Artist challenges Muslim stereotypes
Iranian-born artist Taraneh Hemami used images from the FBI's online "Most Wanted" list to examine Muslim stereotypes in her exhibit at Intersection for the Arts.
It has been six years since September 11 and 4.64 million Muslim Americans are still living with stereotypes brought on by this event. However, there are Muslim Americans today who are taking a stand and making an effort to clear things up.

“Most Wanted,” an exhibition at Intersection for the Arts gallery in the Mission District, showcases some stereotypes of Muslims in America. The exhibit, by Iranian-born artist Taraneh Hemami, illustrates the relationship between image and identity in a blurred visual collection of convicted men and women who were labeled as terrorists.

Not long after September 11, Hemami found a JPEG image of 72 blurred faces on the FBI’s online “Most Wanted” list. The list was posted before the destruction of the World Trade Center.

“It was basically a reflection on the way we, as a community, have become the defined enemy now … and exploring the idea of ‘us versus them,’” Hemami said. This inspired her to create the exhibit.

Preventing Muslim stereotypes from obscuring the true essence of Islam

I chose to do this article because I am Muslim myself and I notice many stereotypes and much misunderstanding about Muslims. It gets frustrating for me to see these misconceptions going around like mad gossip. I feel aggravated that there are a massive number of Islamic believers in the world, yet people who don’t understand the faith consider it OK to say things that aren’t true and to label the whole Muslim community falsely.

I believe I need to take a stance and let my voice be heard to peel off the mask that covers the genuine essence of the Islamic faith. Although other people may have written about this topic, I figured it would be nice to have it coming from a teen perspective. I think that not enough positive coverage is given to Islam and its followers. Every group in this world deserves to have a good say in whatever they are trying to convey to everyone else. - Arzina Karimi

Hemami’s exhibit argues that identifying someone as a “terrorist” because of hijabs (head dresses), darker skin, or facial hair with minimal visual characteristics of the man or woman’s actual face is irrational. “It’s one of the issues that concerns me … for instance the fact that you hardly get any details of these faces that are being portrayed, yet your perception is already made and the identities of these people in the photographs are already shaped with a little bit of information that is coming across,” Hemami explained.

Mainstream media molds society’s way of thinking, even if the information projected is inaccurate.

“I do feel like my world has changed since September 11 … the way I’m viewed and assumptions that are made about me, who I am, and my background,” Hemami said.

Kevin B. Chen, program director for Visual Arts and Jazz at the Intersection for the Arts, selected Hemami’s exhibit for display. “I think she’s dealing with really critical time issues that affect and make us all think about what’s been going on,” he said. “She’s got a really clear vision. It’s work that deals with really real social political issues without actually hitting you over the head with this huge hammer.”

Hemami not only displays the stereotypes of Muslims in her exhibit, but breaks the stereotype herself. She does not wear a hijab, contrary to the understanding of most Americans, and is a well-established female artist. As a matter of fact, Muslim women throughout the United States are breaking the traditional assumptions people have towards Islam.

Tabassum Siddiqui, the managing editor and art reviewer for “Muslim Girl” magazine, opposes the Muslim stereotype as well.

“There’s a lot of stereotypes in the media about what the image of a Muslim woman is,” Siddiqui said. “For example, in a lot of mainstream press, a lot of the photographs or images you’ll see right away is of a woman wearing a veil or burkha or something like that, but really in North America that’s not the reality of Muslim women, especially the age that we’re trying to target.”

The new Chicago-based magazine, geared towards 13- to 25-year-olds, tries to create a positive space in the mainstream media for Muslim girls. The magazine clears the misunderstanding that Muslim girls belong to some kind of separate lifestyle. “Muslim Girl” looks just like any other American teen magazine.

“Being a Muslim woman is really not different from being any other woman,” Siddiqui emphasized.

The assumption that all Muslims are engrossed in their religion is not true in a lot of cases, just like Siddiqui.

“As an adult right now, I’m not particularly ‘a religious Muslim.’ I believe in it from a cultural point of view,” she said.

Muslim stereotypes may not disappear in a year, maybe not even five or 10 years. However, one thing that ceases to diminish is that the determination to voice out the different faces of Islam will always exist.



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