Asma Kazmi’s large scale installations blend physical and virtual spaces. Her sculptures, connoting materiality, cultural lineage, and craft are juxtaposed with virtual and augmented reality models of art historical objects and particular geographies. Taking an expansive approach to installation art, she researches and reassesses the intertwining histories of Western colonialism and her diasporic Muslim culture. Using transgressive curatorial tactics, she combines visual and textual detritus from historical manuscripts, photographs, archival material, fragments of locations, and mixes them with her own “critical fabulation.” Drawing on her own history as a third generation émigré, migrating across continents, Kazmi’s installations are experimental museums that make use of Islamic display devices and strategies to address colonial and indigenous technologies and knowledge systems, global flows of people and commodities, and interspecies entanglements. Kazmi has exhibited her work widely including in the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, Shenzhen; Museum of Ecija, Spain; Galerie Cité internationale des arts, Paris; San Francisco Art Commission Gallery; Wattis Institute of Contemporary Art, San Francisco; San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose; and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. She is currently a professor in the department of Art Practice at UC Berkeley.
Tell us a little about your background and your trajectory as an artist/ scholar.
I am a third-generation émigré, who was born in Quetta, Pakistan, and immigrated to the US at the age of 19. My grandparents migrated to Pakistan from India and Afghanistan in the 1940s. Grounded in my intersectional identity, my practice is an interaction between multitudinous locales and time periods where disparate ideas are transformed by pressure from local cultures and environments. I reframe history by referencing found images and artifacts, playing with human, material, and virtual systems. For example, my work Cranes and Cube (2019) is a virtual reconstruction of the city of Mecca, presented as a forest of construction cranes and architectural fragments. The project speaks about the overlaps between religiosity, global capitalism, and the exploitation of people under these systems.
What are some of your main influences?
My artwork is centered in the position and politics of not belonging or “seeing the entire world as a foreign land” in Edward Said’s words. I believe having a contrapuntal and decentered experience of the world helps me to embrace/reshape the unknown, and it opens up possibilities for me to engage in an artistic practice that is legible and meaningful across cultures. For me, questions about the world—of personal or public relevance—become prompts for open ended, immersive investigations resulting in artworks that challenge and expose assumptions that undergird chronological, geographical, taxonomical, and conceptual borders.
New Media is …….
A decolonial tool which allows us to cultivate imaginative, agentive, and critical spaces of engagement to rethink the manner in which we relate to each other and our environment.
What is your typical day like?
My typical day involves juggling teaching, studio work, as well as parenting a vivacious teenager.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a project called Beyond the Seas Blue which is a sculpture and VR installation. In this work I will be recreating the Sar-i Sang lapis lazuli mine in Afghanistan as a speculative and experimental museum telling the story of the color blue.
Do you have a collaborative idea that you want to get off the ground?
I have an ongoing collaborative project with the artists Jill Miller and Kathy Wang called the Missing Objects Library (MOL). The MOL is a curated, web-based repository of handmade 3D objects that are designed with an intersectional, feminist lens. MOL offers an alternative to commercial, status quo storefronts that provide digital assets for game design and special effects. Objects sold in these spaces are typically devoid of provenance, and they continually reinscribe false notions of neutrality while privileging a white, cis, heteronormative dominance. In contrast, MOL is an open platform with downloadable models that accurately represent the world we inhabit. The project is not only meant to critique existing 3D model databases by providing an alternative but is also set up in an economic system of reciprocity, as a gift, and as an event where technological representations of things are exchanged to produce meaningful relations and effects.
What is the most recent thing you’ve learned?
I have been learning lots of digital and analog techniques lately. For my project Beyond the Seas Blue, I learned to extract aquamarine blue color from the stone lapis. I have also been honing my photogrammetry and 3D modeling skills for the Missing Objects Library project. And I enrolled in a class this summer to learn clay wheel throwing, which is something I have always wanted to do, but never got a chance to cultivate before.