by The People’s Minister of Information JR
TaSin Sabir is one of the best photographers I know. We have been friends for years, so I have had the opportunity to follow her work diligently. When her name is spoken, quality photography is branded with it. She is a master at lighting and color, which also plays into her other business interest, graphic design.
This woman of many talents just added another notch to her belt by becoming an author. Her debut literary work is called “Madagascar Made,” which is a multi-media memoir of her soul-searching 2011 quest for identity on the African island of Madagascar. The book party is on Sunday, June 29, 2 p.m., at the Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 145th St. in downtown Oakland. Until then, check out TaSin Sabir in her own words …
M.O.I. JR: What is the story behind your love affair with the African island of Madagascar?
TaSin: My love affair for Madagascar started during a geography assignment in sixth grade. As we were learning the names of the countries of Africa, I zoomed into the island off of Africa and saw familiar faces and immediately felt a connection. I went home that day and told my mother that I was from Madagascar with the utmost conviction an 11-year-old can have, and at the end of our conversation she was calling me her Malagasy girl.
At a young age I was aware of the importance of knowing your heritage, but school history lessons had only gotten me as far as being stolen from somewhere in African and brought to America. I needed more; I needed to find my home. That day in class when I saw the Malagasy faces that had my smile and wore their hair like mine, I was overwhelmed with a sense of familiarity and finally having a place to call home.
That moment on Madagascar became my truth and, as I grew older, the connection I felt that day in class only grew stronger to the point where not just my mother, but all my family and friends accepted my revelation and supported me when I told them 18 years later that I would finally make the trip home.
M.O.I. JR: When did you decide that you were really going to go to Madagascar? What were your reasons?
TaSin: I knew that one day I would have to go to Madagascar because it had been my chosen or “spirit” home for many years, but deep down I was worried that Madagascar wouldn’t live up to my high expectations. In 2011 the timing was right and I felt brave, adventurous and had this need to just go already. I just felt ready.
This feeling of readiness I think is due to the fact that I was about to turn 30 years old and something about turning 30 makes you want to start checking things off your bucket list. I was working at Family Advocate at the time and hadn’t traveled or done anything interesting in a while. I had a lot of vacation time saved up, and my mother was itching to go somewhere too.
So one evening we both decided that come December we would travel to Madagascar. Those four months before the trip were spent learning French, reading travel books and documenting how I was feeling in the days leading up. My friends, family and coworkers were excited, and originally I had just planned on keeping a written journal but instead I decided to keep an online blog so that they could read about my adventures every day. Keeping this blog kept me dedicated to blogging every night and gave me the written content for my book.
M.O.I. JR: What does your “Madagascar Made” consist of?
TaSin: “Madagascar Made” is a visually stunning book filled with rich imagery that connects the viewer to life in Madagascar. It goes beyond a photography book because it also tells a story of identity through poetry and journal entries that I kept while traveling.
My intention for this book is to inspire anyone who has gaps in their history to dream up ways to fill them. To this day, I still don’t know for certain where my home is according to genetics, but I believe in my connection to Madagascar and that when your history is like cracked tile you can crumble it into sand and create forms you can only dream of. It’s your life. Why not?
M.O.I. JR: How does it feel to have completed your first book?
TaSin: When I returned home, I had all this material, over 10,000 photos and this blog filled with uncensored feelings. I felt overwhelmed with the need to make something out of it and not knowing where to start. And so everything just sat there for a year, untouched, until I was invited to participate in an exhibit. The theme and name of the exhibit was “Transformative Visions.”
From this non descriptive theme came a clear picture in my head: I would do a self-portrait project and transform myself into a Malagasy woman. I grabbed my notebook and scribbled down things that I saw in Madagascar. I saw women selling fruit on the side of the road, girls walking on the beach with buckets of fish on their head, ladies dressed in colorful fabric, and young girls who wore tree bark paste on their faces as sunscreen. With these images in mind, I went out every day with my camera, remote and tripod and channeled into my Malagasy roots.
The first self-portrait was me transformed into a fruit vendor taken in my backyard. The second photo I’m at the beach walking in the sand balancing a bucket on my head. The third self-portrait I took in the woods near the golf course with fabric draped around me as I look up into the sky. The final photo, I challenge the viewer to deny my Malagasy roots and paint my face with a paste that looks like the tree bark.
These self-portraits were the missing piece of the puzzle – the reason why I felt so stuck in starting my book. “Madagascar Made” is a personal story of self-discovery, and I needed a way to illustrate to the viewer not just with words but with images how I felt while in Madagascar.
I felt like I was home. I blended into my surroundings and was embraced like a long lost daughter. These self-portraits are a reflection of that.
After taking the self-portraits, I was excited again about laying out my book so I started researching publishers and printing companies and soon after I became discouraged again. Printing cost alone would make it impossible to sell my book. I spent a month unable to move forward with laying out my book when I decided to stop making excuses and just get it done. Everything else will fall into place.
So I continued designing my book. Each page I added I would see the printing price increase, but I was sick of starting and stopping and set a deadline to finish my book by the end of the month and 130 pages later I was happy I did. My book was finished and even though the printing cost was high, I could afford to buy at least one for myself, and so I did. And when the book arrived in the mail, I nearly cried. All my hard work had paid off.
M.O.I. JR: Are you working on any other books?
TaSin: I don’t have anything currently in the works, but I’m interested in exploring more about identity through photography.
M.O.I. JR: What is going to happen at the “Madagascar Made” book party? When is it?
TaSin: I am very excited about the party. This book means so much to me – it’s not only my photography but my personal thoughts written for all to see. I am interested in seeing what questions people have and how it speaks to people.
Also I’m ready to celebrate and have a good time dancing to Malagasy music, eating good food and signing books! The thrill of signing my first book is like no other feeling. This event is open to the public and there will be books on sale. If you cannot make the party you can also get a copy of “Madagascar Made” shipped to your home by ordering online at www.madagascarmade.com. The book release party is Sunday, June 29, 2 p.m., at Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St., Oakland.
M.O.I. JR: How could people keep up with you?
M.O.I. JR: How could people see your work?
TaSin: When I am not working on personal projects, I have a photography and design business where I specialize in portraits, weddings and web design. People can contact me, see and view new work on my website, www.tasinsabir.com.
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.