Talented is an understatement when it comes to Tasneem El Meshad. I've literally been obsessed with her work since high school, because I first knew Tasneem as Miss Tasneem. She used to teach art in my school, and my friends and I were always in awe (and slightly intimidated) of her talent and I knew I had to have her featured on my blog.
She is the artist of our generation. Her work to me is definitely top tier and what makes it more powerful is the way she speaks about her art and the passion in her words. This is something you'll definitely notice throughout this interview. The positive mindset and hopeful outlook she has on life and her experiences is honestly so inspiring and I truly believe is going to open many more doors for El Meshad in the future.
The Tuk Tuk Series by Tasneem El Meshad (a personal favourite)
Did you always know you wanted to become an artist?
Yes. Ever since I was young I would always end up doing something artistic in my free time. My mom collected everything for her to prove to me that she "discovered" my talent, and she really did work on nurturing this part of me.
When I'd choose toys as a child, I'd always go towards the arts and crafts section. I was more in touch with the right side of my brain. You know the more creative side. My mom saw that, and at the time I was living Sharjah, and I always loved going to visit the Sharjah Art Museum. It essentially cultivated my fascination towards the arts.
I reached a point where I realised my talent, was confident and my passion just kept growing from there.I was also very inspired by the Indian culture. There was a big Indian community in Sharjah so I was exposed to a lot of their culture, food and traditions. I honestly love everything from their colours to the whole civilisation and I think it's evident in my work.
Who are the artists that inspire you?
Gazbia Sirry. She's one of the artists that really drew me, from the evolution of her work to her philosophies, I basically see her as a massive school of art embodied in one person.
I was not just inspired by the big artists, a lot of my inspiration came from the mentors around me in university. Being exposed to so many mediums allows you to play around and create your own genre. I was able to take parts of cubism and evolve my style to my own techniques and desired aesthetic.
Mohamed Abla of course, one of the masters of the Egyptian art scene today. The variations of his work inspires me so much. And though he's been down so many paths and explored many different styles, you can still see him in his work, and I love that.
Attiyat ElSayed, Hanan ElSheikh, Asmaa Abou Bakr ElNawawy, Hany Rashed, Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and Hundertwasser to name a few more.
How would you describe your style?
I started to see everything in a completely different and broken down composition. I also fell deep into cubism when we started exploring it in university. The concept itself triggered something in me, because you start to see everything from your own perspective, and break down the compositions to essentially come out with a completely different identity without going completely abstract. I felt that this was very similar to my personality as an artist. It gave me a great sense of freedom unlike a lot of the still life drawings we had to do, which eventually came in handy of course, but I definitely felt like I found myself and was able to evolve more when we started exploring cubist techniques and developing out styles. The spectrum of opportunities literally explodes in terms what I can do.
What is your creative process like? Is there a certain routine or rituals you follow to get the creative juices flowing and stay inspired?
I have my own recipe. For example when I start cooking. I don't look up the dish and see what the exact ingredients are. I love to improvise. That's the exciting and fun part for me. I like to give myself this freedom, especially when exploring something new. So any piece I make is genuinely "the Tasneem recipe."
I'd say cultural exposure is the biggest and the everyday experiences I witness. I must be exposed in some way or another in order for me to be inspired. From traveling to social interactions, I come out with a certain energy that I put on my canvas. And I'd say authenticity in your work leads to a much stronger emotional impact as the end result.
How do you know when a piece/painting is finished?
It tells me. It speaks back to me and tells me I'm done. I have this relationship with my art, there's a genuine conversation going back and forth. I can pass by it while its drying and just know it's waiting for my signature. It's an intuitive feeling I guess and it's definitely something that comes with experience.
With such a unique style, it’s so easy to become repetitive with your work. How do you manage to avoid that?
Actually, I met a professor who looked at one of my pieces in an exhibition and told me something I'll never forget. I used to go to so many cultural events in Al Hussein, watch the tanoura shows and go to different workshops, so I was exposed to so many cultural events. At this stage, I started to express all those experiences onto the canvases. I exhibited them, and the professor came to look at my pieces and said: " You can extract 20 pieces from this canvas alone." I was so confused. He said: "You talk too much in your paintings. It's great but there's a lot going on, I could make a massive piece with this right corner of the painting alone."
He was so right, and he made me realise that I needed to be more concise within my work. And you'll find that with a few pieces I started to extract work from within my art work. Like for example the Particles piece and the Tuk Tuk series.
