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CSU art gallery displays Islam’s true meaning
Images attempt to nullify stereotypical portrayals of Islam

BY BRITTANY KULA

JUNE 9, 2010

The Cleveland State University Art Gallery unveiled an exhibition on Islamic art, titled “Another Way of Looking: Influences from Islam,” on May 21. The exhibition will run through June 26.

The goal of the exhibition is to shed a different light on Islam, one of the major religions in the world today. The public’s imagination of Islam is often associated with violence and backwardness.

This stereotype was recently evident in the controversy over the decision by the Manhattan Community Board to allow construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City.

The exhibition is an attempt to show real Islam goes beyond the stereotypical images that have dominated the public’s imagination following September 11. The exhibition displays many diverse and informed views on Islam from both members of the faith and outsiders as well.

This exhibition attempts to refute the arguments of Islam’s opponents by showing a milder, more positive view of the faith.
Azra Aksamija’s experience in both art and architecture enabled her to create a contemporary version of an ancient Islamic tradition. Aksamija has created what she calls, Wearable Mosques, pieces of clothing that are meant to turn any ordinary temporal space into a place of worship.

sophia“A wearable mosque is a portable religious device through which I have tried to explore the form of the mosque as a framer of individual and collective identity, and in this context, deconstruct the prevalent image of the Muslim as an alien “other.” My Wearable Mosque projects can be understood as intercultural communicators that can accommodate the ritual prayer of at least two worshippers,” Aksamija says of her art.

Salma Arastu’s acrylic painting, Praying Together, embodies what she believes is an important message of Islam.

“My works are inspired by my faith. Islamic values are the most important to me and I am especially touched by two major principles of the faith. Allah is One, abstract, formless and beyond imagination and secondly God has created such diversity among humans and He commands them to live together in harmony and turn towards Him with praises to establish unity,” Arastu says of her work.

She also runs a Muslim-based greeting card company, Your True Greetings, that is based on her artwork.
Andrew Ellis Johnson’s Black & White DVD loop displays the controversial topic of head scarves in the female Muslim tradition.

“The veil has a history in major religions of the world, a history complicated by conflicting purposes and rationales. Alternately considered demeaning and dignifying, confining and liberating, the veil becomes a screen for our own projections. It has indicated a woman’s self-respect and social status. It has also been seen as dehumanizing, conferring servitude and discomfort,” Johnson says.

Also bringing the topic of head scarves to light is Asma Shikoh. She takes the basic shape of the head scarf and incorporates a modern, sometimes seemingly Western idea into the work, which results is a merging of cultures similar to that of the Wearable Mosques.
One, for example, resembles an iPod with the scarf in the shape of the frame and the face of the woman as the screen.

“I take everyday icons, many of which are mundane and ordinary, and juxtapose them with a simplified visual of a headscarf. The resulting pieces are intelligently playful and intimate,” Shikoh says of her exhibit.

Susanne Slavick, who grew up in a Catholic household, creates an idea of Islam from an outsider’s perspective with her picture titled

“Rebirth: Eve’s Escort.” It is interesting to see the religion from someone else’s eyes, someone who doesn’t personally belong to the faith but who tries to understand it.

Also on display is an exhibition of Islamic manuscripts from the Cleveland Public Library Collection in Gallery C. For those of Islamic faith, the Qur’an is believed to be God’s teachings, interpreted by the Prophet Muhammad. Perhaps a closer look into this text will reveal an even closer relationship between Islam and other mainstream religions.

“Islam shares with Judaism and Christianity a concern over the use of representational art in religious contexts as potentially idolatrous, therefore Qur’an manuscripts do not contain illustrations. However, manuscripts of other texts from the Islamic world are frequently illustrated, as is demonstrated in this exhibit with copies of Nizami’s allegory of the Seven Princesses and Jami’s romance of Yusuf and Zulaykha. The story of the latter poem comes from the Qur’an and is its version of the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife: Jami was influenced by Sufi mystics for whom Zulaykha’s pursuit of Yusuf is an allegory of the soul’s desire for God,” curator Marian Bleeke says.

Another Way of Looking: Influences from Islam and the Islamic manuscripts exhibits will be open on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Saturdays from 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm until June 26.