Photo Cred: Hiba Chohan
Kulsum Tasnif is an eloquent writer and a creative artist whose background and upbringing is as equally inspiring as her message. Get to know her on an intimate level through her beautiful words below, everything from battling an identity crisis to how she developed an inner balance which she utilized in creating her masterpieces:
Photo Cred: Hiba Chohan
R.Do you identify yourself as an Artist or a Writer?
K.I’m a mixed media artist, which means that I like to explore different mediums to convey a message. Writing is integral to my work and a gift I hold dear. When I write, I pour my heart and soul into it. I’ve been at this art thing pretty much all my life, so drawing, painting, creating with my hands comes naturally. In college, I double majored in studio art and creative writing, but I’ve never called myself a “Writer.” I often turn to friends who have chosen this honorable profession for advice when I’m working on publishing a piece. I am in awe of their literary talents. Every craft takes hard work and dedication. Perhaps that’s why I could never give myself the privilege of that title because I feel like others deserve it so much more.
Digital Illustration: “Unconditional-Ally, Love Unconditionally” by Kulsum Tasnif
R.Aw ما شاء الله, but as a published writer, myself, I feel like anyone who has a passion for writing and especially someone who has studied it, deserves that title. To me, you are a writer and artist. Your artwork is very colorful and full of life lessons, ما شاء الله. Describe to us your source of inspiration.
K.My art is driven by deep emotion. I feel compelled to create for so many reasons. For example, my series “Journey to The Good Life” came at a time when I was grappling with the idea of letting go of control and surrendering my anxieties to Allah swt. It was 2014. I was still reeling from the death of both my parents to cancer. I had already begun research on the refugee crisis in which I recorded voices of survivors of war. Themes merged together and this series became about survival, struggle, and hope. It also helped me come to terms with my own personal loss. I worked on that exhibit for almost 4 years until I was ready to let go. In 2018, I was in a different emotional space, Alhamdulillah. My scars became my strength. I felt light, powerful, and full of passion–ready to celebrate the women who had helped heal me. That’s how “The Protest Purse” was born. I am drawn to stories of human struggles and triumphs. My art is a reflection of who I am. Whether it’s through my paintings, purses or illustrations, I hope that people are able to connect with my work in a meaningful way–and as an extension, connect with me on a human level.
R.Tell us about your multicultural upbringing and how it relates to your work.
K.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–and I love very easily. My art is about compassion, acceptance, understanding and belonging. These universal values that were instilled early on are a result of my unique upbringing.
The Protest Purse series, “Immigrant.” Photo Cred: Caroline Cockrell
R.Have you ever experienced an identity crisis? If so, how did you find your inner balance?
K.Oh yes. Every decade or so, I went through some sort of a crisis where my insecurities blinded me. I never entirely lost sight of who I was, but lines certainly got blurry. I got through it by leaning on my mother. The first time I can remember this happening was when I was 8 or 9 years old. I grew up in London at a time when Skinheads roamed the streets and “Paki go home” was common slang. One day, I decided that my name was “Jennifer,” and not “Kulsum.” The kids would make fun of my dark skin, crooked teeth, and hairy arms. I thought that perhaps by changing my name, I wouldn’t look so “different” to them. That day, my mom held her arms up to mine. She asked if the hair on her arms and brown skin was “ugly.” I was horrified because I only saw her through the lens of unconditional love. “Beta,” she said endearingly, “you are MY Kulsum. I gave you this beautiful name.” Over the years, I would turn to her (and my sister-friends) for support when I stumbled. I think I finally grew up when I reached my mid 30’s and my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Now that she’s not with me anymore, my sujoods are longer and my dua’s are stronger–I suppose I am too.
Digital Illustration: “Covid is Cruel” By Kulsum Tasnif
R.How can we follow your journey?
K.Your lovely readers can follow me on Instagram. I took a break from social media for a while to focus on grad school. I’m in my final year, studying Art and Design. My goal before the next semester begins is to post on IG regularly. I’m trying to get better at digital technology, so if you follow me 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!
Calligraphy by Kulsum Tasnif