Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Thursday 02.23.17

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”. 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.  

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.

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. 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 

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.


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.


Monday 02.20.17

Language, power, humor and visual culture

From: Dr. Patty Bode

Inviting dialogue that analyzes the relationship of language to visual culture may stimulate student awareness of the power laden within spoken text and dialogue within the school and classroom, as well as in the broader social context of popular culture. In an earlier posting, I mentioned that youth literature resources about Islam and Muslim experiences may guide this effort to hear, see and understand this complexity through the voices of Muslim authors and characters. 

Additionally, the power of language-in-use and the social construction of meaning are vividly illustrated through contemporary popular culture in which our students are deeply fluent. Analysis of popular culture through the lens of visual culture research can provide rich resources to bring contemporary social ideas such as countering Islamophobia into classroom curriculum. It is useful to recall that early art education research on visual culture was influenced by the assertions of sociologist Chris Jenks (1995), that visual culture as a postmodern construct be theorized and applied to understanding and questioning knowledge and truth.

[Visual culture] is rather intimately linked with the ways that our society has, over time, arranged its forms of knowledge, its strategies of power and its systems of desire. We can no longer be assured that what we see is what we should believe in. There is only a social not a formal relation between vision and truth (Jenks, 1995, p. i).

With a visual culture framework on lesson planning, art educators can screen feature films, TV shows, and advertisements in the art room for students to compare each viewer’s understandings and interpretations about ways in which “knowledge” and “truth” are conveyed. Generating lively art room dialogue whether viewing full films – or selected clips from media, will honor youth voice and introduce critical theory concepts with questions about whose voice is being amplified and whose voices are being silenced.

Jenks-Visual Culture Book

For example, comedian and actor, Maz Jobrani, who is known as founding member of the comedy troupe on Comedy Central, “Axis of Evil” and his solo stand-up acts gave a TED Talk in which he describes the role of humor in challenging stereotypes — with a focus on Middle Eastern Muslims in the United States. Art educators of middle school and high school students can highlight Jobrani’s viewpoints and the sociopolitical context of his statements about stereotypes of Muslims by viewing some clips from his movies such as Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero, and the recent TV series, Superior Donuts.  



Invite students to facilitate discussions about how these media examples may be relevant to your classroom goals to combat Islamophobia with questions about who is wielding power through these media productions. There will undoubtedly be a wide range of perspectives and insights that student will bring to the common stereotypes on which Maz Jobrani is riffing through these characters. Ask students about the role of humor in art making and social justice work. Compare language, images, and implications from other sources, such as the popular press and political campaigns, before viewing Maz Jobrani’s Ted Talk in the art room.

Screen Shot MazJobrani

An ensuing art project may engage students in producing video shorts, stand-up comic acts, poetry slams and other projects that integrate visual culture analysis with text, image, performance and digital visual media with big ideas around knowledge, truth, media and humor. Students’ voices will be made more audible as they widen one another’s perspectives about language and power.


Jenks, C. (1995). The Centrality of the eye in Western culture: An Introduction. In C.

Jenks (Ed.), Visual Culture (pp. i-25). New York: Routledge.


Monday 02.13.17

Promoting global understanding: Islamic patterns in context

From: Dr. Patty Bode

The study of Islamic patterns in tessellating geometric imagery can authentically integrate PK-12 curriculum through mathematics and visual art. Including sociocultural and historical perspectives about these patterns adds vibrant meaning to this unit of study, and simultaneously expands some understanding about Islamic traditions and breaks down misconceptions about some Muslim experiences. By weaving historical contexts into art lessons with student engagement in studio production, investigating Islamic imagery can aid efforts to counter Islamophobia through art education and support the NAEA mission to “promote global understanding.” Art educators can create counter-narratives to the false assertions, stereotypes and denigrating dialogue that is prevalent in some arenas of popular discourse when students hear and use the word “Islamic” in the context of art lessons such as: Islamic art, Islamic patterns, Islamic traditions, Islamic scholars, and Islamic architecture. One strategy to help you get started could be to make big signs with those terms to make the vocabulary visible and present in your art room, helping you and your students refer to it within your classroom dialogue. Use inquiry-based questions such as “What do you know about Islamic art? What do you want to know?” As you present images, ask “What do you notice, what do you wonder?” Document student voice by noting their comments on the white board, or inviting them to write on sticky notes to make a collection of classroom thoughts. Use their questions and their knowledge to guide student-led research into each topic.

See “tile photos” from the Alhambra.

This message will help ground your teaching about geometric tessellations in a sociocultural context. These ever-popular PK-12 lessons often include a study of the work of Dutch graphic artist, M.C. Escher - a worthwhile connection that can spark students’ imaginations.


Adding more historical context about Escher’s study of the Islamic patterns in The Alhambra and Reales Alcázeres in Spain, and relationship of tessellations to the concept of the infinite will bring a more explicit anti-racist and anti-religious oppression stance to your classroom dialogue by explicating the contributions of Islamic art from approximately 1500 years ago throughout contemporary work. Moreover, these explorations will enlarge the students’ inquiry into the cultural and political predecessors of Islamic culture as explained on the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Department of Islamic Art (See“The Nature of Islamic Art). 

