Tasnim Baghdadi is a German digital illustrator of Moroccan heritage. Currently studying towards a Masters degree in Asian and Islamic Art History, with a focus on the art and architecture of the Middle East, Tasnim also works as a freelance artist in the fields of digital illustration, graphic design, and photography.
Tasnim, tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?
I am twenty five and was born in Cologne, Germany to parents from Morocco. My work mostly deals with different aspects of identity. On a cultural and social level I am interested in issues of gender and aspects of my religious identity and how to live as a Muslim in Germany.
You describe yourself as self-taught – what was your route into the arts?
I describe myself as self-taught because although I’ve always been involved in making art, for example drawing cartoons when I was a teenager, I haven’t had formal training at an art school. At university in the Netherlands I studied the more practical and technical skills of product design, but halfway through I decided to stop because I became more interested in historical and cultural studies. At the moment I am studying Asian and Islamic Art History.
Who are your influences and who do you gain inspiration from?
I would name three genres of art that inspire me: Firstly – comics. I have always been a fan of comics and illustration. I’m drawn to the boldness, the contours and colours. I also enjoy Pop Art and graphics. Secondly I am fascinated by traditional art and culture. When I went to stay with my grandparents in Morocco I became attracted to the Berber way of life, particularly the deep-rooted symbols of their culture. I felt drawn to it, but at the same time I didn’t feel a part of it. At first I had a romanticised or idealised view of their culture, but gradually, and through my studies, I started to develop a more objective view. I wouldn’t describe myself as a foreigner to the Berber culture, but perhaps an in-betweener? Thirdly, I am fascinated by Jungian psychology, and how symbolism and myths link to our subconscious. I explore these concepts through my self-portraits.
Would it be fair to say that your work projects a feminist outlook? Is that an important theme for you?
Yes, but I always like to define what feminism means to me. I think feminism as a movement has been defined largely by white western women, and their values have dominated. But I take my feminist ideas from Islam. I believe that Islam has a lot of feminist ideas within it, so I like to combine modern ideas with the religious tradition I am part of. So, my ‘Tribal Mysticism’ series of illustrative photographs is not only about the role of women in society, but how Muslim women in particular are caught between two false extremes – on the one hand orientalised as ‘seductresses’ and on the other hand seen as being veiled and oppressed within our religious community. That means we rarely see the diversity and individuality, the different facets and layers of personalities of Muslim women. There is no space in-between these polarities that reflects the realities of our lives.
You cross the boundaries between illustration, digital art, graphic design, fashion and photography. Are these very different expressions of your creativity or is there something common that unites your work across these disciplines?
When I first started out trying to be an artist I was trying to learn as many mediums as possible. I was curious about all the different mediums I could work with and the different ways of producing art, including fashion. But what is in common is the themes that I deal with, such as gender, identity and living in the West- that is the connection.
You are working on a graphic novel ‘la bedouine obscure’ – what will that be about?
This will mix a lot of the concepts I have talked about. It is a story that has auto-biographical aspects, but placed in a fictional world. The main character will be struggling with difficulties in her life, caught between extremes, and about her journey to embrace the contradictions within herself. I hope everyone can relate to that.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
A fashion label, My Hijab, based here in Cologne, asked me to work on a project where fashion meets art. Out of that came an exhibition at their Pop-up Store in Cologne. I also started fashion blogging a while ago, really enjoying different styles and experimenting with these on my blog.
You were chosen to part of a group of emerging artists of Muslim heritage who came together as part of the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) in London last year. What did you learn from that experience?
That was very special for me, meeting all these artists of Muslim heritage from across the world. Apart from being inspired by fellow artists mastering their art form, I realised that they, and others, are gaining a lot of attention from the art world. This is not primarily because they are Muslim, but because the art they are producing has a uniqueness about it. I am not qualified to talk of those artists who live in Muslim societies, but for those of us born, raised and working in the West there is a tendency for the work to combine different worlds. I think of it as an in-betweenness, a kind of bridge between the multiple worlds that make up society on a global level. Although Muslims are portrayed as representing a backwards-looking culture I find the art being produced by artists of Muslim heritage to be very future-orientated, multi-layered, multicultural and combining genres. I believe that a new cultural language is being formed, that is formulating new rules for the arts scene. That is very exciting.
To find out more about Tasnim and her work click here