A Conversation with Yasmine Kasem on Grace and Innovation Amidst Ignorance

Yasmine Kasem, “Mwasah”, Grand Central Art Center; Photo courtesy of Alexander Sarina and the gallery
Yasmine Kasem, “Mwasah”, Grand Central Art Center; Photo courtesy of Alexander Sarina and the gallery

Grace and Innovation Amidst Ignorance

through April 15
Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana

By Sydney Walters
The Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California is exhibiting the thoughtfully relevant work of Yasmine Kasem, “Mwasah”, a meditation of grief within the context of her Egyptian heritage.

As an Egyptian-American, Kasem has developed a creative practice which processes the painful fear-mongering often projected on her Middle Eastern culture. She says, “In my first instances of experiencing stigma I felt helpless because I was just a kid and did not feel like there was anything I could do about it. I eventually learned that doing nothing is never a good thing. I began by responding to any stigma whenever and however I could. What was not, and still is not easy. I start by listening and hearing everything the misinformed stigma speaks, all the while the anger and frustration burned within, though I would convert it to stamina to hold a conversation and make a human connection through various mediums. I figured if I was going to change anything about perception, I needed to start small, take my time and be a representative. My earlier works developed into this perspective. To direct my frustration of stigma about Islam and Middle Eastern cultures into sculptures on an educational platform.”

Yasmine Kasem, “Mwasah”, Grand Central Art Center; Photo courtesy of Alexander Sarina and the gallery
Yasmine Kasem, “Mwasah”, Grand Central Art Center; Photo courtesy of Alexander Sarina and the gallery

Through self-realization and introspective, Kasem develops a unique voice coming from her personal experiences, rather than Islam as a broad subject. “I’m interested in the frustration and beauty that sprouts from the intersections of what it means to be American, Muslim, and Egyptian, within my gender and orientation. How each identity layers on top of one another, causing a more strenuous tension within myself, but creating a more unique and diverse space. I use that tension in my works to obscure the monolith that I feel is used to represent what’s believed to be a ‘Muslim, Middle Eastern Woman’ in America. If that frustration is funneled into the art, I feel that I can free just a little bit of its strain. I pour the heavy emotions into the work as I create it, giving it all my excess energy so that perhaps it can give insight as to what those layers mean to me.”

Kasem interlocks this heaviness with release as a gesture of vacillation between two worlds. She resides in an “inbetween” space. A space which resonates with audiences familiar with being one thing and another. For those lost, confused or frustrated with feeling estranged from a sense of belonging, Kasem offers this advice:

“Embracing the limbo between and creating a space for yourself can be relieving of that tension. It can be lonely, but generating a space can give way for the growth of a community. This is something that I still struggle with, especially in finding a community to connect with that shares not only the same religion and heritage, but personal interests as well. I have a small network that I feel I can really relate to in that sense of feeling we inhabit the same ‘in-between’ space of culture, heritage and religion. Even if we can’t always be together because of distance or loss, I hold onto the comfort of knowing that I am not alone in how I feel. Knowing that there are people in my life that I can relate to on the intersections of my identity. It’s easier said than done to find a community where you feel a sense belonging, and if it seems such a place isn’t accessible or available to you, then there’s an opportunity to start one.”

“Mwsah” will be at Grand Central Art Center until April 15th.

Grand Central Art Center
125 N Broadway, Santa Ana, CA


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