One of the many things I love about being artist is being able to express myself through visual media. My artwork is centered around many themes: my travels in the Muslim world, my love of learning about different cultures and how they express themselves artistically. I also use my art to express the social issues that I’m passionate about. The visual arts are a great vehicle for social change and advocacy. And it’s through my work that I’ve been able to facilitate difficult but necessary discussions about social justice issues. The artwork featured in this article is a small selection of pieces that express the social issues most important to me.
American Muslim Community 2021
This work reflects my love and hopes for the Muslim American community. We are one of the many ethnically and culturally diverse Muslim communities in the world. And while we may not all look the same, or practice Islam in the same way, we are connected by our faith and by the core principles of Islam. I pray our diversity may be our strength and not our weakness. I hope we can embrace our differences and seek unity, not uniformity.
Unapologetically Muslim 2018
I created this painting as my own form of protest anti-Muslim sentiment in American society that was further exacerbated by Donald Trump’s presidency. I wanted to throw two images together that some might see as diametrically opposed to one another: the American flag and hijabi Muslim women. I wanted to assert that Muslims have always been a part of American society. My ethnic and religious roots are tied to the African Muslims who were kidnaped and enslaved in the Americas. Islam’s roots run deep and it not the dangerous foreign import that Islamophobes claim it to be.
Corona Girls 2020
My work tends to be upbeat and colorful, so my political messages may be a bit subtle to the viewer. I created this in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 was a very interesting but politically volatile time in the US. Mainstream publications wrote articles about Muslim cleanliness, praising us for our vigilant handwashing. Some Muslim women who wear niqab felt more comfortable with everyone else wearing masks. The positive coverage was an odd but welcome change from the usual negative media. But the French government banned face veils making face masks compulsory. I made this painting featuring different types of “coverings” to point out the obvious hypocrisy. These women with their various face coverings are all the same but unique in their efforts to keep people safe in the pandemic.
The Key, 2019
Palestine is close to the heart of every Muslim. The human rights abuses suffered by Palestinians reverberates throughout our umma and the hearts of those who hate oppression. This is one of many paintings that I’ve done about Palestine. In American culture, it’s taboo to speak of Palestinians as people who want freedom, peace, and self-determination. They are always portrayed as the aggressors. The land of Palestine is painted in gold, with the Palestinian flag colors blending into the background. Within patterns made to look like Palestinian embroidery and the kufiyah, there are small keys resembling the old keys of Palestinian refugees.
I believe we should use our talents for social justice. The arts are one of the best ways to communicate our narrative to American society and to advocate for the issues closest to our hearts. My hope is that Muslim American creatives will continue the upward journey of establishing ourselves in the larger arts community.
Kelly Izdihar Crosby is a visual artist and freelance writer. She is currently a resident artist for the Inner-City Muslim Action Network in Atlanta, Georgia.
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