Artist Bio

Kamal Nassif is a first-generation Lebanese queer artist based in New York. Her work has been shown at Project for Empty Space in Newark, We Buy Gold in Brooklyn and the Performing Garage in SoHo, and her design work has appeared in productions at BAM, New York Live Arts and the Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Artist Statement

My practice examines identity and shame as a reciprocating system. Rooted in the intersection of tradition, ritual and identity, my work uses formats and methodologies of the Levantine world to approach creative process. It expands notions of design to include architectures and objects that help locate oneself, from furniture and jewelry to abstract concepts and ideological frameworks. Communities and architectures of care are often located in object or performance: nail salons, hammams, Korean spas, food shared at tables, the slick of baby hairs laid on foreheads.  

All of my work is research-based. In previous projects, I focused on subjects and sites of shame. Recently, I am investigating community responses to shaming, how the force of defining “the other” gives birth to rituals and performances that are the bedrock of survival and care. Marginalized groups, queer folks, Brown folks have always found ways to create spaces to be one’s private self publicly—creating languages of bandanas and piercings and twilight stages from boardwalks and halls. I see these practices in conversation with the traditions of the Levant, of the hammam, a public ritual of privacy and revelation, a small space you build for yourself and your community.

Original Art by Kamal Nassif

What initially compelled you to pursue art?

My art practice is fueled by and in dialogue with the question: am I enough? It is a reflexive question that is unique to identities that have been defined as other: Am I queer enough? Arab enough? Brown enough? Femme enough? I think the gift of queerness is an early awareness of these questions, and subsequently, an awareness of how to define yourself in relation to mainstream narratives of authenticity. The experience of living with the constant tension of these questions, and the doubling of the self that results from it, is what initially compelled me to pursue art. My work imagines and creates environments that render these false dichotomies obsolete.

Who or what in your life influences your practice the most?

My formal training is in metalsmithing and jewelry, and for that reason I pay special attention to sentiment and adornment. I am influenced by a close examination of the mundane, humor, craft traditions and hand skills. Mona Hatoum, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Katya Zamolodchikova, Meret Oppenheim, Elsa Schiaparelli, Remsen Wolff, Brooke DiDonato, Mika Rottenberg and Anya Kneez are all artists whose work I admire. My partner, KEEYA, is a multidisciplinary collage artist, and we influence each other’s work quite a bit.

Original Art by Kamal Nassif

What do you feel is the key concept that connects your works?

My practice examines identity and shame as a reciprocating system, with the body as site.

Tell us about a moment that ultimately made you look at your art and/or practice differently.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Nablus, Palestine, to make a short film about the tradition and spirit of Nabulsi soap that will accompany a series of sculptural monuments made of this soap. On this trip, it was the first time I have traveled to a place where the cultural forms and frameworks of my art were completely legible to the folks I was speaking with. I was struck by how much excitement and encouragement I received from total strangers about my project. I realized, in those moments, that I had been expecting a rejection, that my American birth would be a scarlet letter keeping me from accessing a gated community of Authenticity. Instead, time and time again I was told, انتا ‏عائلتنا (inti ayiltna): you are our family. It was an immensely profound experience to be met with such enthusiasm and acceptance. It gave me permission to claim a kind of authenticity that is entirely my own in my practice.

What does your art give you that nothing else can?

My art gives me a space to explore all of my curiosities. All of my work is research-based, and I cannot imagine any other outlet that would allow me to expand and explore all of my interests.

Original Art by Kamal Nassif
Original Art by Kamal Nassif