Tasnim Morrison is a self-professed bibliophile and book reviewer who frequently features books by underrepresented authors on her platforms to expand the literary and cultural horizons of her followers. Tasnim’s passion for amplifying diverse voices, stories and places is the main driver of the work she does.
Amaliah sat down with Tasnim in the Victoria & Albert Museum as a part of our ‘Spaces to_’ campaign with Art Fund where we explored how two Muslim women, Tasnim and Khadija, use galleries, museums and art spaces to regularly seek inspiration and find a peaceful getaway from London’s busy streets. Tasnim uses galleries to immerse herself in a new book or to research more about the authors and history behind the books she reads, we sat down in conversation to hear more.
Art Fund is the national charity for art that aims to ensure that as many people as possible can enjoy the UK’s museums and galleries. Art Fund’s National Art Pass gives you free entry to over 240 art-related attractions including museums, galleries and historic houses. Membership also includes Art Map, your comprehensive guidebook to using your pass, subscription to Art Quarterly magazine, as well as 50% off exhibitions across the UK! A perfect gift to yourself or your loved ones. Find out more here. Learn more about the National Art Pass here.
“It’s breathtaking…and even more beautiful than I remember it!”
Tasnim, a speech therapist by day and bookstagrammer by night, cranes her neck to get a better view of Trajan’s Column in the V&A’s cast courts. It has been two years since Tasnim has stepped foot inside her favourite museum.
“I think it’s a beautiful space. I love the combination of indoor spaces and galleries that are so varied…the rooms are so wide and the high ceilings and windows allow so much light to stream in.”
Tasnim walks carefully around the statues in the room, stopping to admire a few on her way to an artist’s chair in the far corner of the room. She settles down with a copy of The Blue Between Sky and Water by one of her favourite authors, Susan Abulhawa, and begins to read from the book. The only sound in the room is the flick of the book pages as she turns them.
When asked about whether the environment you’re in has an impact on the way you read, Tasnim agrees,
“I think the space that you choose to read can really enhance the reading experience. There are certain environments I like reading in more than others; I enjoy reading outside and I enjoy reading in cafes. I love background noise while I’m reading, whether it be white noise or music playing in the background. I love reading when it’s sunny, and there’s light coming into the room or you’re just in an airy space like the one we’re currently in. The V&A is one of those places for me, so many of its rooms are spacious with high ceilings and these beautiful windows that bring in so much light. Sitting and reading surrounded by the beautiful art and artefacts it houses inspires me a lot.”
Tasnim’s love of books started from a very young age,
“I kind of make it a habit to take books with me everywhere I go. I don’t leave the house without a book because I often find that I get time to read when I least expect it,” remarks Tasnim.
“This habit started from my childhood – I started reading and visiting libraries at a young age and I’ve always enjoyed and been encouraged to read more. If there are moments of stress in my life, moments where I’m feeling tired, reading is something that I naturally gravitate towards. Reading makes me feel like the world is both bigger and smaller than it actually is. When you read, you have access to so many different people’s stories and their lived experiences. It makes you realise that actually, we’re all so much more alike than we think we are we’re all interconnected. Reading makes me feel connected to people, it’s a good form of escapism.”
Tasnim’s favourite London Bookshops
Tasnim talks more about her journey with books, the highlight of which has been setting-up an Instagram account dedicated to sharing her thoughts and views on the books she has been reading.
“Books mean a lot to me. I can’t imagine not reading or not finding enjoyment in reading. I think I know so much more about the world and people in it because of reading, and it’s why I started my Bookstagram page about three years ago now, mainly as a bit of a creative outlet.”
Bookstagram, a combination of books + Instagram, refers to an Instagram account that revolves around books. It is a subsection of the social media platform that has been around since its inception but that is seeing growing interest in recent years.
“I didn’t really know that the space existed on Instagram, and I kind of fell into it quite accidentally. But it’s a really interesting space to share books that I love, books that I think other people should read, and to meet like-minded people. I’ve also found that bookstagrammers contribute quite heavily towards making reading and books more diverse and more accessible, and also highlighting books that are sometimes underrepresented and don’t always get the same level of attention. I think one of the reasons for that is that unlike traditional book reviewing, you’re not really confined to sharing particular books, you are sharing what you want to share. It very much comes from the bookstagrammer specifically and it can be influenced by their own lived experiences and their cultural backgrounds and where in the world they live,” says Tasnim.
“You are not confined to writing about particular areas or particular books and you don’t have to only write about new releases, you can go back as many years as you want, you can read whatever you’re drawn to, it means that you have the opportunity to just share whichever books speak to you. And the more people you have doing that, the more diversity you’re going to have.”
Tasnim takes out a few more books from her bag and lays them next to her, giving a brief overview of each one. The majority of the books are written by Black and Brown women.
“I don’t know if that’s a conscious theme, in terms of the books that I choose to share or the books that I choose to read, but I’d say that you’ll probably find more fiction than non-fiction, more Black and Minority Ethnic authors than white authors, more female than male authors.”
“If I were to curate a library, it would probably include most genres but there would be a lot of poetry, short story collections would feature very heavily, and there would be plenty of literary fiction. I genuinely believe that there is a book out there for everybody within every single genre. I also think that there are specific authors that would be must haves for me: Susan Abulhawa who is a Palestinian-American author, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, who is a Ugandan author, and Leila Aboulela who is British-Sudanese. And then I think a couple of nonfiction picks would have to be the Autobiography of Malcolm X and Assata by Assata Shakur.”
The contrast between the vibrant covers and stories of the books Tasnim discusses and the art surrounding her is stark, a fact she is patently aware of.
“I don’t necessarily think that the diversity that is evident in the books that I share is very obviously found in arts and culture spaces. We need to encourage people to take up more space in museums and galleries. I think we’re seeing more of that, and I think that there are more spaces where we see that diversity reflected, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Tasnim’s current favourite reads
Tasnim packs her books away and continues her tour around the V&A’s various exhibition spaces. She walks through the Islamic and Middle Eastern section filled with intricately-woven rugs and admires the paintings in the newly-refurbished Raphael Courts.
“I love galleries and museums because you never know what you’re going to find. Even if I’ve been there 100 times before, I always end up discovering or learning something new or there’ll be a new exhibition and it’ll ignite an interest in something that I’d never even considered before! With my National Art Pass, I can make the most of these spaces because the Pass gives me even greater access to hundreds, literally hundreds of museums and arts and culture spaces within the UK, both locally and further afield.”
Though Tasnim recognises the importance of arts and culture spaces, she acknowledges that many might not feel welcomed in them or confident enough to explore them on their own.
“To someone who feels intimidated by arts and culture spaces, I’d say I can understand why you would be, but that the art is there for you as well. Those spaces are there for you, as well. And you get to take up those spaces and you get to learn in those spaces and you get to be inspired in those spaces just like anybody else does. The National Art Pass really helped me on that journey because not only does it give you greater access, but it also inspires you to discover spaces you might not have otherwise considered going to.”
“I think if you can dare to do it just once, if you can dare to do it by yourself or with a friend then you might find that you’re pleasantly surprised and that it might be the start of a journey and discovering more places and more spaces. And I don’t think it’s something that you would ever regret doing!”
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