Guest Column – ‘In a Single Word’


Journal of the San Juans
January 30, 2018

In a Single Word

The need to create a name for the “middle”.

By Yasmine K. Kasem

 Growing up in the Midwest, I never thought of myself as different from my peers. No, I didn’t go to a church like my friends, and I often had to explain that I couldn’t eat the pepperoni pizza at school because I am Muslim. On September 11, 2001, I would quickly and abruptly feel myself cast into the role of the “other.”

I was only eight years old, so I didn’t really understand the gravity of the situation, but I remember being confused about why my religion was being demonized. My pizza explanation suddenly turned into a longer speech, condemning the acts of terrorists and the hijacking my religion, and convincing my peers that I, my family, and the overwhelming majority of Muslims oppose those acts–as best as an eight-year old could.

I learned that my identity as an Egyptian Muslim woman in the US was controversial. Yet, I refused to be ashamed of it and actively sought out my Egyptian heritage. In doing that, I found myself venturing deeper into the middle ground amongst cultures — the limbo between.

As a teenager, I fell in love with Egypt feeling more at home there than in Indiana. I studied Arabic, cultural events and history of the region. I began to identify myself as an Egyptian who happened to live in America.

A bridal shower in Egypt sparked the most recent identity crisis. Stepping off the narrow streets lined with towering sunbaked homes, I entered a swirl of color, sound and movement. Women seated in a circle, were focused on preparing pastries. Excited teenage girls took my arms to escort me upstairs to sing karaoke, common at showers. However, our excitement ended when I didn’t recognize a song they wanted me to sing. At that moment, the girls and I understood that I was not one of them.

That instant cast me into the limbo from which I had spent so many years escaping. I desperately wanted a place where I didn’t have to explain myself; a place where I wouldn’t feel foreign. I have since come to accept that dwelling in the middle creates a space for itself and a space for me.

That is how my sculpture evolved. “Masricani” means “Egyptian – American,” a combination of the words in Arabic, uniting them into one–both, but not wholly either. That I choose to say I am “Masricani” is to give myself some ground to stand on as a person both Egyptian and American.

Entering MASRICANI at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, visitors encounter a scene from my memory. Dusty, cement-clad portraits from the streets of an Egyptian village shape a private visual tumult of color and pattern, an environment formed by emotion, identity and memory.

2018 THE FEMALE GAZE The Woman as Visionary and Creator will open February 17. Watch for Yasmine’s talk on March 24. Exhibited are MASRICANI by Kasem, Through My Lens by Imogen Cunningham and SUBSTRATE: underlying currents by Singleton, Susol and Alex-Glasser.

For more information or questions call RaVae Luckhart at 360-378-7737