Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Google Muslim Self Portrait

Google "Muslim self portrait" and you will find very little. The exception is the excellent work of photographer Layla-Eve. Check out her flicker gallery.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Great Idea

Here's a call for movies that address Muslim stereotypes with some big prize money.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

What? Muslims and laughter?

Last night at an art opening I mentioned I was going to a Muslim Comedy night. A bystander commented that those things did not go together. There you have it, another stereotype layed bare. Hope I can be allowed to photograph he evening.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

One Slice of Kindness

Today, I spent the afternoon talking to a Pizza Parlor owner in the Triad who is Muslim. We spent several hours talking about the big issues facing the Muslim world and American culture. After covering all the topics and a great bit of learning on my part, I asked the owner what about himself did he care to share for this project. In giving examples, I mentioned community service, to which he responded "Oh, I give away free meals to the homeless all the time." This stopped me in my tracks. Soon I learned that he gave away probably 10 meals on average per day, every day of the year. "I am part of this community" he said, "my faith pushes me to do this." Before I left a single man came in tired and hot and sat in a corner booth. A nod from the owner sent an employee over with the pizza and drink I had just shot to document this practice. It was set in front of the homeless man without a tab but with a slice of human kindness. Watch for this simple but profound "self portrait."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Still Time!

There is still time to participate in this project. I am finishing up working full time on this project this summer but will be collaborating on Fridays and weekends with participants throughout the fall. If you want to participate be sure to email using the reply form at the bottom of the page.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Deep Roots and 100 names for God.

Lord's Prayer, written in Arabic by Omar Said.

The Muslim community has deep roots in North Carolina.

Yesterday, I traveled to the Davidson College Library in Davidson, North Carolina to see the Arabic Bible of Omar Said. Omar lived in the 1700's and was a learned man who traded in fabric in Africa. After starting a family and in his 30's, Omar was captured and sold into slavery and imported to Charleston, SC in the last years of the US slave trade. He escaped an abusive master and was found while praying in a church near Fayetteville, North Carolina. After writing petitions for help on his cell walls, and dumbfounding the Fayetteville community of slave owners with his demeanor and refined manners, he was taken by the Owens brothers (one would become a North Carolina Governor ) to their plantation down the Cape Fear River. There he became a valued house servant, eventually being given the keys to the estate, his own house, horse, and buggy. Later in life he wrote his own short autobiography, the Christian Lord's Prayer (shown above ), and well as eleven other surviving documents. A practicing Muslim all his life, Omar absorbed the Christian faith of his owners and navigated with dignity the tricky social/religious/political/racial landscape of the Old South. Omar turned down offers to be returned to Africa, and lived to see freedom before his death at 94.

I was most struck by how carefully he sewed layer upon layer onto the dust jacket of his Bible. As I looked at it I was reminded of his selling fabric in Africa and wondered if he found pleasure in the designs and colors of each layer. To see the stitching made by his own hands was awe inspiring. This dust jacket will be featured in this project.

I have read that the "drawings" at the bottom of the above document represent the 100th name of God.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

All that wander are not lost......

I took this photo after spending the day working on this project in Rocky Mount, NC.

From Rocky Mount to Greensboro to Fayetteville, I am traveling, meeting, and collaborating with Muslims for this project. I have sat for hours listening to the hardships and tragedies of a Palestinian born Muslim who is working hard to support and educate her children while dreaming of an education for herself. I am collaborating with a Muslim family who wishes to speak up for co-existence and justice. I am searching out Muslims serving in our military, serving in our state government, Shia Muslims, and Nation of Islam members. I am talking to professionals worried about the effect their participation might have on their work, I am learning of the deep worry and growing anger over Palestine, I am hearing time and again of cases of discrimination against Muslims at work, in public, and in schools. Soon, I will hold in my hand and photograph a holy book owned by one of the state's first Muslims- a slave who lived in the 1700's. What a journey of discovery. I cannot wait to share it the images and words of all these participants. Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Who Hijacked my Religion?

"Baba Ali" produced this well made video on Muslim stereotypes in the media. I think it gives support to the goals of this project. Check out his media production company at

Friday, May 30, 2008

Amazing Week, Amazing Stories

I have a week full of interviews and meeting with Muslims from across the state. I have heard stories that need telling from communities in Greensboro, Eden, Rocky Mount, and Statesville. The enthusiasm for this project has helped fuel my efforts (literally -I wish) across many hours on the road. Today, three very wonderful and unique participants all told me the problem was not what to say in their works but that they had so much they wanted to say- where to start was the problem. I hope over the coming days they will focus in on what is most important to share. I look forward to facilitating their vision.

Stay tuned for some great images and powerful stories.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Visual Memory

What we see stays with us. I was reminded of this yesterday when I was working with a new participant on this project. An artist, he met me in an ice cream shop in Greensboro to discuss his participation. After he shared his story of struggle living in the United States as a Muslim Immigrant, he invited me to come to his condo and look at his past work. There I came across a landscape he had painted of a moose with mountains in the background and flowers in the foreground. I remembered then that I had curated a group show nearly 8 years earlier in which that work had been included.

