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The Creative Ummah:

Exploring Identity and Religion through


Contemporary Islamic Art

Hamida Novakovich

This Thesis is presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of
Arts with Honours in Anthropology and Sociology, School of Social and Cultural Studies, The
University of Western Australia, 2010

Abstract
Contemporary Islamic art is an emerging movement by Western Muslims who use
Islamic symbolism to explore their identity within Western society. Through the
production of contemporary art, these artists reconnect with a heritage of Islamic arts
which until now were the preserve of Muslim patrons and experts in the field of
Classical art. This renewal of faith-based art has become a shared language from
which stories of faith, spirituality, identity, migration and heritage are told.

In recent years there has been a rise in anti-Islamic sentiment toward Muslims in the
West, caused by the increase of Islamic Terrorism. Negative media representations of
Islam has characterised Muslims as a negative Other, viewed with suspicion. Against
this highly politicised background, the Australian government has sought to combat
the risk of exclusion amongst Muslims by promoting policies and programs based on
inclusion, cross-cultural understanding and dialogue.

In this thesis I provide four in-depth case studies of Muslim artists who use different
methods in expressing their identity. Fatima Killeen draws on her Morroccan heritage
in order to juxtapose the idyllic past with war and occupation. Peter Gould is
apolitical, instead focussing on providing commercialised services to various Muslim
businesses in the UK and USA. Crooked Rib Art, is a second-generation female
collective who explore issues such as negative stereotyping, wearing hijab and
practicing their beliefs. Similarly, El Seed, a Canadian-Tunisan graffiti artist explores
his identity through the creation of what he calls Graffiti Calligraphy. All these
artists engage with the Muslim and wider community in order to promote their own
vision of a productive and inclusive community.

Acknowledgements
My deepest gratitude goes to my supervisor Dr. Debra McDougall for all her time,
effort, constant support and encouragement in writing this thesis. Debra is one of the
most inspiring teachers I have had, and I feel blessed to have had her as my
supervisor.

I would like to thank Anne Aly, Sameena Yasmeen and Stefano Carboni for their
expert advice at the early stages of planning framing this topic. Nur Shkembi, Fatima
Killeen, Peter Gould, Lauren Thomas, El Seed, Anisa Sharif and Shameema Kolia,
and all the artists and community members from the You Am I exhibition I had a
pleasure in meeting.

Thank you my Honours friends for their energy and friendship, which kept me
motivated times when I needed it most. Last but not least my family and friends and
especially my husband Akeal Hayek for all his patience and support.

Table of Contents
Abstract p.2
Table of Contents p.5
Glossary p.7
Introduction p.9
o Methodology p.14
Chapter One- Muslims in Australia: From Migrants to Artists p.16
o The Social inclusion/exclusion dichotomy p.20
o The Minority question p.22
o Artistic and creative endeavours p.23
Chapter Two- Islamic Art: Past and Present p.26
o The rise of classical Islamic art p.27
o Calligraphy, arabesque and ornamentation p.30
o Renaissance of contemporary Islamic art p.32
Chapter Three- Exhibiting Art In Galleries p.34
o Fatima Killeen p.34

Classical motifs p.36

Co-existence and conquest p.38

War, peace and childhood p.40

o Peter Gould p.45

Domestic art p.47

Commercial design and networking p.50

Two ways of looking at the globalized Muslim Ummah p.52

Chapter Four- Art on the Streets: Islamic Graffiti Art and Grass Roots
Community Engagement p.54
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o Crooked Rib Art p.55

Identity, belonging and subculture p.57

Public and community art p.60

o El Seed p.61

Street art sub culture p.62

Identity and Arabic graffiti p.63

Respect for tradition, place and culture p.64

o Grass Roots art program in WA p.66


Concluding Remarks: Universal Islamic Art p.68
Appendix I: Figures of Artwork p.74
References: List of interviews p.95
References p.96

Glossary of Terms
Allah

Arabic word for 'God'

Barakah

Blessing or divine grace from God.

Hajj

The Hajj is a pilgrimage to the city of Mecca (Makkah) in Saudi Arabia.


Hajj is obligatory on every Muslim except those who are ill or have
financial constraints.

Hijab

Literally means concealing, screening, covering, protecting, and is used to


refer to the mandatory (wajib) dress of the Muslim female.

Islam

(1) A monotheistic religion with the second largest following in the world.
(2) Submission (to the will of God)

Kaba

A cube-shaped stone building located inside Al-Masjid-al-Haram (The


Sacred Mosque Islams holiest place) in Mecca (Makkah) in Saudi
Arabia. Muslims line up in prayer facing towards this direction. It is
covered by a large black cloth embroidered with gold thread to display
Quranic verses.

Muslim

(1) A follower of the religion of Islam.


(2) A person who submits their will to God and believes in Him.

Salat

Arabic word for prayer. Usually referring to the five daily obligatory
prayers.

Sujud

The act of bowing down to Allah in worship. It is a necessary act during


salat (worship). The hands, knees, feet and the forehead touch the ground.

Tawhid

Confirming the Oneness of Allah. The basis of belief in Islam.

Ummah

Community of Muslim believers.

Quran

An Islamic scripture believed by Muslims to be God's (Allah's) revelation


to the Prophet Muhammed (SAW). It is believed to be the exact,
unalterated words of Allah. It is written in Arabic. The word Quran is
derived from the Arabic verb qaraa (to recite or to read). Commonly
written as Koran or Qur'an.

Introduction
It was February 15th 2010, the official opening of the You Am I: An Exhibition of
Contemporary Muslim Artists. I had been invited by Nur Skhembi, the curator and Arts
Officer of the Islamic Council Victoria (ICV) to attend the opening in Melbourne and
meet some of the artists for my honours research. The exhibition was set in a spacious
foyer in the Hume Global Learning Centre, Broadmeadows, a working class suburb home
to a sizable population of Muslims mainly from Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. According to
the 2006 Australian Census, Muslims made up 25.4% of the population in
Broadmeadows that year. I had only learnt about the exhibition a week before and was
intrigued by the flyer Skhembi sent to me. It read Past and present come together in
curious form, ancient Islamic spiritual art and contemporary expression share a common
physical space telling a small but concise story about the diverse and unique expression
of Australian Contemporary Muslim Artists. I quietly observed the artwork along the
foyers walls, mesmerised by the paintings, photography, etchings, prints, sculpture,
mosaics, multi-media, poetry and film reflected the diverse expression of Australian
Muslim art. Common themes in this expression were Islamic beliefs, spirituality,
identity, heritage and belonging as well as political activism.

