Tasnim Baghdadi: Embracing the Multiple and Myriad

Tasnim Baghdadi (copyright: Lisa Emilia Photography)
German artist of Moroccan heritage, Tasnim Baghdadi is no stranger to IMOW, having previously been featured here in the Muslima exhibition, Tasnim's work reverberates with pulsating visual and symbolic energy. Whether she's accessing and re-interpreting her Moroccan roots, reiterating her agency to articulate as a Muslim woman and artist, or donning multiple style avatars in her blog, Bedouin Colors, she continually seeks to plant question marks in people's minds as they view and engage with her work.

Her Blueprint spoke to Tasnim to find out about her iridescently textured work and journey.

You dabble in multiple media: graphic design, digital illustration, and photography. What kind of an artist would you essentially describe yourself as? What drives you to produce art? 

My main motivation for producing art is the fact that art has the power of universality. It reaches out to everybody and creates a state of universal identification. When dealing with artworks, even before locating the artist´s personality and motivation [in producing them], we first and foremost find ourselves in them. Art functions like a symbolical mirror to our own subconciousness. I'm very interested in these aspects and how art is able to change perceptions of the self and the others, bringing individuals from different parts of the world with varied world views together and reminding them of their collective oneness. What I also love about producing art is that it can sometimes work like an act of violence in that the art forces the viewer to deal with a certain topic through the tool of provocation. 

Your work is particularly preoccupied with the formation and possibility of multiple identities. How would you define your cultural identity (given your Moroccan roots and currently residing in Germany)? How does it influence and permeate your work? 

I firstly perceive myself as a German artist with Moroccan roots. I was born and raised in Cologne, Germany, simultaneously imbibing the German society along with a strong Moroccan Muslim influence impacting and shaping my personality. I therefore see myself as a person who not only just comfortably resides in-between two cultures but also someone deeply connected to my parents' and grandparents' Moroccan culture, religion and ancestry. In my artworks, I always encounter aspects of both cultures embedded in them, whether consciously or not. It fascinates me to work with contrasts and my own cultural contrasts figure as a main part of nearly all my works. I think that being inbetween two different cultures nowadays is not always easy, especially when you are young and on a journey for your personal identity; however, it also equips you to appreciate multiple nuances and layers and from myriad perspectives – and that aspect I really appreciate. 

What role does gender play in your life and how do you address it through your work?

Gender is one of those aspects of life which has greatly always mattered to me. As a Muslim woman living in a Western country, I was sick of hearing - from mainly white feminists - that Islam has to free their women from oppression and patriarchy given that these aspects were part of a basic human problem that we collectively needed to resolve. There was a time when I experienced deep frustration and anger towards these elite group of feminists speaking for other women of color and I in media, books, and articles, taking away our voices and therefore, denying us agency to articulate what our individual life choices and opinions actually happened to be. Such ignorance points towards a singular truth about gender and feminism whereas the situation is actually much more complex. I saw feminism as also rooted in my Muslim identity and tradition and so I subsequently decided to communicate this fact through my art, using self-portraits and slipping into different roles, creating strong images, experimenting with gender and fashion, covering up and acting free and strong. I feel that is a realistic representation of women such as myself. I feel like the world needs to learn more about and from Muslim women who struggle with patriarchy everyday, who love their religion and spirituality, and who stand firm no matter what...thus becoming role models for all of us.

Tribal Mysticism: Judging You

In Tribal Mysticism, you present self-portraits of yourself adorned with tribal markings. Could you describe what you were striving to convey through these photographs? 

The Tribal Mysticism series was one of my very first works. The idea for it emerged after the Arab Spring revolts, particularly those which began in North Africa. I saw all these young people in the streets with their hopes and anger about their countries' respective regimes  – and that really moved me. I was drawn towards their passionate desire to lead self-determined lives, which I happened to have the privilege of leading. I was pursuing my Masters in Asian and Islamic Art History at the time and was exploring the relationship between contemporary popular art and propaganda art in communist countries such as Russia and China as well as poster art in Iran during the 1979 revolution. As I absorbed all these bold, colorful posters and the strong messages that I was analysing, I felt the need to create something similar imbued with the Arab Spring's spirit. I wanted to mix it up with other various influences which had shaped my life and use my face as an archetypical projection in a sense. I also tried to use colors in a very symbolic way, as in those of the Arab flags. My other main inspiration for the series comes from a photography series that strongly impacted me: Marc Garanger's portraits of unveiled Algerian women. When I first saw these strong Berber women with all their tattoos and innate dignity, protecting themselves from the evil eye that they perceived as seemingly emerging from the camera through the implacable looks on their faces, I felt as if they radiated an intense sense of pride during the time of French imperial oppression. I immediately felt the need to access this source of inspiration and present my interpretation of it within this series.
Tribal Meal 2
 Tribal Meal is an intriguing photo-essay which presents the interplay between patterns and food. What comment were you making through this project? 

