I’ve been enjoying spending more and more time outside as the warmer summer weather rolled in. Don’t get me wrong, I love producing works in my studio, and during my In Situ Fellowship and Artist Residency at Queens Museum, I have spent so much time in the archives of the museum. I used to go to the archives twice a week, but now I’m more invigorated by spending more time in the community.
As you may know, I have a natural inclination to be socially engaged and involved, organizing projects and initiatives that build community. My first job ever in life was as a Peer Educator for an organization based out of Brooklyn’s Downstate Hospital called THEO – Teens Helping Each Other. We used a combination of theater, workshops, and street outreach to teach “high-risk” young people about HIV/ AIDS and STD prevention. You might think this was an odd job for a young Muslim girl who was very low-risk, and maybe it was, but even at that age I knew that a problem is not only a problem if it’s my personal problem. This was the mid-90’s when HIV/ AIDS was rampant in the Black and Latino communities especially and I cared because I did. To this day, I’m always thinking about ways to be more effective, ways to uplift and inspire the people around me.
As an artist, I have an opportunity to be a leader in a way that challenges traditional hierarchies. You can see that especially in my X Speaks performances. This social practice project brings people together, creating a space where their voices are equally valuable. Performing the most recent iteration of X Speaks, X Speaks: An Appeal to African Heads of State, at the Contemporary Image Collective allowed the people of Cairo to connect to their history and place in relation to the African American struggle and understand the ways that Malcolm X perceived their role as Afro Arabs and Muslims in the context of a world-wide freedom struggle. It helped me to further understand my place in this world of mine and the value that I can offer as an artist with my particular interests and biography.
Now that I’m back in New York, I’m excited to create both studio work in preparation for my solo exhibition at the Queens Museum, and a new iteration of another socially engaged project; Muhammad School of Language and Martial Arts. As part of this project, I’m learning about Queens communities by hosting informal conversations over lunch gatherings at halal restaurants in most if not all of the Queens neighborhoods on my lunch breaks all over the borough. Last month I had lunch with artist-friend and Queens College professor Chloe Bass in Little Guyana and Radikha Singh who lives in the neighborhood. We had goat, chicken, and fish curry rotis and great conversation which ran the range of topics like meditation, Western and Islamic philosophy, repatriating artworks, Social practice as an art medium, and more!
Let me know at email@example.com if you’d like to join me on a lunch break in another Queens neighborhood this month. It’s part of my social practice artwork so, my treat.