eniGma’s Tymour Gazayerli had an in-depth chat with artist Tasneem El-Meshad to learn about her rich artistic journey and the inspiration behind her most-notable and unique pieces of art.
As a child, Egyptian artist Tasneem El-Meshad, born and raised in the UAE, excelled in all things art-related. From early on she knew that she wanted to pursue art and was supported in this decision by her family. When it was time for university, it was therefore natural that she would move to Egypt to study at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cairo. Recalling that time, El-Meshad says, “I had a culture shock when I moved to Egypt. Coming from the UAE, I had lived in a bubble and wasn’t accustomed to the local lifestyle here. While I was overwhelmed, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got in touch with my identity as an Egyptian and this allowed me to better understand who I wanted to be.”
Recalling her early days in Egypt, El-Meshad recounts the warm hospitality she experienced when visiting less privileged communities, where she and her university friends would go to catch their genuine local spirit in their sketches. She would never forget one of the times during Ramadan when she got carried away and was still there when it was time to break the fast. The local people around her refused to let her leave without eating with them, insisting that she had become part of their family after going there so often. She recalls that experience with great fondness, especially since their generosity was overwhelming despite their obviously limited means.
Later in her academic studies, when working on her university graduation project, El-Meshad found inspiration in an unlikely object, a ceiling fan! The ceiling fan went on to be a vital part of her art throughout her journey. Her graduation installation conveyed how crowded her mind was, filled with many thoughts, feelings, energies and more. In it, she superimposed old antique items like an old-fashioned iron, typewriter, sewing machine, all overlapping and filling the space, like all the things in her mind. “The installation was set up in a vast hall with high ceilings with a fan in the middle. As I watched it I grew almost claustrophobic at the sight of how busy it all was. But then I looked up and found myself slowly getting distracted by the continuous motion of the ceiling fan, which drowned out the sudden feeling of claustrophobia. I felt that the ceiling fan was saving me from the crowdedness of the space around me. It created motion with the air flowing onto the installation. I believe my painting would have felt incomplete had I not included this within it,” she explains.
From that point on, El-Meshad would incorporate the theme of the circular motoin of ceiling fans and other similar figures into much of her work. Their motion is a form of release, escape and freedom to her. “I disconnect and get into a meditative state whenever I see a ceiling fan or other similar moving object. It captivates me. Spiritually, this form of rotation and motion is also a form of meditation,” she adds.
Explaining how she needs to get into a certain mood to create art, El-Meshad says, “Directing your thoughts and emotions to get in the mood is a decision, not an event you wait for. You prepare for it, but you cannot force yoursef to get into it. I learnt this over time, as I got to better connect to my inner self,” adding, “Another thing I learned is that I like my art to have a purpose, as opposed to being just aesthetically pleasing. I am not criticising those who choose to just create a visually pleasing piece, I simply prefer to create art with a story, that conveys a message.” With that in mind, Meshad is keen to add expression and character to her work throughout the creative process. To do that , she studies her subjects visually and in different imaginative perspectives, even if the painting in question is of still life.
Besides being an expressive artist, El-Meshad values her role as a mentor as well. She has been teaching and mentoring artists over the years, helping them unlock their own creative potential. “As an art teacher I don’t follow the guidelines set out by any textbook. Instead, I tailor concepts in a way that best triggers the creativity of every student,” she explains. After researching various educational approaches she decided that the most impactful, especially with younger generations, was the Montessori method of education, which she also uses with her own two young children.
El-Meshad likes to say that art is like breakfast – you cannot, and should not, start your day without it. “Just like the first meal of the day jump starts your metabolism, art for breakfast jumpstarts your creative mind to constantly create and look at things differently,” she insists. Her artwork also touches on many points reminiscent of childhood, freedom and innocence. “I believe we will never age as long as we are in touch with our inner child. If we’re able to reach out to that inner child, we’re going to be happy, balanced and at peace. That is where inner peace, joy and satisfaction will come from – we are the results of our childhood,” she says. A painting of young girls jumping on a trampoline with their bodies and arms of resembling a fan’s wings in a constant freeing motion, brings to mind both the childhood feeling of freedom as well as her underlying theme of ceiling fans.
El-Meshahed frequently also incorporates female strength and the power that comes from unity among women. The importance of community and neighbours supporting one another is another theme that recurs in her work. Her especially powerful painting, ‘Stories from my Neighbourhood,’ portrays women as the overseers of the neighbourhood’s interconnected irrigation and pipes system, which allows water, representing life, to flow throughout the community. Also recurring in her paintings is her depiction of men and women under a shelf of books, signifying the importance of education and self-enrichment to achieving gender equality. “Men should appreciate their wives as the creators of wholesome energy within their households and towards their families,” she states.
Looking forward, El-Meshed announces that she is currently working on very exciting things, but that she will be taking her time working on them. She explains, “To me, art is not as much about the outcome as it is about the process. This is something I learned over time, so I intend to fully enjoy and learn from the process of my upcoming exhibition, whenever that may be. I see art as being like a tree, sometimes we pick the fruit that hangs from the branches, and at other times we let that fruit ripen and fall down at the right time, at its own time, right into our hands.”