Opening Reception: February 3 from 7-10pm
Yasmine Kasem: Mwasah presents new work by the American-Egyptian artist that expands the material and conceptual territory of her practice. Born into a Muslim family in Indiana, Kasem has explored the ways in which Egyptian heritage and its value system intersect with her American Midwestern upbringing, and how these contexts shape her identity as a Muslim woman. Her most recent work, featured in Mwasah, meditates on the subject of grief through the lens of Islamic funerary tradition.
The exhibition takes its title from the Arabic word mwasah, loosely translating as “comforting someone in a period of mourning.” This series of works was kindled by the recent loss of a close friend. His funeral was the artist’s first experience of a traditional Muslim service, and she was struck by its silence, swiftness, and separation of mourners by gender. Its use of material, too, made a deep impression on the artist. In Islamic tradition, the deceased is wrapped in a clean, white shroud, bound by rope in three knots: at the head, the waist, and the feet. Kasem soon began researching early Islamic mourning rituals, particularly the phenomenon of wailing, a ritual practiced during Islam’s development in the 7th century and enacted only by women. This combination of crying, singing, and screaming was most often conducted in a group and served to collectively mourn the deceased. The women tore their clothes, scratched their cheeks, and pulled their hair, giving a brazen voice to their sorrow. Many Muslim men scorned these unsettling rituals as uncivilized. Not only did they contradict the trust in Allah essential to the Islamic faith, they were also group actions conducted and controlled by women in a patriarchal culture.
In the works on view in the exhibition, Kasem draws from the formal aspects of these historical and contemporary rituals to create physical manifestations of her own mourning. While she chooses her fabric and ties her knots carefully, the works are made quickly and intuitively. She tears, abrades, and stretches paper, cloth, and rope nearly to the point of breaking. The works express a sense of grief’s pain and sorrow, yet their surprising elegance suggests the act of mourning’s worth. In them the artist creates her own ritual-materializing her own voice, that is, like wailing, both poetic and bold.
– Elizabeth Rooklidge
About the Artist:
Yasmine Kasem completed her B.F.A at Herron School of Art & Design at Indiana University in 2015 and is currently an M.F.A candidate at University of California San Diego. Her work has appeared in solo exhibitions at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, San Juan Islands, WA and the Harrison Center for the Arts, Indianapolis, IN, as well as group exhibitions at the Crypt Gallery, London, UK; Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, NJ; and Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, NJ. In 2015, she was the recipient of the International Sculpture Center’s Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Art award.
About the Curator:
Elizabeth Rooklidge is an independent curator based in Orange County, CA. She previously served as Associate Curator at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, New York, where she curated ten exhibitions, including Long, Winding Journeys: Contemporary Art and the Islamic Tradition and OnSite Katonah, as well as large-scale public works such as Victoria Fu’s Egg and Keiran Brennan Hinton’s Chappaqua Mural. Prior to joining the KMA, she was Assistant Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, where she worked with artists such as Sarah Cain, Nicole Eisenman, and Byron Kim. She earned a B.A. in art history from St. Olaf College and an M.A. in art history from Williams College.
A review of Mwasah by Art and Cake writer Sydney Walters can be found here.