Art as an ally for Black Muslim Women

Black and White conceptual photography by Black Muslim woman artist

I’m a Black Muslim female visual artist, so yes, I live a very creative life with lots of art of my own making around me, but you don’t need to be an “Artist” in order to live a creative life; you can always express your creativity by being with art  more often. You can deepen your creativity and express who you are by living with art.

Large wall drawing made of latex paint and spray paint installed at Galveston Artist Residency. This wall drawing utilizes motifs found in Islamic sacred geometry and referenced the Prophet Muhammad with its use of the pentagon and the  hajj is referenced by the Black square and the circular form Nsenga Knight wall drawings are also inspired by the large wall of drawings of Sol Lewitt and conceptual arts practices
Nsenga Knight 2012, Orientation, Dimensions Variable, Wall Drawing, Latex paint and spray paint, (installed at Galveston Artists Residency).

…you can always express your creativity by being with art  more often

Nsenga knight

Last time you went to the museum you probably felt like just by being there with the art, somehow you were a part of the creative conversation. You might not have known it, but you were even a part of the artwork itself.  Now it’s YOUR artwork. Every time when my collectors send me pictures of my artwork in their home or workspace, I am so grateful to see my artwork become a part of their lives. They have joined the conversation I am seeking to have as an interlocutor with the artwork. Every time they see their art it says something different to them. It’s like the artwork itself finally found the person it was seeking out. Do you know what I mean? 

Black Muslim women are a part of my artwork

Professor Bayyina Muhammad and her family collaborated with Nsenga Knight on her 2014 Make Safe Make Space social practice and installation project at Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, NC
Nsenga Knight 2014, Make Safe Make Space project collaborators – Muhammad-Brandon family at Elsewhere Museum in Durham, NC. Knight created this project as part of her Souther Constellations residency. Nsenga Knight is a Black Muslim American woman artist who creates paintings, drawings, prints, and collaborative social practice projects. Her artwork often involves Black Muslims

What you are seeking is seeking you.

Rumi

And the conversation continues because whenever we’ve seen or purchased art that we feel connected with we tend to want to show it off. We take our friends and family to the exhibition venue, post the artwork on social media or invite them to our home to see our artwork. You are connecting with the people and community you care about  more deeply now because you are talking with them about art – something of yours that you love. You are excited about it because art is that special place where you can express yourself and feel seen. Even if you don’t feel like you can express yourself at your job or even at home, I’m here to tell you that art is your ally for self expression. With art, there’s no need to curb your enthusiasm! Art is Life, alhumdulilah life is AH-Mazing and we are here for it all!!!

Nsenga Knight, 2016, Plateau #1 (Banished from Drowning Series), 32 x 40 inches, Photography/ Archival pigment print on Hahnemühle paper mounted on Dibond

… art is your ally for self expression.

-Nsenga knight

I want my artwork to be in the hands and spaces of people who appreciate it, because my artwork means a lot to me. It’s my ideas and my vision out in the world. In many ways, it IS me. And, the fact that you can identify with it and appreciate it to the degree that you would spend your money on it means a lot to me.  My art can express something about you to the world as well. 

Artwork can help you feel seen and understood

There’s so many parts of us as Black Muslim women that can only be fully understood by another Black Muslim woman. For a lot of people out there, they don’t understand how our rich history and tradition and cultures can and do coincide to create who we are. Black Muslim American women are a new creation. This idea of being a Black person. An African American person… we are still creating that and it’s not that old either. And, then layer onto that – being Muslim, and American Muslim, a Black American Muslim. It’s beautiful and it’s strange, and it’s normal for us too. 