By 6.20pm the foyer was buzzing with artists, community members and a few local
politicians who had come to support the initiative. Among the crowd was Liz Beattie,
the local Member of Parliament for Yuroke. In a short conversation with me, Beattie
recalled her purchase of Shkembis artwork that now hangs in her house. It was a large
canvas that featured modern Arabic calligraphy. Interested, I asked Do you know what
the Arabic translated to? She looked at me slightly perplexed and replied, Im not sure,
but it doesnt matter because its beautiful. Beatties answer prompted me to think
about how Islamic art may aesthetically appeal to non-Muslims despite the rich layers
of symbolism beneath Islamic motifs. As the official opening began, Beattie was invited
to say a few words. She spoke of the power of contemporary Islamic art in promoting
cross-cultural understanding at a time where anti-Islamic sentiment had continued to
persist, according to community groups like ICV.

This thesis explores the diverse experiences of Australian Muslim artists whose work is
gaining recognition amongst both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. Commonly
defined as modern or contemporary Islamic art, Muslim artists draw on classical
Islamic motifs to explore various layers of their identity as well as challenge dominant
perceptions of Muslims and Islam in the West. Through art, Muslim artists situate
themselves within a global resurgence of Islamic art linked to the international Muslim
Ummah. Government efforts at combating the risk of radicalisation and exclusion
amongst Muslims inform the promotion of positive inclusion policies especially
targeted toward Muslim youth who are deemed most at risk. Between these two spaces
of dominant discourse lies what Homi Bhabha (1990) coined the third space. I suggest
that through art, Muslim artists reflect a confident, religious-based identity centred on
core Islamic beliefs and values forming a unique western Muslim personality
(Ramadan 2004). In this third space, art is a primary tool with which to canvas an array
of debate and discussion on identity, heritage, social responsibility and current antiIslamic sentiment. Tying together diverse expressions are core Islamic motifscalligraphy, ornamentation and arabesque, which reflect ideas of belonging to an
international community of Muslims.

Chapter one outlines the various influences that have shaped the Muslim experience in
Australia including migration and international Terrorism which has stirred anti-Islamic
sentiment in recent years. I investigate government policies such as the National Action
Plan to Build on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security (2005-2009) against Tariq
Ramadans (2004) concern of the minority consciousness that may be produced as a
result. Independent artistic endeavours by Muslims suggest artistic pursuits are gaining
momentum within the Australian Muslim community. Although a relatively new
occurrence for Australian Muslims, these artists suggest that ideas on artistic practice
stem from Islamic beliefs. Chapter two examines the limitations surrounding the study of
classical Islamic art as a Western study against universal Islamic values contemporary
Muslim artists draw on to inform their connection to Islam, God and the Muslim Ummah.
These universal values are connected through three main artistic motifs, Arabic
calligraphy, ornamentation and arabesque which contemporary artists manipulate in
various western forms to elicit meaning. The first set of case studies on contemporary
Islamic art is explored in chapter three. The style, mediums and messages of two well-

known Islamic artists Fatima Killeen and Peter Gould are compared. Both artists
conceptualise their role in very different ways. While Killeen is adamantly political in her
work, Gould is apolitical, instead focussing on providing commercialised services to
various Muslim businesses in the UK and USA. In Chapter four, I move to the case study
of Crooked Rib Art, a second-generation female collective, originally sponsored by the
government to explore issues of identity and artistic expression. Currently an independent
art collective, Crooked Rib Art reflect on their Islamic-western upbringing and various
challenges faced as second-generation female Australian Muslims. Through a youthful
voice, the Crooked Rib artists experiment with various mediums exhibiting art in
community galleries and on the street. Street art and identity is further explored with the
final case study on El Seed, a Canadian Islamic graffiti artist who developed Arabic
graffiti, a unique form of Islamic calligraphy and street art. Producing works of art with
Islamic messages on abandoned walls, El Seed sees his art as injecting universal values
drawn from Islamic beliefs in places abandoned by society. Seed and Crooked Rib Art
actively use their art to engage in community work with both Muslim communities as
well as disadvantaged groups in the wider society. Grass roots programs in Western
Australia by Muslim Youth W.A endeavour to use art in an educative and therapeutic
capacity. The groups future collaboration with El Seed reflects the interconnectedness of
Muslim artists in a globalised world and a common unity found through the Muslim
Ummah.

Existing literature about Contemporary Islamic art has been limited to case studies of
contemporary Muslim artists from the Middle East (Ali 1997; 1998; Barnes 2008; Daftari
2008; Tzvaras 2008) as well as Indonesia and the Asian subcontinent (Dadi 2010; George
2010). Masters and doctoral studies in the fields of Art history and Education have also
investigated various aspects of contemporary Islamic art. Barnes (2008) has looked at
contemporary practices in Moroccan art while Tzavaras (2008) has discussed the impact
of Oriental Muslim art in Australia on interfaith interaction. Literature based on
exhibitions such as Word into Art (Porter 2006) and Without boundary: seventeen ways of
looking (Daftari 2008) have also attempted to highlight complex, idiosyncratic
approaches of the artists who draw on various ideas, experiences, interpretations of
Islamic cultural history and socio-political contexts to inform their own identities through
contemporary art practices in the Middle East, Asia and Subcontinent

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(http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/83). Kenneth Georges Picturing Islam:


Art and Ethics in a Muslim Lifeworld (2010) provides an in depth ethnographic study of a
contemporary Muslim artist from Indonesia. Key issues drawn from Georges
ethnography are the innovation of western art discourse, Islamic ideology from Quran
and calligraphy, the legitimacy of art from fellow Muslims and refashioning artistic
techniques into ethical endeavours. Particularly useful is Georges discussion of
Lifeworlds to express the ongoing circumstances in which we find ourselves, culturally,
politically, historically, and experientially (George 2010 p.4). He further explains:

Todays lifeworlds are both intimate and global in dimension. They


are interconnected, lived-in spaces that bring people- with their
thoughts, experiences, and sense of self- into reciprocal touch with
global currents, seldom through a single language or culture but more
commonly through a vast field of cultural-linguistic alternatives and
pluralities (George 2010 p.4).

