I was included in a list of beautiful photographs of American Muslim women: here
If you scroll down to the comments section, there is a pretty clear and legitimate concern with this list – the women who have been left out.
I spent 16 years in predominately white private schools that were dripping with privilege. But as one of few Muslim females in these environments, I very deeply felt the consistent ache and insecurity of being an “other,” of my lack of privilege.
A few years ago while I was at North Carolina Central University studying Art Education, I took a course called “Diversity and Pedagogy.” We took a “calculate your privilege” quiz, and I remember feeling really angry. Because as I was taking the quiz, as I was learning about the results, I felt that it took away something that had defined me, and suddenly, I was one of them – one of the privileged. I thought that I knew everything about racism, about feeling “othered” and less than… so eventually I stopped talking in class, stopped contributing my self-assumed expertise in the subject, and listened.
I took that quiz again, earlier this week.
I have lots of privilege. Yes, I am a Muslim woman of color with immigrant parents, but I have privilege. So now, what do I do with that? Do I deny it? Try to destroy it? No. But I do think it means that I need to be responsible for myself, and own up to it when my own good intentions fall short. Just because I have felt excluded, it does not give me a free pass to do the same to others.
The largest group of American-born Muslims are African American Muslims – 40%. I have completed 26 paintings of American Muslim women – and only one has been African American.
I am embarrassed and ashamed of this. As I find more opportunities to talk about this work and share it, those feelings have only grown stronger. Maybe I’ve been waiting for someone to call me out on it, but if anyone has, I’m not aware of it. So I guess I’m calling myself out.
I often describe my work as “portraits of American Muslim women,” and I need to be responsible to that. So, obviously, just one African American woman out of 26 is not adequate. Representing diversity has always been important to me, but I don’t know that I have really followed through. I made the excuse that I found my subjects through my personal networks, and in most cases, I had known my subject for many years. And because of that, Pakistanis are a bit over-represented throughout the work, everyone is cis and heterosexual. So yeah, that’s authentic to what I was most familiar with growing up, but truly, I just felt uncomfortable reaching out to communities outside of my own. Because I’m a little shy, and I’m scared someone might tell me “No, you suck.” Or “no, you’re not allowed to do this.”
It’s just not okay to be like “I was uncomfortable” and then be guilty of exactly the thing that is motivating me to make art in the first place.
Alright so besides saying “my bad” (which doesn’t feel like enough)… I’m opening up the “Technicolor Muslimah” series – I’m looking for volunteers to be included in this series, who can help it become a more diverse body of work. If you self-identify as an American Muslim woman, and are left out of these kinds of lists, please send me a message through my Facebook page: facebook.com/artbysaba or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to see the work. Each painting is also accompanied by a written statement from the subject where she describes herself in her own words.