"Dis[Locating] Culture" Brings New Ideas, Style to Islamic Art in America

Article excerpt

Believing in the need to address preconceived differences between Islamic and Western cultures, Islamic art scholar Reem Alalusi and Pittsburgh gallery owner Michael Berger co-curated "Dis [Locating] Culture: Contemporary Islamic Art in America," a fascinating exhibition that challenges the stereotypes of Islam and seeks to develop cross-cultural understanding through the medium of art.

In their highly anticipated exhibition, the curators chose to present works by nine of America's finest Islamic artists as contemporary Western art, separate and distinct from commonly perceived views of traditional Islamic art. "As art builds dialogue, makes the unseen seen, it was time to mount an exhibition that shows that art related to or by Muslims isn't 'Islamic,' but is contemporary American art," Berger explained.

"These works mix old and new ideas and possess strong thematic conceptual underpinnings," added Alalusi, an astute observer of the general trends of contemporary art. "They are diverse in theme, concept and style, and, while some are political, others are playful and whimsical."

While influenced by their individual histories and experiences, the eclectic collection transcends the artists' heritage, moving freely between traditional and contemporary subjects, styles and ideas.

Sandow Birk, sometimes referred to as "the surfer artist," has no ties to Islam, except through his travels as a surfer in search of the perfect wave. After reading the Qur'an for his own enlightenment, Birk began his American Qur'an series of juxtaposing the suras over scenes of daily life.

As a self-described avid consumer of Persian art, Negar Ahkami, of Iranian heritage, brought the overwhelming patterns and electric colors of Persian art into a secular realm that reflected the angst of many Iranians. "I view the glittery flamboyance of everyday Iranians-both inside and outside of the country-as a real testimony to their human spirit, in spite of the repressive regime," she explained. "As an artist I am in love with visual tension." In her own Iranian-American take on "Salome" she made references to Islamophobia and her own fears of the current Iranian regime.

Jowhara AlSaud's work began as an "exploration of censorship in Saudi Arabia and its effects on visual communication." Applying the language of the censors to her personal photographs, she began making line drawings, omitting faces and skin, as shown in her "New Year" print.

Trained as a classical miniaturist, Farah Ossouli's works have been widely shown in Europe and her native Iran. Using earth tones against brilliant and radiant colors, Ossouli's imaginative paintings tell eternal stories of love and heroism, as reflected in "My Bird, Your Cage. …