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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Muslim self-portraits reach across cultural boundaries

Twenty-four photographic self-portraits of Bahraini Muslims line the walls of the Guilford College Art Gallery, while similar self-portraits of American Muslims are on display in the Center for Principled Problem Solving in King Hall. These portraits and their accompanying prose reach across cultural boundaries to dispel the anti-Muslim sentiment in America since the events of 9/11.

The Latin phrase, “esse quam videri” means “to be, rather than to seem.” Not only is this message the North Carolina state motto, it is also the title of the collaborative photographic art exhibit that opened at Guilford College on Jan. 11. The combined exhibits are presented by the Guilford College Art Gallery and the CPPS in conjunction with the American Friends Service Committee. The exhibits will run until Feb. 29, 2012.

The inspiration behind “Esse Quam Videri: Muslim Self-Portraits,” is Todd Drake, a North Carolina painter and photographer, whose art activism is shaped by community.

Taking the floor in Hege Library, Todd Drake thanked the Guilford College Art Gallery Director and Curator, Terry Hammond, for her work in hand framing and hanging the show, and explained how the show came to be.

In 2008, as an artist-in-residence at UNC Chapel Hill’s Center for Global Initiatives, Drake collaborated with the North Carolina Muslim community to produce the first “Esse Quam Videri” project, “American Muslims’ Self Portraits,” currently on display in the CPPS.

Drake explained how “American Muslims’ Self Portraits,” caught “the eye of a friend of a friend whose husband happened to be a U.N. representative in Bahrain.”  Through a Fulbright-Hays grant, and with support from the U.S. State Department, a similar project involving Bahrainis from all walks of life was scheduled as a workshop in spring 2011.

Amid the unrest of the Arab Spring, Drake thought that the project would be canceled. When they found that the project was “a go,” Drake and his wife Robin set out for Bahrain, then an uneasy country in a deeply wounded state.

Drake worked with amateur and professional Bahraini photographers alike to heal a community in need of an identity. The workshop, scheduled for one week, grew into a two-week event, from 20 to over 50 participants, with Sunni and Shiite Muslims working together in a positive atmosphere.

A recurring theme of trust runs through the prose accompanying the photographs in “Esse Quam Videri.”

“The work is beautiful and powerful,” senior Julia Levi-Goerlich noted. “The people and photographers took control of what they wanted to show: beauty and strength.”

In one portrait, Zaman sits in profile, pondering her country’s struggles. A noble beast of a dog sits next to her, staring directly at us, knowing who he trusts. In another, Shaima flips a book’s colorful pages in the foreground, and dreams of becoming an author. Khawala stares out of another portrait while two sisters pose back to back, showing their comfort in wearing traditional veils.

“It reminded me of some previous things I’ve heard about,” senior Lauren McClure said. “It really showed we have to be more aware of other places, because we’re connected more than we know.”

At the opening, guests were invited to interact with the show through “Reflections,” a project inspired by Frank Warren’s Post Secret, an anonymous online art community. Visitors to “Esse Quam Videri” expressed their thoughts in felt tip, glitter and glue on postcards. Alyzza-May Callahan ‘10 headed the “Reflections” project.

Hammond hopes that the “Reflections” project “will help keep the conversation going” towards dispelling Muslim stereotyping.

“It’s nice to explore cultures that are negated and to create a positive spin,” said senior Delphine Uwase. “It is important to find the positive aspects rather than the negative.”


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