In this sense, I suggest that the use of Islamic symbolism and motifs within the Australian
Muslim community provides a focal point where Muslim artists come together. I
investigate a case study of Australian Muslim Artists in the context of current Australian
national debates on identity and belonging. In making this link, it is important to
understand the present context of discourse on Australian Muslims today. The continuing
interest of issues such as identity, citizenship and the compatibility of Islamic and
Western values is discussed (see Ahmed & Donnan; Aly 2007; Ramadan 2004; Saeed
2003 and Yasmeen 2008). Some theorists suggest that sociology, anthropology and
postcolonial studies can help make available direct narratives of Muslims by Muslims
voices (Yasmeen 2008). Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan echoes these sentiments and
states the lack of local-level studies on Muslim narratives in academia today. It was with
this specific problem in mind that I focussed my enquiry about contemporary Muslim
artists in Australia and how a unique narrative can be carved through the medium of
contemporary Muslim art.

These theories inform the construction of chapters although I situate in-depth theoretical
discussion in chapters one and two as background to the case studies in chapters three and

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four. Thus, the aim of this thesis is to counter some of the academic discourses that have
framed the social inclusion and exclusion debates. Once these are set out, I move away
to explore the third space, based on a framework built from the main themes drawn from
ethnographic case studies of contemporary Islamic artists.

Methodology

For this thesis I interviewed four contemporary Muslim artists. Through my brief
accounts I endeavoured to catch a glimpse of some the personal experiences faced by
Muslim artists through an analysis of their work. I was able to interact with artists as an
anthropology student undertaking research for an honours project, as well as someone
interested in understanding the different ways Australian Muslims use art as a prominent
form of self-expression and community engagement. From the artists I met at the You
Am I exhibition, I decided to interview Fatima Killeen and Peter Gould, both well
established with catalogues, multimedia information and internet based portfolios. In
addition I interviewed Lauren Thomas from Crooked Rib Art and El Seed, a graffiti artist
from Canada. Interviews were mainly conducted over the phone and through email. In an
effort to reflect the diversity of artists voices my selection reflects a cross-section of
artists across gender, age and ethnicity. Along the way I had the opportunity to meet and
interview Stefano Carboni, Director of the WA Art Gallery and noted curator of Classical
Islamic Arts and Shameema Kolia, an active member of the Muslim community in Perth
who uses art to educate at risk students. In order to widen my pool of data, I also studied
websites of artists who had worked with Peter Gould. I found that Gould was right in the
middle of an international community of artists and had been instrumental in bringing
together a diverse group of artists internationally through conferences and networks. The
views represented here are artists and people who use art for larger community
endeavours. There relationships with other artists show the vocality and conviction they
have in showcasing Islamic art.

There is much potential for further research into various aspects of identity construction
of contemporary Islamic artists. Scholars support the view that more Muslim voices
need to be heard at a time when anti-Islamic sentiment continues to shape studies within
academia (Yasmeen 2008; Ramadan 2004). Ethnography coupled with the conceptual and

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methodological tools within anthropology may contribute to an understanding of


contemporary Islamic art and the persistence of religious expression through this medium.

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Chapter One
Muslims in Australia: From Migrants to Artists

The You Am I exhibition reflects the diversity of the Australian-Muslim experience. A


large proportion of the work did not contain overt Islamic symbols and motifs, but carried
more secular themes. Anisa Sharifs Spring Wisteria (2010) (figure 1) glass mosaic drew
on memories growing up in rural North East Victoria. Peaking out behind red and purple
wisteria along the veranda is an Islamic arch, pointing to Sharifs conversion to Islam
later in her life, coupled with her love of Islamic architecture. Najla Awads collage, The
Old and The New (2010) (figure 2) depicts a photograph of her mother as a small child
walking the streets of Lebanon. A yellow school bus and a kookaburra intersected the
picture as well as red coloured stones along the footpath. The grey tones of the central
image and bold colours juxtapose the two worlds her mother experienced as a migrant.
Awads position as a daughter allows her to view the difficulties of her mothers journey
to Australia. Other artists tell similar stories (see figures 3-5). The diverse range of
artwork by the You Am I artists speak of the varied challenges and experiences faced by
Western Muslims today.

The You Am I exhibition is one of many forums where Muslims rooted in Western
societies are publically reflecting their experiences (Ramadan 2003, p.4). In Australia, an
emerging range of retailers, community groups and support services cater to a growing
clientele of Western Muslims. In 2009 the Department of Immigration and Citizenship
published The Australian Journey- Muslim Communities (2009) report, states that
currently, forty percent of Muslims in Australia are Australian-born (2009, p.4). With this
discernable generation of Western born Muslims, Ramadan suggests a new Muslim
personality is being forged. This personality centres on an Islamic frame of reference
explained below:

Tawhid (the oneness of God), the Sharia (the path to faithfulness), and
three notions of maslaha (the common good), ijtihad (intellectual effort
and critique of legal formulations), and fatwa (circumstantial legal

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opinion) represent respectively the Source of the absolute (Ramadan


2004, p. 62-63).

This idea does not imply a singular, homogenising view of Islam, rather Ramadan stresses
the importance of establishing Islamic ideas based on solid, consistent, and coherent
foundations (Ramadan 2004, p.63). It is important to explore how these characteristics
give rise to the idea of newness. This new personality of Muslims necessitates the need
for Muslims in the West to gain financial, political and intellectual independence
(Ramadan 2004, p.6). Here, in their own voice, Muslims may assert a personality that is
both Muslim and Western.

