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February 23, 2017

Connecting traditional art forms to contemporary practices

From: Dr. Patty Bode

My final blog posting as the February Monthly Mentor continues my effort to counter Islamophobia through art education by encouraging the study of contemporary artists who draw upon, extrapolate from, re-appropriate and juxtapose concepts and imagery from Islamic experiences and traditions. Furthermore, I briefly comment on the conflation of Arabic identities and experiences with Islamic experiences. Meaningful engagements with, and research about, contemporary artists and their work may prompt students to reimagine studio practices while expanding their view of these artists’ experiences, and move closer toward our NAEA mission to: advance visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding. In what follows, I include work from several artists and collective exhibits, which may add to student perspectives about Islamic art and Muslim experiences in the overarching effort to counter Islamophobia.

The International Museum of Women (IMOW), now Global Fund for Women presents a global online exhibition Mulima: Muslim Women’s Art & Voices “from contemporary Muslim women who are defining their own identities and, in the process, shattering pervasive stereotypes.” This is a rich resource of artists working in a wide range of media, imagery, and contexts. The work of poets, multi-media installation artists, illustrators and more will add to your classroom resources.

Muslima Screen Shot

The American Islamic Congress (AIC) in Boston sponsored an exhibit and series of events titled, Muslim Women in the Arts Home & Away: Shared Narratives of Gendered Identity featuring four artists whose bios are linked here: Niloofar Ziae, Samina Quraeshi, Chaimae Mechtaly, Nada Farhat. The AIC stated that “The series aims in part to address a lack of exhibits by contemporary Muslim artists in Boston’s galleries and museums, a void that reinforces the perception that Muslim art is limited to calligraphy and rugs. In fact, Boston is home to a vibrant scene of stereotype-shattering artistic innovators from across the Muslim world.”

AIC-Boston-Screen Shot

My Whiteness matters. Through these February 2017 blog postings I have tried to demonstrate ways in which art educators can play an effective role in countering Islamophobia. Our identities matter when framing our teaching practices. As an art educator who benefits from the privilege of whiteness, middle class status, and English language dominance, and who realizes my childhood background that was situated in low-income, urban and Irish-Catholic culture in the United States shapes my perspectives, I have written these blog posts as a non-Muslim educator. These endeavors are framed with conscientious efforts to seek out, listen to, and stand in solidarity with expansive ranges of Muslim voices and perspectives, yet to also constantly realize my limitations.  Some of the contemporary artists I highlight here do not identify as Muslim, rather their art-making draws from Islamic art traditions, engages dialogue with individuals living in Islamic states, or speaks to the need to learn from Muslim communities.

Helen Zughaib states, "I am an Arab American, born in Beirut, Lebanon. I also lived in Kuwait and Iraq with my family, before coming to study art at Syracuse University in New York. Though I am an Arab American Christian, I feel that my background in the Arab world provides me with a platform to address issues that affect both Muslim and Christian women, especially after 9/11."

Commentary on Zughaib’s series titled “Fractured Spring” that responded to the sociopolitical experiences of the Arab Spring is provided in this 2014 article in Islamic Arts magazine.

See her website for list of upcoming exhibitions in 2017.

Helen-Zughaib_Generations-Lost
Helen Zughaib. “Generations Lost”. 2014. Gallery Al-Quds

 

Zughaib’s  work in gouache and ink on board and canvas “mixes familiar Western motifs with traditional Islamic abayas in an attempt to bridge East and West and confound predominant stereotypes” as explained by the Muslima online exhibition.  

Eye_of_the_Beholder-HelenZughaib
Helen Zughaib. “Eye of the Beholder”. 2015.

 

Kehinde Wiley’s work has been widely acclaimed and exhibited nationally and internationally. His early attention to the African American experience and portrayal of the male black body in art historical contexts brought him to his international project “The World Stage.”  When asked how Kehinde Wiley selected cities and countries for the World Stage project, he explained: “The World Stage is comprised of what I believe are countries on the conversation block in the 21st century. Many of the reasons why I choose certain sites have to do with a level of curiosity, but it also has to do with their broader, global, political importance- strategically for America, and the world community at large.” See Wiley’s FAQ.

Pertinent to this specific blog posting is Wiley’s collection from that series, “The World Stage: Africa Lagos-Dakar. 

Since Islam is the predominant religion in Senegal with more than 90% of the population identifying as Muslim, the emergence of Islamic patterns in the motifs in Wiley’s portraits from this series holds salience.

KehindeWiley-3men
Kehinde Wiley. Three Wise Men Greeting Entry Into Lagos, 2008. Oil on canvas 72" x 96".  From The World Stage: Lagos & Dakar.

