators play such an important role in a young artist’s life. I don’t think I would have gotten through high school without Mr. Graham’s constant encouragement. I have so much appreciation for what you do. I am in awe of your patience, creativity, and dedication to your field.

9. What is one message you want to give to art students?
Don’t aim for perfection because perfection doesn’t exist.
Try your best to finish what you start.
“Mistakes” are good. Learn from them.
Don’t be too hard on yourself; it’s easy to get frustrated with your own work.
Recognize that you’re on a journey. Good things take time to grow.