Muslims have always been part of Australias history. The earliest interactions between
Macassan Muslim fisherman and Indigenous Australians date back to the seventeenth
century. The first Muslims, known as the Afghan Cameleers, settled in Australia in the
1900s and were employed to work on infrastructure for government projects as well as
transporting goods for White settlers. In the 1950s Muslim migration increased with the
gradual intake of Eastern European migrants. In the 1970s, Lebanese Muslims became the
largest migrant group followed by Turkish Muslims (Kabir 2004, p.9). As the Muslim
population grew, it became increasingly important to cater for religious needs by
providing essential services such as mosques, schools and halal outlets (Kabir 2004;
Bouma 1994; Jupp 2002). In establishing these services, the Muslim community faced
various social and economic problems as well as some discrimination (Cleland 2002 in
Kabir 2004, p.11, Yasmeen 2008, p.6). The terrorist attacks at the Munich Olympics in
1972, followed by the Iranian Revolution in 1979 added another dimension to the position
of Muslims in Australia. Negative media representations of Islam characterised Muslims
as fanatical and backward (Aly 2006 in Yasmeen 2008, p.7) thereby positioning
Muslims as an Other, viewed with suspicion. The Gulf War in 1991 dramatically
increased widespread incidences of harassment and racism toward Muslims and ignited
the Clash of Civilization (Kabir 2004, p.12-13; Yasmeen 2008, p.42). This view of
Islam as inherently opposed to the West was further exacerbated by the September 11
terrorist attacks in 2001, Bali Bombings, 2002, Madrid Bombings, 2004, the
homegrown London Bombings, 2005, and the US led wars in Afghanistan in 2001 and
Iraq, 2003.

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Yasmeen suggests incidences of Muslim militancy and terrorism have drawn attention to
the situation of Australian Muslims (Yasmeen 2008, p.7). The vulnerable condition of
Western-born Muslim youth (even preceding the September 11 terrorist attacks) has been
the focus of much literature on Islam in the West (see Abbas 2005; Ahman & Donnan
1994; Carens & William 1998 and Gilliat-Ray 1998). In order to understand this Yasmeen
categorises four dominant areas of study: marginalisation, de-territorialised religious
identities, institutional structures contributing to Muslim identities in the West, and the
international environment Yasmeen 2008, p.9). In particular, two dominant trends of
analysis can be seen. Firstly, the counter-terrorism school of thought focuses on the
process an individual may go through to accept the logic of terrorism, at the centre of
which is the problematic nature of the Western Muslim identity. The second school of
thought looks at poverty-induced theories to understand the socio-economic
marginalization of Muslim citizens in the West. Coupled with heightened levels of
Islamaphobia it is said that Muslim youth in lower class neighbourhoods may go
through a process of Islamisation in which they discover or rediscover Islam, shun
their cultural traditions, access information through cyber space and other sources, and
then develop a commitment to Jihad (Yasmeen 2008 p.2). In outlining the dominant
discourses Yasmeen (2008) suggests limitations in understanding the Muslim experience
in Australia.

Experiences of religion, nationality and belonging have been approached with trepidation
or are non-existent. Instead, what I call the first space of discourse on Islam in the West is
dominated by discussions of Islam as a homogenised, hateful and misogynistic religion all
to do with terrorism, militancy and radicalisation. In response to this, the Australian
government launched a campaign of inclusive policies where the government has
provided opportunities for Muslims to develop positive identities, build-bridges with the
wider community, thereby creating a safe and secure Australia (Yasmeen 2008, p.8). This
creates a second space of dominant discourse. While equally valid, I suggest a third
space is needed, echoing Homi Bhabhas term in which he discusses the productive
space of cultural differences in the spirit of alterity (Rutherford 1990, p.209). In this
space, Australian Muslims may speak in ways that are determined neither by the frame of
terror and extremism or bland inclusivism. Reiterating Ramadan (2004) this results in the

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assertion of the Muslim personality through which independence on a number of levels


may be achieved. In this case, I explore artistic and creative endeavours by Western
Muslims who shape this third space using Islamic art in a variety of ways.

The social inclusion/exclusion dichotomy

The promotion of Islamic art by the Australian government is one facet of a larger effort to
promote positive Muslim role models. In the publication, The Australian Journey- Muslim
Communities there was an effort to recognise the diversity of Australias Muslim
communities and [. . .] the important role many have played in Australias past and present
and will continue to play in the future (2009, p.4). This publication featured thirty-eight
prominent Australian Muslims such as Ahmed Fahour, the Chief Executive Officer of the
National Australia Bank and Randa Abdel-Fattah, author of the young adult novel Does
my head look big in this? (2005). Government sponsorship of such publications is
developed alongside an increase of government funding to Muslim organizations and
groups in order to promote the oft heard positive inclusion of Muslims in Australia.
These Muslims are not only comfortable with their faith and nationality, but contribute to
the wider Australian society in areas such as business, local government, defence,
medicine, sports and cuisine.

Few Muslim artists were featured in The Australian Journey- Muslim Communities
publication, yet art education was one of the main forms of community development used
by various community organisations in the National Action Plan to Build on Social
Cohesion, Harmony and Security (2005-2009). The National Action Plan (NAP)
launched by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in 2005 was aimed
at building resilience, addressing social exclusion and supporting community safety in
vulnerable communities (http://www.immi.gov.au). Although directed toward culturally
diverse community groups, the majority of NAP funding was granted to Muslim groups
and organisations. In fact, all programs included Muslim participants, even if they were
part of a larger group from different minority or disadvantaged backgrounds. In 20052006 a total of $506,821 was distributed over nineteen community groups and
organisations. Many of the programs were aimed at fostering leadership, producing law17

abiding citizens, developing preventive and proactive methods to deal with issues of
personal, psychological and social wellbeing, and endeavouring to gain a deeper
understanding of the self in an Islamic and Australian context. The creation of Australian
values, empowerment, and responding to extremism were among the prominent
themes. Other key phrases were building bridges, conversations, understanding,
breaking down barriers, grassroots, engaging, contribution, role models,
participation, challenge stereotypes, and integration (http://www.immi.gov.au/livingin-australia/a-diverse-australia/national-action-plan/). The Muslim communities
favourably received these programs as they provided opportunities for funding and
sponsorships for support services, projects, business ventures and the like.