As an visual artist, maybe I am over sensitive to what I see, but I believe most others are too. That is why I think this project will have such an impact.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Sound of Reason

I met with Ku and Francis from the Sound of Reason yesterday at their concert at NC State Univeristy. We had a moment to talk after their performance. They are smart, sincere guys that are trying to make a positive difference. They gave me a CD and Ku gave me his Koran. I gave him a copy of my book "Give Me Eyes". They agreed to help out with this project. Thanks Ku and Francis. Check out their My Space Page.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Contemporary Art Show in Afghanistan

Check out this BBC News story on a contemporary Art Exhibition in Afghanistan

Self-Altered Photographs by Muslims and others

by Wendy Ewald

Wendy Ewald has worked for years to help others express their self-identity visually. Here are some examples of her collaborative work. They are photographs that have been altered using sharpie-type markers. I include them here as inspiration for participants in this project.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Two Americas

Someone today shared this You Tube post with me. It is a set up by ABC Prime Time to see how everyday Americans would react to discrimination leveled at outwardly dressed Muslims in a public place. This is a moving, disturbing video.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Summer Reading

Although my days are focused on developing self-portrait projects with Muslims living in North Carolina, my nights are filled currently with reading an excellent book edited by Edward E. Curtis titled The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States. An anthology of primary sources on the Muslim experience in America, this book is balanced and extremely insightful.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

Summer Workshops

I am working full time on this project this summer. I am currently scheduling workshops across the state to allow 2-3 participants to make self-portraits. I am looking into setting up workshops in Greensboro, Fayetteville, Statesville, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

I will come to your mosque or community center to hold a workshop for interested persons. Beginning with a digital photograph, participants will work with me to alter the image using markers, paint, or collaged photographs. I will then adjusted these in photoshop to the liking of the participant. A printed copy will be given to the participant to keep. Participation is free. Individuals are asked to bring only their ideas and any materials such a photos they would like to have included in their self-portrait. A recorded interview or written response explaining the self-portrait will be taken from each participant.

Workshops are limited to 2-3 participants and will take around 2 to 3 hours to conduct.

I am also interested in hearing from Muslim artists living in North Carolina interested in doing their own portraits and having them considered for this project.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New Participants

I am currently working with five participants: three from UNC, one convert, and one deployed soldier. I am interested in finding a mosque interested in hosting 2 work shops to complete several self-portraits at once. There are NO fees. Please contact me at if interested.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Islamic Center of Greensboro

I will be speaking at the Islamic Center of Greensboro on Friday, Feb. 7th at 6PM. I will be inviting Muslims in Greensboro to participate in this project. I will share how the meeting goes here.

2-11-08: The members of the Center welcomed this odd visitor with a strange idea into the warmth of their house of worship. I was warmly introduced to members by my contact and host for the evening. I spent most of the night listening to the presentations of those who made the great pilgrimage to Mecca. While most of the terms used where foreign to me I got the pilgrimage’s connection to Abraham. I also understood the monumental effort the journey required and learned of the great monetary cost ($10,000/family) and patience required to make the trip (think 2 million people standing in line.) I also had opportunities to talk to members between formal prayers and the presentations.

Everyone, from the Imam to the children seemed sincerely interested in this project. Most were from Africa, with 25 countries of origin represented in the membership. I was particularly surprised to meet several Caucasian converts. One told me briefly about his struggles after converting, including the breakup of his marriage. Also, one gentlemen, very respected by his peers, seemed eager to share his story of struggle while living in Rwanda. Another older member took time to speak lovingly to the children there, joking, and encouraging them to do well in school. I hope to work with all three.

Near the end of the evening the children surrounded me and asked questions. When I told them about my website they immediately whipped out their Game Boys and jumped on the Net to check it out. In fact, the mosque was very high tech, with a flat screen TV on one wall, and lap tops and digital projector showing images from the trip to Mecca. On several occasions a screen saver projected the word "DELL" in giant letters across the front wall.

As I left and stepped outside to put my shoes on, I could hear the presentation going on inside, projected on a loud speaker used to call the faithful to prayer. Around the mosque stood only empty parking lots, a run down shopping center, and cars rushing past on the highway, a stark contrast to community gathered inside.

New Portrait

We have another portrait in process. The participant posts her ideas for altering this photograph below:

"For the top section of the picture, meant for religion, I know that I want just a couple of small lines of quote, either from quran or sayings of the prophet probably, that I would hope explain that everything I do, I try to do it for God. One saying from the prophet I'm especially looking at right now is

'I am Yours and Yours, alone.My prayer, my sacrifice are only for You.My life and death are Yours to take.A promise I make.To lay my life for You.An oath that I worship.No-one but You.' -Prophet Mohamed (PBUH)

I'd like for the religious section of the picture to look the most minimalistic. For the other two sectors, pakistan on the right and american on the left, I'd like for more of the cramped collage look. Both I think should have a mix of words and drawings that just describe those aspects of my life. For the pakistani section I think that most of the "drawings" will be the paisley design, which is a common theme in pakistani clothing, decorations, and weddings. For the american side, most of the drawings will be explanatory of my hobbies, such as a camera for photography, maybe a scuba diver :), and maybe a stick figure that's running for my cross country and track career. "

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A real Inspiration to this project

Film maker Lena Khan has made an outstanding short video set the music of Kareem Salama's song "A Land Called Paradise." This video shows Muslims in America in a new light that stands above the stereotypes becoming so fixed in our mind's eye. I must admit that something like a tight coil unwound inside of me as I watched this video. I sat smiling and crying afterwards. As an artist working on the very same subject, I was inspired by the quality, honesty, and humanity on display in this piece. Watch, think, and share.