We’re super excited to announce that Muslim Girl had the opportunity to interview the fantastic and phenomenal artist Kulsum Tasnif. Her work is political, beautiful, and inspiring. Here’s what she had to say.
Muslim Girl: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sr Kulsum: Sure! I was born in England, grew up travelling between London and Muscat, and came to the U.S. when I was in Junior High. My parents are from Pakistan, so I identify as a Pakistani-American-Muslim. As far as my art background, I’m a mixed media artist, which means that I like to explore different mediums to convey my message. My art style and approach varies depending upon the story I’m telling. I’ve been at this art thing pretty much all my life, so drawing, painting, creating with my hands comes naturally. These days I’m learning digital art and animation as part of my graduate studies in art and design.
Muslim Girl: How did you originally start out as an artist?
Sr Kulsum: 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 then 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. I had a bunch of solo shows before I decided to go back to school.
Muslim Girl: What are your main sources of inspiration?
Sr Kulsum: My art is driven by deep emotion. I feel compelled to create for so many reasons. 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 worked on that exhibit for almost four 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!
Muslim Girl: What would you tell Muslim women starting out in the arts that you wish you had known?
Sr Kulsum: Being a professional artist with a family is tough if you don’t have the financial support. We’re definitely not in this field for the money! I learned this the hard way. I’m lucky in that I have a partner that is able to provide and who believes in my work, so I’m able to create without compromise. In terms of being a Muslim woman in the arts, or any woman for that matter, I would say play it smart and pair your art degree with marketing or business. Many artists like myself are great at the art part, but really fall short in other aspects. Learning how to market yourself and make a living off your art is a skill that takes dedication and education.
Muslim Girl: Where can people go to see your work and buy your work?
Sr Kulsum: I would love for anyone who’s reading to follow me on Instagram @kulsumts. There, you’ll see my progress from ink and paper to digital illustration. If you’d like to view the full breadth of my work, my website (www.kulsumtasnif.com) is a pretty good place to visit. It’s a welcoming space that houses my calligraphic paintings, gives a broader understanding of my recent art exhibits, and displays some of the writing I’ve done. Feel free to send me a message on Instagram if you’re interested in purchasing my work, or if you’d just like to chat. I would love to connect!
So that’s what Sister Kulsum had to say about her work. Needless to say to the readers of Muslim Girl, there is so much vibrant and incredible work happening right now in the field of the arts by Muslim women. The importance of us claiming control of our narrative about Islam and Muslims is forwarded and held by the work of writers, artists, musicians, play writes, actors, filmmakers, and so many others who make space for Muslim voices by speaking up about our experience from our own authentic view point. We’d like to thank Sister Kulsum for sharing her thoughts, and her amazing contributions to the field of Islamic arts. We look forward to seeing what she creates next!
Sarah is a social worker in the San Francisco Bay Area with at-risk and homeless youth. She likes to paint, drum, sing, and spend quality time with her family and God in her free time. She is currently working on a book on Sufism, mindfulness and recovery from co-occurring disorders and on an album with her band EYETestify.