The Minority question

The use of social inclusion has become a natural discourse on which to discuss the place
of Muslims in Western secular society. In Western Muslims and the future of Islam
(2004), Ramadan questions whether government policies are effective in helping Western
Muslim communities achieve independence. He critiques colonialist and paternalistic
government policies which seek to keep Muslims in these old (or new) dependences by
speaking on their behalf (Ramadan 2004, p.6). Such policies question the identity of
Muslims, even those who were born and raised in the West, by assuming that their
primary loyalties will not be to the place of their birth but to some translocal globalised
Islam. Speaking of the minority consciousness adopted by some Western Muslims
Ramadan says In the West but outside the West, they identify themselves only in terms of
difference, otherness and even confrontation (Ramadan 2004, p.107). This exclusion is
exacerbated by the idea that Islamic values are inherently opposed to Western values and
that this clash of fundamental values drives global extremism. Thus, on an international
and local level, Muslims consider themselves a minority always on the defensive.

Muslim scholars, artists and citizens have begun to respond to such ahistorical and
negative stereotypes about Islam by calling for Muslims to articulate identity in their own
terms. Yasmeen (2008) suggests that a holistic understanding of how Muslims experience
and manifest their identity needs to take place. This starts with asking questions such as
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does a sense of social exclusion exist among Muslims in Australia?, What strategies
can be adopted to promote a sense of social inclusion among Muslims in Australia? and
with whom does the responsibility for promoting such inclusion rest?(Yasmeen 2008,
p.4). Moving away from these debates, Ramadan calls for Muslims to reconsider their
place in the West outside the dictates of government minority questions. Three main
questions must be asked from within the Muslim community: Where are we? Who are
we? In what way do we belong? (Ramadan 2004, p.63).

Artistic and creative endeavours

Ramadan has suggested Western Muslims need to become intellectually, politically and
financially independent in order to assert an identity outside of paternal government
dictates (Ramadan 2004, p.6). A growing segment of the Australian Muslim community
has begun to assert an independent identity through their own unique form of artistic and
creative expression ranging from the production of fine arts, digital art, architecture,
design, media, fashion and textiles, comedy, rap, hip-hop and street art.

Comedy is a vehicle used to engage with people that would be difficult to do otherwise.
Nazeem Hussein and Aamer Rahman are well known comedians for their stand up Fear
Of A Brown Planet. Hussein began his career through his role as Uncle Sam; an Indian
Muslim uncle who wears traditional Arab attire, a beard and Kufi (figure 6). Through
his guise, Hussein is able to challenge young white beach goers in Franksten, a workingclass suburb in Melbourne to spell mortgage and canvass how informed local people are
about Islam. On his website, Hussein reflects on how comedy can be useful in confronting
divisive issues:
Stand-up comedy is one medium which is, fundamentally, an art of protest.
Historically, it has been used as a tool by communities and people with
ideas that challenge and provoke the status quo with a spirit of
counterculture. Aamer (the other half of the show) and I are able to talk
about things we wouldn't be able to talk about in other media. It's more
difficult to talk about things like suicide bombers, the War on Terror and

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asylum seekers in speeches or opinion pieces. Comedy is a significantly


more accessible vehicle. When someone laughs at a joke, a connection has
been made. That person laughs because they appreciate the point whether or
not they accept what was said as valid isn't important. What matters is,
they've understood (http://www.brownplanet.com.au/blog.html).
Hussein argues that Australian Muslims face their own unique challenges of
discrimination that is not experienced elsewhere. The You Am I artists often emphasised
this issue within their artwork. Shkembis Call for the Patriot I: McMuslim (figure 7)
installation features a McDonalds happy meal covered with Islamic ornamentation from
the Ottoman Iznik tiles which traditionally line the walls in the Houses of Worship.
Through irony, Shkembi questions the idea of conformity to Australian identity based
on a destructive consumer values.

Current understandings of Islam and the West have been dictated through the popular
discourses on the War on Terror and the idea of a globalised Islam. Continuing
political debates about the compatibility of Islamic and Western values provide an
important backdrop to the Australian Muslim artistic experience. Ramadan calls for the
Muslim voice, which is a largely missing part of this vital and current debate on Western
Muslim identity. The next chapter explores the way in which contemporary Muslim artists
understand the historic and religious underpinnings of Islamic art.

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Chapter Two
Islamic Art- Past and Present

Modern Islamic art is an enigma that carries ambiguous connotations, in


both its name and its nature. On the one hand, the term modern conjures up
a progressive, up-to-date condition. On the other hand, the word Islamic has
overtones of tradition and religion, more relevant to the past than the
present. Finally, the word art can mean anything from high monumental
architecture to cartoon drawings (Wijdan Ali 1997, p.xi).

Modern Islamic art is a term that seems paradoxical yet is increasingly used amongst
Muslim artists, especially in the West. As Ali suggests, these terms reflect the
dichotomisation of modernIslamic art with the classical study of Islamic art by Western
scholars. Stefano Carboni, the current Director of the Western Australian Art gallery,
suggests,
there are a lot of artists who live around the world who would not want to be
called Islamic and it is not Islamic art that they are doing, it is contemporary
art because [they say] Im part of a bigger picture (Interview with Stefano
Carboni, 2010).
The terms, classical Islamic art and contemporary Islamic art suggests links to
Western history. Yet despite this problematic nature, Islamic art continues to be
used by contemporary Artists, especially in the West. This chapter aims to
challenge the way Islamic art continues to be viewed as belonging to the past.
Contemporary Muslim artists outside the traditional Muslim world continue to
practice Islamic art using calligraphy, ornamentation and arabesque all linked to
Islamic beliefs. Calligraphy stems from the practice of reciting the Quran, a
practice which continues today. Complex decorative motifs of ornamentation and
arabesque reflect continuing beliefs in One God (Tawhid) the core doctrine of
Islam.

