A Different Set of Picture Essays

Todd Drake

Todd Drake creates art that is shaped by community. A 2004-2005 Rockefeller Fellow, Drake is currently an artist in residence at UNC Chapel Hill’s Center for Global Initiatives and touring around the U.S. and Middle East with his latest project, Esse Quam Videri: Muslim American Self-Portraits.

The mind takes a different set of pictures. For three years I have crisscrossed my home state of North Carolina taking pictures of Muslim Americans. Each photo is a collaboration that expresses what the participating Muslim wished to share. Their images in Esse Quam Videri are currently touring the United States and Middle East. But when I close my eyes and think about my experience of helping make those images I see a different set of photos. One is of a full moon shining over an outdoor gathering of Muslims, all laughing at the comedians from the Funnymentalists comedy group. I saw the moon because I tossed back my head to let out a laugh and noticed it shining down on us from behind. It was at that moment that I thought “This is what we need as a nation, if we could all just get to this point.”

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My Name is Khan

This past week the film My Name is Khan was released to audiences worldwide and has broken global box office records. The Bollywood film examines a topic that the American media shies away from:  the struggles of Muslim Americans after the September 11th attacks.

This highly anticipated film tells the story of Rizwan Khan, a Muslim with Asperger’s syndrome, who moves to San Francisco to live with his brother. There he meets and marries Mandira. Rizwan, Mandira, and her son Sameer live together and both Mandira and Sameer take on the last name Khan. However, after the attacks of 9/11, they face prejudice. Mandira blames their struggles on the new last name “Khan.” In order to stay in Mandira’s life, she tells him he must tell Americans and the President that his name is Khan and that he is not a terrorist. This mission leads him on a journey across the United States, in which he is detained, imprisoned, and tortured because he  is seen as a terrorist suspect, even when he tries to inform the FBI about Faisal Rahman, who espouses violent rhetoric at the local mosque.

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Art and Islam: Interview with Ken George

kenArt0Many of the world’s greatest art works are inspired by religion (for example, Leonarda da Vinci’s The Last Supper) and arouse an almost religious sense of awe (think of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings). This close relationship between art and religion is very much alive in contemporary Indonesia, home of the largest Muslim population in the world. Nobody understands this better than Kenneth George, UW-Madison professor of anthropology and author of an upcoming book, Picturing Islam: Art and Ethics in a Muslim Lifeworld. Prof. George sat down with Inside Islam recently to share his diverse experience with Muslim culture, from living in a small rural Muslim community to working with cosmopolitan Muslim artists and urban intellectuals. Continue reading

Updating Mosques?

The Prophet's Mosque in Medina

The Prophet's Mosque in Medina

Among the most prominent symbols of Islam is the mosque. The dome and the minaret instantly come to mind when someone thinks of the Muslim place of worship. The designs that dominate the Islamic world tend to stem from Arabesque styles from the early periods of Islam. However, there have been calls to modernize mosque architecture to reflect the changes in the Muslim world. Those who make such calls argue that there is no such thing as “Islamic architecture” and that the only real requirement for a mosque is that it be clean and suitable for prayer. Others, though, contend that there must be something recognizably “Islamic” about the structure so that anyone who sees it associates it with Islam. Continue reading