Understandably, many teachers express uneasiness that they will misrepresent the cultural meaning about that which they are unfamiliar. Critically conscious art educators will worry about over-simplifying, or even worse, insulting the tradition about which they are trying to teach. These are valid concerns that may be addressed collaborating with your students to:

Ask: “What are we learning today?” Be clear with students that we are learning about the role of visual art within a cultural and historical context, some of which includes a religious context. Like studying the work of Michelangelo and Sistine chapel, we are not teaching the religion, rather we are attempting to understand the role of religion in the practice of art making.




Cultivate expertise. Admit and explain that you are not an expert in Islamic art (unless of course you are!), but that we are studying, researching and learning together. To be an artist is to be a researcher, and we must make no assumptions. Make lists of what we do not know to help guide our investigations. See Eric Broug’s TED-Ed Talk to get the conversation started, “The Complex Geometry of Islamic Design.”

Seek out experts. Ask members of the Muslim community if they may be willing to share knowledge and tell stories; invite students’ family members to your classroom, call the local mosque, email professors and scholars in nearby educational institutions and museums. Crowd-source the classroom resources by teaching students to curate materials and knowledge rooted in research and participants’ voices. See website of The Museum of  Islamic Art, Doha Qatar and the Online Highlights Tour for myriad resources and images.

Pre-empt backlash. If you are concerned that your choice of subject matter will be criticized, stay rooted in your commitment to provide a comprehensive art education that supports NAEA's mission to advance “visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding,” and draw from the well-stated rationale from the Met “Why include Islamic art in your teaching?” 

Ask how much more there is to know. These investigations will lead your students to inevitable questions about the vast expanse of art that has been generated across regions of the world and throughout history with origins in Islamic traditions. It will also provoke curiosity about how misconceptions are propagated and how contemporary practices art might lead to deeper understandings. Hopefully you and your students will agree that a single art project, or one book, or a solo research study – or one blog posting – is not enough. Promoting global understanding is a lofty goal for art education. It is a multifaceted and complex endeavor. When teaching is framed in historical and cultural contexts it helps uncover how much more there is to know.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art provides free unit plans online on “Art of the Islamic World.” My forthcoming blog postings will consider the power of language by inviting dialogue that analyzes vocabulary, and connecting traditional art forms to contemporary practices. 


Monday 02. 6.17

Shaping Human Potential

From: Dr. Patty Bode

Countering Islamophobia directly aligns with our NAEA mission to “advance visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding.” Language matters. The careful selection of language in our NAEA mission to include “fulfill human potential” is significant. The term potential is critical here, since the etymological structure of the term potential stems from late Latin potentialis, or from potentia, which translates as “power.” Allowing Islamophobia to go unaddressed diminishes human potential – or strips power from humanity. Not only are Muslim students, families, colleagues and community artists dehumanized, all of us who allow Islamophobia are diminished in our humanity as well. The effort to counter Islamophobia includes teaching all of our students to interrogate misinformation, biased propaganda, and hate speech, which will aid in promoting “global understanding” as advanced in our NAEA mission. Art education can assertively participate in these efforts through studies and studio practices related to Islamic art by engaging at least these three strategies: 1) expanding historical and cultural contexts of current curriculum; 2) inviting dialogue that analyzes vocabulary; 3) connecting traditional art forms to contemporary practices. Each of these three strategies will be addressed in the next three forthcoming monthly mentor blog posting previewed here:

1. Expanding historical and cultural context of current curriculum. Many art teachers embrace the interdisciplinary vigor of studying tessellating patterns in relationship to mathematics, and a wide range of rich resources are available to teach these concepts with a focus on the contributions of Dutch graphic artist, M.C. Escher. Yet, many of the lesson plans miss the opportunity to investigate the original inspirations for Escher’s work: his study of the Islamic patterns in The Alhambra and Reales Alcázeres in Spain, and relationship of tessellation to the concept of the infinite. The sociocultural context of teaching about tessellations will be investigated further in a later blog posting.


2. Inviting dialogue that analyzes vocabulary may guide students to become aware of the language they read and hear within art education texts and discourse, as well as in the broader social context. A future post will expand on the notion that language matters in art education. Critically heightening the understanding of terminology we use about artists and art-making communities, may realize the power of language-in-use as well as the social construction of meaning. Youth literature resources about Islam and Muslim experiences may guide this effort. Visit the website of the Amherst Regional Middle School library for resources curated by Peter Riedel, school librarian.


3. Connecting traditional art forms to contemporary practices. A study of contemporary artists who draw upon, extrapolate from, re-appropriate and juxtapose concepts and imagery from Islamic traditions can open avenues for all students to understand contemporary, multi-dimensional complexity of art-making and intersectional identities. Some contemporary artists and art communities will be investigated in a future blog.