The rise of classical Islamic art

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Islamic art is commonly classified into three distinct periods: the Umayyad Caliphate (661750), the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258), and the Ottoman Empire (1299 -1922). A general
definition of Islamic art is the material culture and structures utilized and made by people
who follow or live under the rule of.the faith of Islam (Ettinghausen 2001, p.3). It was
under these empires that sow the rise of Islamic artisans and craftsmanship1. These artisans
and craftsman were employed by the Islamic government or by private patrons to produce a
range of Islamic art both religious and secular in nature. These included architecture,
calligraphy, mosaics, metalwork, pottery, jewelry, textiles and to a lesser extent, painting and
sculpture. As the Islamic empire spread, art became shaped by various local cultures as well
as other religious traditions, such as Christianity and Judaism. During the Abbasid Caliphate
Islamic art became standardised as influences were taken by Byzantine, Persian and Arabic
styles. As the Islamic empire spread to places like Indonesia and China the influence of
Islamic art spread. The fall of the Ottomon Empire in 1923 marked the end of classical
Islamic art. Toward the end of the fourteen-century period of Islamic rule, Europeans in the
Middle East began to collect various Islamic objects in their colonial empires. They later
compiled an Encyclopedia of Islam thus starting the Western study of Islamic art (Blair &
Bloom 2003, p.155). Following World War II, the United States emerged as the leading
centre of scholarship in Islamic art and in 1975, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened a
permanent exhibition space of Islamic art.

Western views of Islam were formed during the colonial era and reflected European ideology
about Muslims and the Middle East then known as The Orient. Edward Saids influential
work Orientalism (1978) suggests Eurocentric notions connected to the Orient validated
Colonial campaigns and the dominance of European ideology over Muslim lands (Tzavaras
2008, p.3). Tzavaras discusses how art was used to depict images of the Orient, which still
exist in Australia today. One of the earliest orientalist paintings in Australia, made in 1897 by
Arthur Streeton, depicts the iconic image of an Egyptian women Fatma Habiba as a fictive
representation of the imaginary orient (Tzavaras 2008, p.2). As an artist, Streeton was able
to capture the Orientalist mystique in his travels in the Middle East:

http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761577725/Islamic_Art_and_Architecture.html

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Fleeting effects of light and movement, colourful patterns of the mosques,


and the winding and narrow passageways. The tall minarets towering into
the brilliant blue sky, the dazzling and sparkling clarity and crispness of
white (Tzavaras 2008, p.4).
Colonial expeditions into the Middle East were marked with fascination, difference,
exoticism and the aesthetics of travel (Tzavaras 2008, p.2). These Orientalist ideas have
perpetuated romanticized versions of Islam as distant and removed from the West. With
the increase presence of Islam in Western society, the idea of Islamic art has often sparked
debate over what this term encapsulates. Blair and Bloom (2003) suggest the study of
Islamic art from a purely Western perspective will always be problematic,
The term "Islamic art" seems to be a convenient misnomer for
everything left over from everywhere else. It is most easily defined by
what it is not: neither a region, nor a period, nor a school, nor a
movement, nor a dynasty, but the visual culture of a place and time
when the people (or at least their leaders) espoused a particular religion
(Blair & Bloom 2003, p.153).

In The Formation of Islamic Art, Grabar (1987) further explains that Islamic does not refer
to the art of a particular religion, for a vast proportion of the monuments have little if
anything to do with the faith of Islam. Works of art demonstrably made by and for nonMuslims can appropriately be studied as works of Islamic art (Graber, 1987 p.1). Grabar
continues to explain, Islamic in the expression Islamic art is not comparable to Christian
or Buddhist in Christian art or Buddhist art (Graber, 1987 p.2). Through the development of
this field of classical Islamic art, scholars have gained momentum in recognizing these
Colonialist ties and assumptions about Islam that surround such a study. Blair and Bloom
(2003) further suggest that Islamic art has been categorized in various ways, thus reflecting
the diversity of study. Scholars like Blair and Bloom and Grabar hope to undermine
Orientalist assumptions and highlight the diverse way that Islamic art is practiced in the
West.

Muslims and scholars living in the Middle East have also studied Islamic art (for example
Burckhardt 1976 and Rogers 2007). Wealthy Muslims have also begun collecting Islamic art

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(Carboni 2007). In Earthly beauty, heavenly art: the art of Islam Piotrovsky & Vrieze
(1999) describe the fundamental tenants of the Muslim faith through their study of classical
works of art and architecture. Their study follows what Blair and Bloom (2003) call the
universalistic approach. This entails all the arts produced by Muslims everywhere as
reflecting the universal verities of Islam, just as Gods ineffable unity encompasses the
infinite diversity of his creation (Blair and Bloom 2003, p.158). Directly tied to Islamic
beliefs, this theme of universalism seems the most befitting in providing an accurate
description of Islamic art. The most important aspect of this approach is that it draws on
Islamic beliefs and ideas of God. Where colonial studies of Islamic art saw the patterns and
decoration as an enigma, Piotrovsky & Vrieze (1999) provide a way to understand these
through an Islamic interpretation.

Calligraphy, arabesque and ornamentation

According to Piotrovsky & Vrieze (1999), the three core elements of Islamic art, Arabic
calligraphy, arabesque or vegetation scroll and ornamentation or geometrical art
cannot be understood simply through aesthetic appreciation and guesswork. The highly
complex nature of calligraphy and ornamentation are deeply connected to Islamic beliefs
stemming from the Quran. The Quran is made up of ideas and principles from which
Islamic societies base their laws, rules of conduct and system of values (Piotrovsky &
Vrieze 1999, p.49). Muslims believe the Quran is the direct word of God, revealed to the
last Prophet Muhammad. The Quran was recorded in Arabic script and has maintained
this language. As this is the most revered scripture for Muslims, the art of manuscripts,
book illustration and calligraphy developed (figure 8). It is said there is no (beauty) more
admirable than beautiful writing (Qadi Ahmed 1959 p.42 in Ashraf 2006 p.281). The
Quran is a direct intermediary between God and people (Piotrovsky & Vrieze 1999,
p.52), figurative art is largely absent from religious Islamic art. While calligraphy is most
often associated with the Quran it is also used independently as a written system of
language used on non-Quranic works (figure 9).
Arabesque is one form of decorative motif that emerged after the tenth century. Also
known as foliate scroll or vegetation art, it utilizes organized foliate or floral motifs,
angular interlaces, or decorative inscriptions in a sprawling design which cover whole

24

surfaces (Blair and Bloom 1997; Rogers 2007). Arabesque was used to decorate surfaces
of mosques and buildings as well as everyday or secular items such as ceramics (figure
10).