 

Much has been written about the importance of Wiley’s work and its role in art education as a means to enter dialogue and studio practices that cross radicalized boundaries and indict art historical statements. There is certainly more to say than one blog posting may permit. I encourage art educators to investigate Kehinde Wiley’s work retrospectively as well as his current projects title “A New Republic” at his website

Cultivate broader and deeper perspectives simultaneously. Critical consciousness is required to avoid interpretations that would paint the wide spectrum of Islamic perspectives with a broad brush, and to make certain our students do not get misinformed messages that would lump all Muslim experiences into a monolith. In United States society, and by default in many of our classrooms lack of understanding about religious affiliation, political borders, national origin, and institutionalized racism can skew perspectives about Muslim experiences. A single blog postings is not enough to unpack all of this. I am constantly reminded of my limited knowledge, and constrained sociopolitical perspectives in pursuit of curriculum development that is socially just and politically relevant. As art educators, we need to turn to our museum and cultural institutions, as well as local artists’ collectives to continue to expand the dialogue.

This New York Times article by Jason Farago about The Museum of Modern Art/MOMA’s installation of works by artists from Muslim countries provides fodder for such dialogue.

Charles Hossein Zenderoudi
“K+L+32+H+4. Mon père et moi (My Father and I)” right, by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

 

Also see LACMA/ Los Angeles County Museum of Art regarding the 2015 exhibitions titled Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East.

These are just two examples of the role of museums and the leadership they can take in countering Islamophobia. These online resources provide fodder for art educators in every location of the globe to develop informed curriculum and dynamic dialogue.

PBode-Painting with student
I am painting with student at Amherst Regional Middle School during a discussion about art and identity.

 

Furthermore, I have written elsewhere about the necessity to:

Keep in mind the research of Gary C. David and Kenneth K. Ayouby, (2005) which articulates the following three areas of concern in the portrayal of Arab Americans in classroom materials: conflating, essentializing, and normalizing. Conflating occurs when ethnic-racial and religious categories that should be distinct are used interchangeably, such as conflating the Middle East with the Arab world. The Middle East includes non-Arab countries such as Iran, Israel, and Turkey. The League of Arab States includes 22 countries. Essentializing occurs when some cultural, social, or religious trait mistakenly defines all Arabs. Normalizing is a twofold process that presumes to “rehabilitate” Arab Americans (1) to become just like everyone else and (2) to embody positive traits. The problem here is that it is rooted in a premise of negative assumptions that fail to recognize the marginalization of Arab Americans by mainstream culture. David and Ayouby recommend selecting materials that limit their scope to address one topic at a time: Arabs, Arab Americans, or Islam, not all three at once. Materials that try to cover all topics tend to conflate or essentialize the groups. (Excerpted from Nieto & Bode, 2012, pp. 306-307, summary of David & Ayouby, 2005)

Tala Madani’s work is featured in this episode of art21 from September 2016 in which she explains her figurative use of men/male bodies in her paintings and animations. Her work will invite students to consider many possibilities such as gendered and intersectional identities, and choices of media and studio production.

Tala-Madani-Grey-shadows-2014-oil-on-linen-photo-courtesy-of-Pilar-Corrias
Tala Madani. Grey shadows. 2014. Oil on linen. 40.64 x 56 cm. Pilar Corrias Gallery.

 

The work of  media artist, Walid Raad (Arabic: وليد رعد) will engage students in both sociocultural content and selection of media and technique. His experimental use of digital media speaks to a range of sociopolitical experiences, especially the civil war in Lebanon from 1975-1990, and its continual contemporary aftermath. See these exhibits and installations:

Walid Raad’s 2016 show at MOMA

Walid Raad’s 2016 show at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston 

WlidRaad
Walid Raad. Screenshot from Hostage: The Bachar tapes (English version). 2001. Video (color, sound), 16:17 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

 

This posting offers a brief glimpse of artists, museums and cultural collectives that may support efforts to counter Islamophobia through art education.  Keeping our own limitations in mind and explicitly stated will help us guide our students and colleagues to continue to ask questions about what we may learn. Through the study of contemporary artists who draw upon concepts and imagery from Islamic experiences and traditions, it is possible to broaden perspectives and work toward fulfilling human potential and promoting global understanding.

References

David, G. & Ayouby, K.  (2005). Studying the exotic in the classroom: The portrayal of Arab Americans in educational source materials. Multicultural Perspectives 7 (4): 13–20.

Nieto, S. & Bode, P. (2012). Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical context of multicultural education, 6th ed. Allyn & Bacon/Pearson: New York.

-PB

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