The series came to my mind during a time in which social media and the Internet assumed the main role in providing news coverage about political conflict in the Middle East, the war in Syria dominating the headlines. Hundreds of reports and images of injured children and demonstrations, destroyed streets and military interventions were moving through my newsfeed in Facebook, Twitter and more. In the meantime, I was going to work and reading all about it while commuting or eating in the cafe. My friends and I felt desperate and powerless. It felt so strange to 'consume' all of these messages as if they were nothing more than a plate of spaghetti bolognese. It was the equivalent of fast food media, so to speak. There is a saying in German which I often thought of during that time: I don't know if I should start laughing or crying right now. In this situation marked by powerlessness, the idea for the Tribal Meal series was born, being a sequel to my first series. I decided not to work with figurative symbols and archetypes this time round; I instead used a deep rooted cultural symbol, the traditional kuffiyah and adding ketchup and a huge portion of sardonic humour to create that optical illusion.
First World Problems: Greed

Digital illustration commonly features in your work, such as First World Problems. What is it that you particularly enjoy working with this medium? You are also working on a short graphic novel, La Bedouine Obscure. Could you tell us more about that? 

Well, the First World Problem series is one of my more playful works in which I mock my own generation in a sense; I describe it as the ' music-hearing-turban-wearing-blogging-primark-shopping-depressed and overchallenged-which hashtag to use next-generation' which I see myself as part of. This series is very much inspired by my love for comics, pop art and illustration. Since I was a child, comics were the most beautiful way to escape from reality into a world, where all of us could be superheros or mystical beings. I have started to chalk out the storyline for my new graphic novel, La Bedouine Obscure; it will have autobiographical elements, since the rebellious protagonist can somehow be seen as my own alter-ego you also find in the Tribal Mysticism series. However, I plan to place the whole story and scenery in a fictional world in which La Bedouine Obscure will be having her adventures and struggles until she finds what brings her to her inner self. 

Tasnim's avatar as Mademoiselle Pouvine from her blog, Bedouin Colors
What led you to create your style blog, Bedouin Colors and how has your journey been so far, as in your experiences blogging and the feedback that you have received? 

Fashion is one of my passions apart from the visual art, comics, and graphic design. I always love to experiment with different fashion styles and find inspiration in a lot of genres and eras. To me, fashion has to do with exploration, slipping into different roles of your personality. It´s an adventure in which I tell the world my story about how I feel and think. Many people think fashion is superficial without any deeper meaning which is comlpetely wrong in my understanding of it. I think that the way we dress has a lot to say about how we want the world to view us; we form and have the power to build up a whole concept of personality through the art of fashion. I decided to share all of my experiences and experiments with the fashion world through blogging, mixing visual arts with writing and hoping in the process that I could learn a lot about myself through it. I mainly work with second hand and vintage fashion as I feel that fashion should be linked what I describe as a more responsible, sustainable way of being stylish. I can save money, be mindful of the environment, and look good while remaining true to my values.

What do you hope people carry away after looking at and engaging with your art? 

 My wish is to leave people with question marks – and the reason is because I feel questions jumpstart mental revolutions. I hope to move their perceptions into being more open minded about themselves and the people around them, starting with a moment or question in their head counter to what they usually think after seeing my work. As I often get the feedback that my art seems to bring together contrasts, I feel that my main motivation is to demonstrate that contrasts and contradictions are an inherent part of our human nature. We should embrace and transform these contradictions into positivity and also, display empathy and understanding for people who are struggling with their own personal contradictions.

Find out more about Tasnim's work here.

Credit: All images courtesy of Tasnim Baghdadi unless otherwise stated.