Ornamentation or geometrical patterns come in the form of squares, circles, triangles,


straight lines and lozenge shapes. Used together with vegetation scroll and calligraphy,
ornamentation was used to give structure to large surfaces (Piotrovsky & Vrieze 1999,
p.30). When used layer upon layer, geometrical patterns created a three-dimensional
illusion (figure 11).

The very notion of using geometry for such purposes would be a deeply
semiotic creation, which, just as in writing, used arbitrary but modular signs
to express its deepest meanings rather than ideographic borrowings from the
perceived world of nature. While occasionally hermetic, the process is a
strikingly contemporary one (Grabar 2006, p.250).

These illusions were often metaphors for the all-pervasive but intangible divine (Grabar
2006, p. 250). It is said that all ornamentation decoration starts with a centre, thus
representing God. The endless nature of ornamentation and arabesque then implies the
infinite nature of God. Ornamentation is usually seen to cover surfaces of mosques and
buildings and is very prominent in architecture.

Renaissance of contemporary Islamic art

The production of classical Islamic art declined around 1922 with the fall of the Ottoman
Empire. Both Muslims and non-Muslims associate classical Islamic art with previous
empires of Islam stretching from 661-1922. Rather than ceasing here, scholars of
contemporary Islamic art suggest a rebirth of Islamic art in the mid-twentieth century
occurred that sought to continue traditional forms and patterns. Contrary to popular belief,
many contemporary Muslim artists believe Islamic art did not cease.

Contemporary forms of Islamic art in the early twentieth century were shaped by
experiences of colonialism, independence movements, globalisation of Islam, and various

25

ethnic, cultural and socio-political changes. Wijdan Ali, a princess of Jordan and founder
of the Royal Society of Fine Arts and Jordan National Gallery, is an authoritative voice on
the emergence of contemporary Islamic art in the Middle East. She suggests in this
destabilising period, Muslim artists faced an artistic lethargy and cultural stagnation
(Ali 1989, p.xi). The Islamic rebirth after the twentieth century led to a renaissance of
modern fine arts and painting. Ali suggests these newly adopted Western aesthetics and
norms caused a schizophrenic sense of guilt for the Muslim artist (Ali 1989, p.xi). While
inherently attached to Islamic values and traditions, these artists could not escape Western
influences, norms and styles. One of the main characteristics of these early contemporary
artists is their common search for an artistic identity that could honestly reflect a synthesis
between traditional heritage and Western modernity.

The renaissance of modern Islamic art is coupled with a renaissance of Islamic thinking.
The emergence of the Muslim personality in tune with core Islamic principles is
reflected in the continued use of classical Islamic motifs. Scholars of classical Islamic art
recognize that interpretations of the past are connected to understandings of the present.
An interpretation of Islamic beliefs through an understanding of Islamic art creates a new
paradigm for Muslims. Reverence of the past paves the way for new interpretations of
Islam detached from Terrorism, radicalization and negative perceptions of creativity. The
need to deliver Islam from this current lowly position may be one reason for the sharp
increase of interest in classical Islamic art from Muslims and non-Muslims. Chapter three
will investigate two case studies of contemporary Islamic art, exhibited through galleries
and how an audience may adopt an understanding of Muslims and Islam.

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Chapter Three
Exhibiting Art In Galleries

Peter Gould and Fatima Killeen are two Australian Muslim artists featured in the
government publication, The Australian Journey- Muslim Communities 2009. Beyond
Australia, Gould and Killeen are internationally renowned artists. Killeen is a Moroccan
artist and printmaker who draws on a mixture of Islamic and Moroccan motifs in her
topical and often politically fired work. Since 1998 Killeen has exhibited work in a number
of exhibitions and galleries such as the National Gallery of Australia. Gould is a selfbranded digital artist who begun his own business Azaan in 2002 in-between Los
Angeles and Sydney. Having converted to Islam as a young adult, Gould has landed upon a
niche-market of Western Muslims seeking to marry their Islamic and Western heritage
through commercial design and domestic art. Killeen and Gould both adopt classical
Islamic motifs into their work. Through this shared language, they aim to connect with a
globalised Muslim Ummah. Yet, despite this obvious similarity, Killeen and Gould strive
to counter anti-Islamic stereotypes in the west in strikingly different ways.

Fatima Killeen

Killeen was born in Casablanca, Morocco. She first studied at the School of Fine Arts Les
Beaux Arts, Casablanca. In 1988 she trained at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington
D.C. then moved to Australia in 1994. In 1997, she graduated with First Class Honours in
Fine Arts from ANU. Since graduating, Killeen held five solo exhibitions, twenty group
exhibitions and has received ten grants from various independent and government
institutions such as the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Her collections are held in
Canberra Museum and Gallery, The Moroccan Embassy and with private collectors.

Killeen describes her style as Islamic and Moroccan influenced with the use of Arabic
calligraphy and mixed materials. Killeen uses a range of natural or recyclable materials to
produce her work such as wood, sand, fabrics and lace. Her art is deeply personal,

27

reflecting her heritage, religion and womanhood. In a short interview with Killeen she
said her identity as a Muslim women was important for her art. She constantly draws on
her Moroccan heritage as it gives strength to the Islamic designs. She said In Morocco,
we were surrounded by beautiful culture, so that naturally comes out in my artwork.
These elements are pertinent to understanding the core messages Killeen seeks to
communicate. She also rejects stereotypical ideas of Muslim women. In her interview at
the You Am I exhibition, Killeen pointed out that Morocco is both Western and
traditionally Islamic and even most devout Moroccan women do not wear the scarf. Thus
Killeen challenges the dichotomized depiction of non-hijabi women as being more liberal,
Western and disconnected to fellow Muslims than their fundamentalist, hijabi
counterparts. Killeen draws on her perspectives as a mother and women through her
artwork. Prominent themes are Killeens nostalgic depictions of Moroccan and other
traditional Arab life and the devastation of these idyllic places through war, invasion,
occupation, human suffering, and loss of innocent children.

