31 December 2006

Being an Arab Artist

Submitting work to an Arab American art exhibition has got me thinking about my role as an artist. In the past year or two, I was mainly interested in representing Muslim women, using family photos as source material. I think that initially I wanted to represent that part of myself. I don't cover, I don't practice Islam, but I am still like these women, I am made from these women and they inform who I am. I also wanted to show respect for the women who express their culture at all times, in a climate where nothing less than full assimilation is demanded. In the position I exist in, rendering a Muslim woman in the context of familial relationship is revolutionary because of the history of xenophobic colonialist representations of the Muslim woman. Because of what non-Muslims think when they see Muslim women. Because to wear hijab in this political climate is a revolutionary assertion of a non-Western identity. But I do not mean to glorify Islam or project something on to Muslim women who wear hijab as a whole that may not exist for them. I was raised to become a Muslim woman, but I never did.

My dad is Muslim and I went to Islam school as a kid. But I am American, and I am half white. I claim a Muslim cultural identity, but not a religious one, and I do not outwardly express this identity, unless you happen to catch me wearing the Hand of Fatima necklace my Tata gave me when I was small. In Islam the representation of living beings (animals and humans) is forbidden, so who else but me would make these kinds of images? Who else but me (and all the other mixed Arab American former Muslims who can relate) has access to this visual lexicon, to such a wide range of information about and perceptions of Muslim women?

Thinking about this particular show, and the conference it will accompany (Diwan Arab Forum for the Arts, Arab American National Museum), of course there is concern--at least for me--of the ghettoization of Arab artists. At this point, I feel like these things are vital, although I hope I am able to get more out of this year's conference than I did last year's. I think, who else is going to support my work, like my work, buy my work? I worry that there are specific concerns that are deemed important for us as Arabs to address in our work, and from this will emerge an idea on what art made by an Arab American should look like, so that we will either have the choice of making "Arab American art" or making "art" period (i.e. "regular," white, Modernist leaning art). I worry that I am buying into this framework by creating images of Muslim women, especially with the image above, with the American flag motif. These questions are important for us to ask ourselves.

I have been slowly falling out of love with printmaking. In the past few months, I have been primarily into drawing, and even some painting (which I used to hate, and still think is overrated). Some concerns that have been floating around in my head and occasionally finding their way onto paper are mixed identity and multiculturality, interracial coupling and Islamic segregation of the sexes, and the idea of "looking" Arab (as seen in the first image in this post, which is called "Lori and Julie as Soumaya and Hanan," my white mother and her sister drawn as my Circassian/Palestinian aunt and her Palestinian friend). This coming semester I will be a part-time student for the first time in my academic career, and my one and only class will be Performance Art. I would like to use some of that free time to continue my work with fibers and begin experimenting with multiple media.

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