Nsenga Knight Other Stars Don't behave so drawing expresses the complex ideas of abstraction in both Islamic art and in Al Baruni's drawing about the moon cycle. As a Black Muslim woman artist she is influenced by the Islamic art and science traditions as well as western abstraction
Nsenga Knight, 2013, Other Stars Don’t Behave So, Ink and Wax Drawing on Paper, 30×20 inches

When you are out there in the world at your job people probably take you in as just one thing – either a Black woman (and all the stereotypes and complexities that come with that) or as a Muslim woman (and the ideas of foreignness and islamophobia that goes along with that). Have you ever had to remind someone (sometimes even another Black person) that you are Black? Or, had to cut some off mid-rant to point out to then that you are Muslim? And, aside from who you are as a demographic – there’s who you are as a person and as a being that has everything to do with the demographic, but at the same time is its own thing. 

express who you are as a Black Muslim woman without having to defend it or explain it

-Nsenga knight
Artist Nsenga Knight interviewing Alberta at Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah in Brooklyn for her As the Veil Turns project about Black women who converted to Islam prior to 1975 and helped pioneer some of America's still existing Muslim communities
Artist Nsenga Knight in 2007 interviewing Alberta at Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah in Brooklyn for her As the Veil Turns photography, video, and oral history project about Black women in her mosque community who converted to Islam prior to 1975 and helped pioneer some of America’s still existing Muslim communities.

I know you want to be able to express who you are as a Black Muslim woman without having to defend it or explain it. That’s what my art does. It stands in there with you in your space saying so much of what needs to be said. What wants to be said and repeats it for you. And, you know when people see it, they will take from it what they want. Let them wonder… Art helps you be seen without you having to make a spectacle of yourself, cuz who has time for that?

 
And, while we’re on the topic of being seen; please know that I appreciate you seeing me. Like me, you’ve probably gotten all the education and have travelled a bunch so you’ve seen a lot. Even if you are working for someone else, like so many Black women your entrepreneurial talents probably have you building a side business because you are always seeking out avenues to grow and to express your talents. 

My artwork belongs to you as well

You probably found my artwork while sitting at a cafe for lunch, following google down your path of curiosity. Maybe you learned about my artwork at a recent exhibition. You were curious if there are any Black female Muslim artists on the scene that you could follow. You got curious what that art might look like and if you could buy any of the art. Of course you can!

Nsenga Knight 2016, Tawaf/ Sa’y : Mankind, Oilstick, and Gesso on Vegetable Parchment Paper

Society and community are constantly giving us ideas about how we should express ourselves, and what’s too much or too little …you still get to choose what that looks like and to which values you’ll actually ascribe to.

-Nsenga Knight

Society and community are constantly giving us ideas about how we should express ourselves, and what’s too much or too little. It’s like when society says to you that you should be modest, present yourself beautifully – but not sexy yet still want to be wanted, you still get to choose what that looks like and to which values you’ll actually ascribe to. The concept of community is so strong and powerful for us, so we always carry ourselves in a way that doesn’t embarrass others, do our best to follow the rules and make our community proud. Still, you get to choose what that looks like.

…someone made it possible by creating it. It just goes to show that even when people say that two things don’t go together – like hijab and ballet, or in our case, Black, Muslim, American and Female – they can all exist in you, and you can express this reality to others.

nsenga knight

I recently had lunch with a Muslim mom who told me a story about her daughter who wanted to be a ballerina so badly growing up. The mom and dad refused to allow her to pursue this dream because of the ballerina outfits they deemed to be immodest. Almost two decades later, her now young adult daughter sees hijabi ballerinas sharing their talents around the world and now mom realizes that although she didn’t see “Hijabi” and “Ballerina” as a possibility before, someone made it possible by creating it. It just goes to show that even when people say that two things don’t go together – like hijab and ballet, or in our case, Black, Muslim, American and Female – they can all exist in you, and you can express this reality to others. Ibtihaj Muhammad for sure did this as the first hijabi Muslim American woman to compete in the Olympics. She’s also as proud Black Muslim American woman. Let them see you BEING it. They will have to take it all in, even if they do so piece by piece. If you are ready to express yourself and be seen for all of who you are, then I welcome you to bring my artwork into your home or workspace.

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