April 28, 2020

“soft powers” at the Arab American National Museum @ Hyperallergic

DEARBORN, Michigan — Yemeni-American artist Yasmine Nasser Diaz has been playing with the intimacy of bedroom installations for some time now. soft powers, her first solo museum exhibition, at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn — a part of the Detroit metropolitan area that is home to the largest Arab population in the US — features an a continuation of her Teenage Bedroom series, as well as a set of figurative works burned into velvet. The previous iteration in the series was developed during a 2019 residency at Habibi House in Detroit, and featured direct representations and documents from Diaz’s efforts to extricate herself from her biological family, in defiance of their intention to force her into a marriage arrangement against her will.

The velvet portraits are taken from photographs featuring tween and teenage Yemeni girls, each comfortable in their own company. While the archetype for youthful female friendship in the US is fraught with mean girl tropes, common cultural practices of Yemeni immigrant populations often place young girls and women under restrictive and punitive surveillance, making the solace of female companionship sometimes the only space held for them to be at ease. These portraits are captured and relief-burned into rayon-based velvet, a material which Diaz employs to reference the 1990s (her own teenage years), as well as the Yemeni style of dress known as a dir’ — a kind of partially transparent caftan worn by married women.

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