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Yasmeen Fathima: Embracing Intersectionality

Updated: Apr 11

An Artist inspiring conversations across the diaspora

Written By Zulema Ali.

Preview of Interview in Volume 002: The New Generation

While their art provides a platform to question yourself, now it was my turn to ask Yasmeen Fathima some questions. Our conversation took us through everything that came before. Unravelling identity, to understand her inspiration and drive to create. 

Our interview takes place in the midst of our cover shoot, as we still cling onto the warmth of summer, autumn slowly creeping in. Yasmeen, one of our models has been styled, they sit a portrait of reds and oranges, a personification of diasporic tradition. We talk through makeup, the final stage before she is released to the photographers. 

Disturb The Peace Shoot Credits:

Model: Yasmeen Fathima

Creative Director: Sophia Green

Producer: Aaliya Choudhury

Photographer: Riki Verma

Photography Assistant: Hara Kaur

BTS Photographer: Sophia Green & Elissa Shafeek

Interviewers: Devanshi Arora, Sameen Ayub, Leila Malik, Zulema Ali & Manvi Dixit

Videographer: Sophia Green

BTS & Content Videography: Diya Bechoo, Rajesh Bhovan & Shuma Begum

Stylist: Diya Bechoo 

HMUA: Sarah Haroon & Rajesh Bhovan

Runners: Hergun Virdi, Milan Dandwani & Saffah Anjum

Yasmeen Fathima is a multidisciplinary artist, who uses different mediums to explore their identity, body and the diaspora. A firm believer that we cannot be folded away into a single box, Yasmeen navigates how identities overlap and merge to make up a person. Their self-reflective art acts as a mirror to its audience as we are forced to confront ourselves and our own complex identities within society. 

We spoke first about identity, a central theme to her art. Today they identify strongly with their Pakistani heritage but this hasn’t always been an easy, straightforward relationship. Connections to our identity aren’t always linear, ‘it’s been a long growth’. Influenced by everything around us, identities blossom and metamorphosize. Yasmeen grew up around her grandparents, and they brought with them an all enveloping blanket of a Pakistani, Punjabi culture. It was inescapable. But as elders pass away, and relatives stop visiting as much, it's a harder and harder connection to keep so strong. It meant Yasmeen ultimately felt disconnected to the large community of South Asian people in the Midlands, where she grew up. ‘I was too brown for the white kids and too white for the brown kids’, a conundrum of duality that is difficult to balance. Growing up post 9/11 complicated her muslim identity, Yasmeen found themselves rejecting any connotations or connections to being brown. But even in South Asian circles, she found her ‘brownness’ wasn’t enough. Yasmeen felt alienated because of their anaemia, which meant they had paler skin. But this is complicated further because of colourism within the community which paradoxically meant that at the same time she didn’t feel pale enough. Googling ‘‘how can I lighten my skin at home without anyone noticing’ led to all too easy to access wikipedia tutorials. 

Reconnecting to her culture has only happened recently, ‘it’s taken me 20 years to accept that I’m Asian’, a sentiment they further explore in an article published in ‘That’s What She Said’ magazine. This pivotal moment has sparked a different outlook on their life and within their art. ‘I’m going to do it all and be really unapologetic in my brownness and really feed my skin and body’. Now comes a period of healing. Prevalent features of the Desi Aunty culture like diet culture felt inescapable, but now Yasmeen is working to reclaim the narratives. ‘It’s like healing a deep wound, being around powerful brown communities, queer brown communities, is such a nourishing experience’.

As well as finding solidarity in brown communities, studying art helped pave different ways in figuring out her identity. A recent graduate from the Royal College of Art with a masters in Contemporary Art Practice, art school helped to feed Yasmeen’s critical mind. Nurtured by some really encouraging tutors, they introduced her to the likes of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s 

On Intersectionality : Essential Writings, and bell hooks - ideas that really shape their work as an artist today. Now she is armed with the knowledge that she doesn’t have to ‘pigeonhole myself into a stereotype’. It seems like the only option when we look at our childhood and the little representation that was available to us, and although ‘it was validating, to see representation…it wasn’t enough’. Yasmeen learned of the hierarchy of identities that are constantly in play throughout our lives. Which is why ‘intersectionality is so important, because people aren’t just one thing’. ‘There was always this huge tension that I would only ever at one time feel connected to one aspect of my identity’ leaving this ‘void inside of me that was just really unfulfilled’. 

Our conversation flows next into her journey as a creative. A love (and talent) of drawing and painting as a child, paved the way for A Level art where Yasmeen started to really harbour their style and find their passion within art. Influenced by the new wave of feminist art, in part birthed by the somewhat toxic culture of Tumblr, there was now a space for ‘different art’. Art that wasn’t white and straight. For the first time art excited them, made them feel something. Yasmeen always thought she hated art, paying £10 to go to an art gallery felt like a nightmare, ‘I didn’t care about white men in galleries. Our whole lives the art world has just been them’. Art history is so heavily whitewashed and male. ‘It didn’t set my soul on fire’...

Read More in Volume 002: The New Generation


This article was published in Volume 002, The New Generation. For more content check out our print magazine now!

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