My work as a visual artist has a wide range of techniques and approaches, much of which deals with social issues, and the way they affect me and my community. While I deal with a diversity of subject matters with varied methodologies, the underlying uniting factor is my deep rooted need to promote compassion and understanding. I consider my audience and who I’m addressing, which of course leads to the venue and the display of my work.
My current concerns are the enormous obstacles raised by the refugee/migrant plight, and in parallel, the difficult subject of racial tensions. My new series, “Journey to The Good Life,” aims to put humanity back into the refugee reality by separating it from the political nuances of immigration. My work strives to connect the audience to the universal human struggle of loss, pain, and the basic need for survival. As to what “The Good Life” means—that is all a matter of perspective. I capture moments in the lives of characters, and translate their struggles through the transcendental medium of visual storytelling.
My illustrations are sketched upon layers of old storybook pages. These pages are rendered beforehand until they are void of text. Characters’ thoughts are reflected in their respective titles. I find it intriguing to tell a story through design and color: Intricate patterns on the panels of a once charismatic minbar; the colors of a hijab a girl once received as a gift from her father; designs of a blanket sewn by grandmother that brought endless comfort—borders of these paintings tell tales of a past life that has now been destroyed. Yet, these borders also represent precious memories and a rich cultural heritage wished to be passed down to future generations. Refugees and migrants cling to the hope of a better tomorrow while bearing witness to the best and worst of humanity in their search for a good life.
Having lost both my parents to cancer, I thought about what it meant to lose loved ones. Cancer uses bodies as battlegrounds; when the battle reaches its end, all one can hope for is eternal peace for valiant soldiers. For me, “The Good Life” represents the afterlife, where loved ones are finally reprieved of worldly constraints.
In preparing for my solo show, I hope to provide opportunities for the voices of a marginalized culture. I have set out to record real life accounts of former refugees and migrants. Audio is new to my work, but I feel compelled to add this element so people may tell their own stories.
Moving forward, my intent is to bridge cultural gaps within local communities through interfaith collaboration. Using my original painting, “Peace in 24 Languages” as inspiration, a diverse group of community members, including my own students, have come together to create a mural in the spirit of collective compassion. As current political rhetoric focusses on divisions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, I hope to offer meaningful pieces that promote acceptance, peace, and love through the universal language of art.
Kulsum’s solo show, “Journey to The Good Life,” will be at The Carrack Modern Art in Durham, NC in August 2016. Currently, her paintings can be seen as part of a juried exhibit at the Greenville Museum of Art. Recent exhibits include, “Contemporary South,” at The Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh, and Art + Dialogue: Responding to Racial Tensions in America, Greenhill Gallery and Greensboro College.
This article was originally published on Creative Ummah.