The power of art to reveal commonalities between seemingly distant sets of beliefs is powerfully displayed in an upcoming exhibit, entitled "Dis[Locating] Culture: Contemporary Islamic Art in America," at the Michael Berger Gallery in Pittsburgh, Penn., and co-curated by Reem Alalusi. "Dis[Locating] Culture" will be the city’s first exhibit of
contemporary Islamic art, and certainly one of the first in America’s Midwest.
Held at a gallery owned by a Jewish American art collector, the show is a direct affront to the binary thinking and exclusionary conclusions, carried across the airwaves by an insistently normalizing, ever vocal talkocracy, that produces mistaken, typecast notions of Islamic art as a mutually incompatible field to that of the Contemporary project.
Though Islamic art is conventionally considered a separate category from Western Art, the artists in "Dis[Locating] Culture" blur the categories and push the boundaries of each. This is neither Islamic nor Western, per se; this is Contemporary Art.
The exhibit breaks down cultural and religious stereotypes by showcasing the finest American Islamic artists -– whether Muslim by faith or not. Some of the nine artists included come from the Islamic world but do not live there; some neither live nor have roots in the so-called Islamic world, and yet their works are classified under the Islamic
umbrella as a result of their political, social, or even technical choices. Artists such as Iranian-born Shoja Azari, Californian Sandow Birk and Bangladesh-native Anoka Faruqee are among the top-notch lineup assembled for the show.
By exploring contemporary Islamic art’s borders and boundaries -– whether religious, cultural or social -– and asking participants which are to be respected and which disrupted and dislocated, the exhibit and symposium aim to upend the conventional narrative of civilizational collision in favor of the dialogue of collusion.
Red Moon and Alkhidr, Shiva Ahmadi, 2010: This painting, done on aquaboard, makes repeated references to Islamic mythology and history through Moses' visionary guru, Alkhidr.
On Bended Knee, Amir Fallah, 2009: Amir makes strong political statements regarding stereotypes of Muslims in the media and pop culture. Interestingly, his art almost always begins with a banded "frame," referenced, yet oh-so-different from, traditional Persian miniatures.
New Year, Jowhara Alsaud, 2010: Jowhara explores the essentials of the human spirit by retaining some censoring of human faces common in traditional Islamic art, while still conveying volumes about emotions, perceptions, and action.
Rock City, Sandow Birk, 2010: Chapter 15 of the series American Qur'an. Birk, a life-long Californian whose love of surfing has taken him to the far reaches of the globe, has set about to transcribe the entire Qur'an in America's own indigenous calligraphic tradition, graffiti script, and illustrates it with scenes of daily American life.
Freehand Fade to Light Yellow Ground, Anoka Faruqee, 2010: Anoka employs Islamic art's willfully anti-iconic geometric forms as a sort of handmade "pixel," thus rethinking tesselations in a conceptual present.
Coffee House Painting 2009, Shoja Azari, 2009 (video projection on canvas): This is actually a painting that mimics a traditional genre of Persain paintings, but unsettles as it comes to life as a video projection with soldiers, civilians, and other sounds of the Iraq war.
Danielle Minne #2, Asad Faulwell, 2010: Faulwell's maddeningly intricate works combine digital collage with repeating, hand-created patterns in mandala-like forms.
Salome, Negar Ahkami, 2011. Negar critiques dominant gender power structures in the Middle East through visions of updated odalisques and historicized heroines, setting them in a 21st century context of psychedelic pop culture. In Salome, a Jersey Shore-inspired dominatrix holds the turbaned head of John while traditional Persian designs ebb and swirl in a sea of confusion.
Gold Oil Barrel #10, Shiva Ahmadi, 2010: Shiva painted on an actual oil barrel, making an interesting juxtaposition between the two exports that Iran is known for: fantastical miniature paintings and crude oil.
The Andy Warhol Museum Auditorium, 2011. The Symposium will be held at the Warhol Museum on April 16 from 1 p.m to 4 p.m., with reception to follow. The exhibit will be on view at the Michael Berger Gallery from April 15 to July 30, 30 South Sixth St, Pittsburgh PA 15203.
WHAT: Dis[Locating] Culture: Contemporary Islamic Art in America, running April 15 to July 30. Opening Friday, April 15, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Michael Berger Gallery, 30 South 6th Street, Pittsburgh, PA. 15203.
WHEN: 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Open Friday, April 15 until 7:30 p.m.
Also, Dis[Locating] Culture: The Symposium, April 16. The symposium will include a
panel of artists, critics, and scholars, as well as a keynote address by Dr. Reza Aslan,
best-selling author and international scholar of religion.
WHERE: The Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky Street, Pittsburgh, Penn. 15203.
WHEN: 1 p.m to 4 p.m., with reception to follow.