Current Issues Fostering Artistic Expression
Summary of the Issue
Tehran, Iran. 2005. Iranian museum guide, Noreen Motamed, discusses a color lithograph by David Hockney, Hollywood III, during an international collection of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo Credit: Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP Images.
Islam has a very rich history of creativity and artistic expression. The richness of ethnic and cultural diversity within the Muslim world gave rise to a unique range of artistic forms that vary and embody unique voices and experiences with a range of local and global influences.1 Women have been strong contributors to the legacy of art in the Muslim community.
Poetry and eloquence in writing and storytelling was an important expression of art in early Arabia. For example, Sheherazade, daughter of the Vizier, was one prominent female figure who was able to use language to deter physical violence. In western countries her stories are known as Thousand and One Nights. Hissa Hillal is an example of a poet today, who gained international prominence as being the first female Saudi finalist in the Millions Poet Contest. She also uses provocative language in her poetry to respond to extremism and clerics that issue inhumane edicts. 2
In response to today’s cultural and religious misunderstanding, Muslim women are using artwork to dispel myths and stereotypes to portray how Islam impacts their lives.3 They provide a new form of dialogue that dismantles negative stereotypes of Muslim women and gives a fuller picture of the diversity in the Muslim world. For example, “Breaking the Veils: Women Artists from the Islamic World” is an art exhibit organized by the Royal Society of Fine Arts in Jordan and the Pan Mediterranean Women Artists Network of Greece to dispel negative stereotypes surrounding women throughout the Islamic world. It consists of 72 pieces by 51 women representing a spectrum of religious beliefs in more than 20 Muslim countries.4
There are many Muslim organizations worldwide that support young Muslim women artists by empowering them and encouraging their creative and artistic expression. There is a rise of Muslim vocal artists that are expressing themselves through hip hop and others who are turning to visual performance. Muslim women continue to struggle with artistic performance, particularly singing and dance. Some take the opinion that Islam forbids women to dance and sing in front of men and while others may also hold that playing instruments is considered haram, or forbidden. Deeyah, a human rights activist, recording artist and founder of Sisterhood, a project to empower young female artists to pursue their hopes and dreams, states that female Muslim artists have a tough time and are actively discouraged by their own communities to pursue their dreams through the arts. These artists tackle many issues such as war, racism, love, society post-9/11, identity, sexuality, and faith. She says: “I want these women to know that they have something to say and they deserve to be heard.” 5
Related Current Issue
Organizations Active on this Issue
Dadi, Iftikhar. "Shirin Neshat's Photographs as Postcolonial Allegories." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 34.1 (2008): 125-150. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2010.
Ebrahimian, Babak A. "Framing Diaspora." Feminist Media Studies 6.1 (2006): 85-99. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2010
Lewis, Reina. "Veils and Sales: Muslims and the Spaces of Postcolonial Fashion Retail." Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body & Culture 11.4 (2007): 423-441. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2010.
McMurray, Anaya. "Hotep and Hip-Hop: Can Black Muslim Women Be Down with Hip-Hop?." Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 8.1 (2008): 74-92. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2010.
David, Bailey (ed)., Gilane, Tawadros (ed)., Veil, Veiling, Representation, and Contemporary Art. MIT Press, 2003.
Iftikhar, Dadi. “Modernism and the Art of Muslim South Asia”. The University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
Sheila S. Blair & Jonathon M. Bloon. “The Art and Architecture of Islam, 1250-1800”. Yale University Press, 1996.