New York art museum seeks to counter Islamophobia

Home to some of the world’s most famous art spaces, New York is known for its cultural diversity. Yet, the US city had not had a museum dedicated solely to Arab and Islamic art.

A new museum, the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art, is seeking to change that by providing a platform for artists and scholars to exchange ideas and promote cultural dialogue between voices in the United States and Arab and Islamic countries.

The museum’s founder, Mohammed Rashid al-Thani, a Qatari art enthusiast, told Al Jazeera that he wants to help foster better understanding between the East and the West at a time of rising Islamophobia.
“Unfortunately until now we didn’t have one art institute or cultural centre that represents the Arab and Islamic regions and provides these artists the platform,” he said.

“There’s a stereotype of Muslims and Arabs and we can blame media all we want. But it is our responsibility to do something about it and to be active participants in the society we live.”

The museum, a registered non-profit, opened its doors in New York’s Little Italy district last month.

It wants to serve as a venue for the study and appreciation of Islamic art in the US financial capital.

It will also provide a residency programme where artists from the Arab world, who otherwise would not have the financial means to come to New York, can learn and display their work.

There will be four exhibits a year at the museum, and the first one, which opened on May 4, features four female artists from Saudi Arabia, Iran, India and Pakistan.

Islamic architecture and geometry

The ongoing exhibition focuses on Islamic architecture and geometry.

Saudi-Palestinian artist Dana Awartani, who is among the featured artists, told Al Jazeera she hopes her art can leave an impression on those who see it.

Saudi-Palestinian artist Dana Awartani says she wants museum visitors to walk with a different impression of Arabs and Muslims [Al Jazeera]

“Art in and of itself is a visual language,” Awartani said. “When you look back at civilizations, they are not remembered by their lawyers and businessmen.

“They are remembered by their arts, so I think people need to remember the power of art.”

She said she wants to “provoke” museum-goers “to think, to delve deeper and walk away with a different impression of Arabs and Muslims”.

Another artist featured is Monir Shahroudy Farmafarmaian, who is of Iranian origin.

Her work is rooted in her experience in Iranian architecture, but seeks to engage “vigorously” with Western geometric abstraction.

The museum’s next event on July 7 features author Brad Gooch, who has studied the life of Rumi, the 13th century Sufi scholar, whose literary work is considered important among Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.

Source: Al Jazeera News