U-M exhibition explores boundaries of ‘public’ and ‘private’ through the eyes of a young SWANA adult
At first glance, artist Yasmine Nasser Diaz’s installation in the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities Gallery looks like a typical teenager’s bedroom—a few clothes and a backpack are strewn on the floor, hot pink wallpaper covers one of the walls, and a disco ball hangs from the ceiling.
Look a little closer, and a more complex story emerges: objects one would expect to see at a protest like protective goggles and an ACLU “Know Your Rights” handbook, protrude from the backpack. The ’90s-era TV plays clips of women-led political rallies from across the Southwest Asia/North Africa (SWANA) region interlaced with speeches by political figures like Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh. Above the bed, life-size selfie videos of women and nonbinary persons dancing project onto the pink patterned wallpaper.
On view through April 16, “For Your Eyes Only” is a continuation of Diaz’s bedroom installation series. Third-culture identity and the tensions experienced as youth in the SWANA diaspora is a subject Diaz repeatedly returns to.
According to Diaz, the Instagram stories and TikTok clips—as well as protest supplies—included in the installation, reflect the technologies and social movements of this contemporary moment while also considering the ways in which social media content can be used to shame and threaten women and gender queer persons.
The installation was designed to be viewed through the gallery window at 202 S. Thayer St., making its inherently private content unavoidably voyeuristic. State-of-the-art sound equipment turns the glass windows into glass speakers, allowing the sound from the videos to be heard on the street.
“‘For Your Eyes Only‘ saturates the corner of Washington and Thayer with pink color and light, a stark contrast to the greyness of the winter cloud cover outside,” said Institute for the Humanities Gallery Curator Amanda Krugliak. “Diaz’s installation exudes the pure joy of dancing with friends in a club as well as our shared intimacy in private spaces—both are especially meaningful during a restrictive year defined by COVID19.
“At the same time, the gallery window serves as a metaphor for the computer screen, positioning the audience as voyeurs, forcing us to question our complicated and often exploitive relationship with personal online images and content.”
The Los Angeles-based Diaz is a multidisciplinary artist whose practice weaves between culture, class, gender, religion and family. She uses mixed media collage, immersive installation, fiber etching and video to juxtapose discordant cultural references and to explore the connections between personal experience and larger social and political structures.
Diaz is interested in complicated narratives of third-culture identity and the precarious spaces of invisibility and hypervisibility where they often reside. Born and raised in Chicago to parents who emigrated from the rural highlands of southern Yemen, her work is often rooted in personal histories and competing cultural values.
Diaz is the 2021 Efroymson Emerging Artist at the Institute for the Humanities, and as part of her residency this semester, she has visited several undergraduate U-M classes via Zoom.
The U-M Institute for the Humanities Gallery is located at 202 S. Thayer St. in Ann Arbor. The exhibition is free and open to the public, and best viewed at dusk or on a cloudy day.
This project is supported by a grant from the Efroymson Family Fund.
“The G—ray Area” features in-person performances by transmedia poet Ava Ansari as part of the Institute for the Humanities exhibition “For Your Eyes Only.” Both the exhibition and performances are designed to be viewed from the Thayer Street windows of the Institute for the Humanities Gallery. Performance times: March 13: 4:30-5 p.m., 6-6:30 p.m. and 7:30-8 p.m.
Story by Stephanie Harrell