Los Angeles-based artist Yasmine Nasser Diaz can best be described as a collagist—not only of images clipped and rearranged, but also of heritages, cities, languages, and decades.
Born in Chicago to Yemeni parents, the multidisciplinary artist makes works that explore the complexities of third-culture identity. Adolescence, not only as an age but as a conceptual stage of learning, is a recurrent subject of inquiry for the artist. In her ongoing “Bedroom” series, Diaz constructs immersive bedrooms for fictional two Arab American teenage sisters. The room is filled with journals, novels, makeup, and set in what is meant to be a 1990s Midwestern home.
Fabrics play a vital role in her work. Diaz has recently begun a series of fiber etchings in which she applies acidic paste to velvet fabrics. The process allows the fabric’s cellulose fibers to dissolve, while the base silk-based mesh remains intact, creating patterns of opacity and transparency. In fashion, this treatment of fabric is called devoré, and harkens to a Yemeni style of dress (known as a ) that is reserved for married women.
Following exhibitions at the Arab American Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and Ochi Projects in Los Angeles, Diaz recently installed her work, at NADA House on New York’s Governors Island (on view through August 1).
We caught up with the artist at her Los Angeles studio to learn about the Instagram accounts she finds most inspiring and her impromptu studio dance parties for one.
What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?
My wireless headphones and my X-Acto knives with plenty of fresh new blades on hand. Collage is at the heart of practice and I often make small, quick pieces to warm up when I get to the studio.
What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?
Continuing to play with these textile collages. I love the early phase and newness of experimenting in a different direction.
What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence?
If I’m cleaning or reorganizing, which is an important and frequent studio ritual, I’ll listen to a podcast. If I’m in “process mode” I have about 30-plus playlists I rotate between. If I’m writing, I generally prefer total silence.
What trait do you most admire in a work of art?
I love seeing work that has a new or different approach to something very familiar. Sometimes it’s an unexpected use of humor or it’s a seemingly simple execution that brilliantly captures something very complex and nuanced.
What trait do you most despise?
Despise is a strong word… .
What snack food could your studio not function without?
Popcorn and tangerines.
Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?
Simone Leigh’s Instagram feed is one of my favorites. There are so many other artists I could name, so I’ll just pick one. I’m a huge fan of Meriem Bennani’s animation videos. I love her use of unusual humor and fiction to explore very real and timely global events. It’s playful and smart work and often has a cheeky, mischievous quality.
When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?
There is a lot of impromptu dancing that happens in my studio. I put on my headphones to spare my neighbors, crank up the music and just dance for a few minutes. It’s an instant mood changer. I also recently bought a hula hoop for the studio so that’s a new fave. When I’m especially stuck, the best thing to do is leave the studio. I’ll run errands, go for a walk, call a friend. It’s better than spinning my wheels and getting nowhere.
What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?
Hayv Kahraman’s show “The Touch of Otherness” blew me away. Her work always does! Susu Attar recently shared a very powerful collaborative multimedia work titled October Uprising Project. It beautifully fuses footage from the 2019 revolution in Baghdad against the streets of Los Angeles using projections as moving paintings. I also loved the group show “Myselves” that was at Kohn Gallery, curated by Joshua Friedman. So much great work in that show.