We had the good fortune of connecting with Yasmine Nasser Diaz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Yasmine, how do you think about risk?
I love this question because it speaks to my favorite piece of advice for younger people–the lesson of failure. That is, to not only not be afraid of failure, but to welcome the lessons that taking a risk and failing can teach you. For years, I was so paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong move that I took very few risks. My growth really suffered for it. Now I know that if I’m too comfortable or complacent about the work I’m doing, it usually means it’s tepid and likely not saying anything interesting.
I consider my art career as having started just a few years ago, essentially when I was finally ready to address issues that were more important to me. I began this shift with a body of work that is autobiographical — that was new and vulnerable territory for me, something I intentionally steered clear of before. I’m a Yemeni-American woman and I was raised in a socially conservative Muslim family. Some of the things I address in my work challenge the misogyny of my community of origin. While the issues are global, because I’m talking about them through a particular lens at a particular time (i.e. as an Arab in a post-9/11 United States), my concern was that my work might be used in a way that fueled hateful rhetoric and bigotry. I try to address issues in ways that are nuanced and complicated. So far I can say that these risks have been very much worth taking. Sharing my own reality has led to thoughtful and generative dialogue with people of similar backgrounds as well others, which I did not expect. It’s been extremely rewarding and cathartic.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Since last fall, I’ve branched out to working more with textiles. I learned the process of fiber etching, also known as burnout, and have been using this technique to create images that are an extension of my collage and photo-based work. The first series of fiber etchings are translations of personal photos — my own and those of other Yemeni-American women I’ve collected. I had been incorporating imagery of textiles more in my collages and actual fabric pieces in my assemblages when I came across some old photos of family members wearing dresses made with burnout fabrics. Burnout was popular in the 90s when I was growing up and is the time period this work focuses on. It was also often used to make a Yemeni style of dress called a dir’ which some say is only to be worn by married or engaged women. This work centers adolescence and more specifically, Yemeni-American girlhood, so this new medium hit a lot of marks for me. I initially created this series, along with an immersive site-specific installation, for my first museum solo show at the Arab American National Museum in Michigan. That show has yet to physically open to the public due to the pandemic but I am very excited to be presenting an iterative exhibit of this work in my show soft powers, which opens at Ochi Projects in Los Angeles on October 10.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
It’s so strange to think about that as we’re still in a phase of sheltering in place while the fires are raging and the hazardous air is forcing us to stay indoors even more. Oof. It’s a lot.
Generally, my recommended itinerary for LA visitors is 90% centered around food. We are so lucky to live in a city with such ethnically diverse communities and dining, so I always want people to take advantage of that while they’re here. I still love the dining options at the old Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax. It’s all outdoors so I’m assuming they are open at the moment. My favorite spot there is Banana Leaf which serves Indonesian food that is absolutely delicious. I love their mee goreng noodles.
Korea Town, which is so unique to L.A., is an absolute must. Pre-Covid I would have definitely recommended dedicating a day to walk around the area, spend a few hours at a Korean spa followed by a Korean barbecue dinner and drinks at The Prince.
Another favorite stop are the Venice Canals. They were recreated to replicate the appearance and feel of Venice, Italy. They feel a bit strangely out of place and I love them for it.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I always have to give a shout out to The Women’s Center for Creative Work, an L.A.-based nonprofit that has cultivated a very special community. The friends and support I have received via the WCCW have been integral to my relationship with this city and the creative feminist community. If you’re not familiar with them, I highly recommend checking out their core values which are a great example of how thoughtfully and thoroughly they think about the ways in which they engage with and support their members and broader community.
For the portrait shot only: Nour Ballout