I started integrating different elements, created an interconnection between my paintings, still heading in the same direction but in a more simplified manner. I absorbed this idea and started approaching my work differently from that point on.
You’ve undoubtedly proven that you can master any colour palette. Your approach to colour is intriguing and your meticulous attention to detail is evident in your work; do you usually plan out your pieces or just go with the flow?
What I started doing is I'd sketch my painting, and upload it on to Photoshop. I start to play around and test some ideas and colours till I see it at its final stage. And that's not wrong. On the contrary, we need to use technology to develop our craft and there's no shame in digitalising your work before physically starting on it. And I make sure to not systemise myself, I like to allow the harmony of colours that I use come out effortlessly.
Although there is a certain appreciation for art, the concept is not quite absorbed within our society and thus it could be quite discouraging being an artist in Cairo. How do you keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
It's hard because you can easily become discouraged. But I boost myself through my community and support that I receive which makes the experience more valuable and encouraging. Imagine spending your whole day cooking a meal and people are just eating with no expression on their face and not even a "thank you, it's delicious."
I don't need anyone to compliment me all the time but appreciation in any career path is so important. Which is why it's vital for artists to be confident in themselves and their work so that they're able to promote their art online, introduce themselves and get their name out there. It's important to not be afraid. But at the same I'm not painting for gratification from people, it's my means of communicating with the world and my means of living, so self-motivation is crucial.
What do you think about the art scene in Egypt? How do you think we can improve/ bring more attention to it? Is the Egyptian society ready?
Education. We need to start in school. Art should be part of the core curriculum because right now, emphasis on art in the Egyptian household is virtually non-existent. Just like we go to the movies every weekend, why not make a visit to a nearby art gallery?
If we show that there's more appreciation, then people will be less hesitant towards showing their work or even just towards approaching the idea of exploring the arts.
This energy of self expression exploded in the days of the revolution, it was so powerful and it showcased the amount of talent, rebellion and awareness our youth have. It's a part of our evolvement as a civilisation. I'd say it's improving for sure, slowly but surely, but we need to go all the way back to the roots which is essentially education.
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
The stereotypical thinking of almost everything. How judgemental we are as a society. And how we automatically rush to negative conclusions with absolutely no thought out explanation.
The pathetic societal notions that our culture enforces on women, the demands and expectations that the patriarchy expects from us; I can literally go on and on but generally within my work, I consciously promote feminism and I aim to approach this theme more and challenge these ideals.
What role does the audience have in your process? Do you think of how the viewer will respond to your work?
No. I can't. If I do, then I limit my creative freedom and consequently the work becomes unnatural and forced, and it definitely shows in the end.
What goals are you working on achieving through your work? Where do you want your art to take you? In 10 years for example?
To exhibit internationally. This is my next step. I'd also love to always have my own space here in Cairo, to promote the art scene and perhaps give some workshops, and just work on expanding and promoting the art scene here, because there really is so much talent that just needs nurturing.
What is one of your proudest accomplishments, career-wise?
I was invited to represent Egypt in an exhibition in Vienna. I made a piece dedicated to an Egyptian photographer called Ahmed Bassiouny who lost his life in the Egyptian Revolution. I felt an unbelievably strong sense of responsibility. Everyone would come up and ask me about the story behind the piece and we talked about how he was such a heroic and brave figure. I felt like an ambassador for my country and telling such an important story.
Another accomplishment that runs deep in me is when I see students come up to me and tell me how I inspired them or made a difference in some way or another to even consider art as a career. This is after I left the school and teaching. It feels unbelievably rewarding to know that you made some sort of difference, no matter how small or big it is.
If you could own one work of art what would it be?
Three Ages of Woman by Gustav Klimt.
How can one acquire your work?
And finally, are there any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Yes, I started displaying my work with Eklego Design, an Egyptian based architecture, interior and furniture design firm so you can check out my work there as well.
Other than her art, Tasneem keeps busy by working on upcycling furniture pieces and accessories with her partner Alaa Tahoon. Their project is called Kintsugi. The name itself is brilliant. Kintsugi is actually the japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold/silver, to create an even more beautiful piece . As a philosophy it treats the breakage and repair as an important part of the object’s value, and this is the way El Meshad is currently approaching this project. You can check out some of their awesome work here.
So what did you think of the interview? Comment your thoughts!
All Images courtesy of Tasneem El Meshad.