Classical motifs

Killeens work is heavily influenced by Islamic art traditions and depictions of life in
Morocco. Islamic motifs such as calligraphy and ornamentation figure in most of her
work as embedded backgrounds that carry significant bold messages. In How much blood
for oil? (2007) (figure 12), the main feature is blood-red Arabic calligraphy that states La
illa ha ill lallah (there is no God but Allah), the Shahada or Islamic testimony of faith.
The shahada is recited during the daily prayer as a form of worship or at the time of death.
Juxtaposed against a faded oilrig, the shahada symbolizes the death of many Muslims as a
result of the US invasion of Iraq since 2003. Other significant Islamic symbols are taken
from architecture. In Generous Soil (2001) and the first and fourth piece of Reshuffled
(2006) (figure 13) Killeen uses the Islamic arch which has become a prominent symbol of
Islam and associated cultures. In Generous Soil the arch represents a passage into the past
where the onlooker is invited to learn from the past. In this case, a challis holding
pomegranates displays the bountiful nature of the earth that has provided fruits, in
particular the pomegranate which has been mentioned in the Quran numerous times.

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Killeen constantly contrasts nostalgic images of Morocco and the Arab world against
current events. Although she lives in Canberra, Killeen is able to re-create context through
nostalgic memories. In an interview with Black Town Arts Centre on her work Loose
Money on the Terrace (figure 14) Killeen explains:

The monkey on the terrace is about when you loose control over a
situation. We use it in Morrocco as a daily expression. When loose
monkeys go all over the terrace it causes havoc with all the neighbours
putting things out to dry in the terraces. As you can see here, as you
go closer its like an oasis in Baghdad, but when you look closer there
are bullet holes on the wall as well as an American tank. So for me,
Shia and Sunni in Iraq now are loosing a battleThese people once
used to be neighbours and cousins and they used to have positive
relationships with each other but not anymore, all that has gone.
(Interviewer) And the Palm trees?
Yes, whenever I think of Baghdad I think of these dates in Morrocco
that we used to get from Baghdad. But all that has been destroyed, in
the name of what exactly? (http://www.pool.org.au).

By juxtaposing turquoise palm trees and bullet-ridden walls, she depicts a sharp contrast
between pre and post war conditions in Iraq only a few decades ago. Killeen is no longer
able to get dates from Baghdad because of the economical and social breakdown of a once
thriving city that exported goods to neighbouring countries.

Killeen constantly evokes various memories of Morocco across her works. The series
Recovering Lives features installations containing miniature objects from Morrocco. In
We shared food, grain and salt no. 1 (2008) (figure 15), Killeen displays Moroccan
dishes, a traditional tagine and a white vase juxtaposed with a black and white photograph
of an American tank. Featured in the centre of the installation of We shared food, grain
and salt no. 3 (2008) (figure 16) is large traditional food dish used in Morrocco for large
family meals. To the side are the hand of Fatima or khamsa, a popular amulet used
throughout the Middle East and North Africa to protect against the evil eye. These objects

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not only carry nostalgic memories for the author, but make up a large symbolic message
when juxtaposed with images of soldiers, war and oppression.

Co-existence and conquest

Classical Islamic motifs form the background to a larger story of historical relationships
characterized by coexistence and conquest. Killeen reflects on her own homeland,
Morocco, which has not been characterized by war or conflict like other Middle Eastern
Muslim countries. In the Reshuffled series (2006) (figure 13) Killeen uses the physical
movement of shuffling and reshuffling cards in the traditional Moroccan card game
Ronda to conjure the intermeshing of cultures characterizes everyday life in Morocco and
Spain. In We shared food, grain and salt, No2 (2008) (figure 17) Killeen looks to Spain
and Al-Andulus as prominent examples of Muslim-Christian-Jewish relationships in the
past. The painting depicts a challis of pomegranates, a white vase and a Crusader. Behind
these three figures are red and white striped arches symbolizing the great architecture of
the Great Mosque of Cordoba (built 742) before the Spanish Reconquest (in 1492) where
it became the Cathedral of Cordoba. Centred above is a scene from the Crusades against a
background of Arabic calligraphy that repeats The only Conqueror/ Victorious is Allah,
taken from many famous mosques in Cordoba. This installation looks back at the
hundreds of years of peaceful coexistence between Christains, Jews and Muslims as well
as the devastation and loss caused by religious wars fought in the name of God. Prior to
her work on post-September 11 works, Killeen described the ongoing Israel-Palestine
conflict over holy land in Olive country, after Olive country (2001) (figure 18) where a
darkened tree over a map of Palestine symbolizes the ongoing conflict that dreadfully
overshadows new generations of Palestinians and Israelis.

Killeen looks not only to Al-Andulus and her natal home of Morocco, but also to her
current home Australia for images of a more harmonious past. Killeens installation We
Crossed Roads (2008) (figure 19) highlights the largely unrecognized contribution made
by early Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, commonly known as the Afghan
Cameleers. Arabic calligraphy in the shape of the iconic Australian Kangaroo tells of the
respect Killeen has for the Afghan Cameelers. It is well documented that the Cameleers
made vital contributions to the development of outback towns by navigating settlers

30

through the desert, transporting items, building railway lines, fences and contributing to
the construction of overhead telephone lines. Killeen says, without the Cameleers,
Australians wouldnt have been able to transport their things across the deserts, even
pianos. These contributions by early Muslim migrants are further contrasted with
Killeens depiction of ill-treated asylum seekers and refugees in Lodged, Fed, Detained,
but we are one (2001) (figure 20). Featured behind a cage is an empty dog bowl with the
repeated Arabic word halal (permissible). Killeen reflects on the reception of this
controversial piece,

When people, especially Muslims saw this picture, they questioned


how I could I suggest you say that about Muslims? I replied, because
thats how they are treated. They are fenced in and even dogs are
treated better than humans. Supermarket aisles are filled with plenty
of dog food, but these prisoners, because they are Muslim do not get
the same treatment.

Thus, Killeen points out that lack of public outrage on the treatment of asylum seekers not
only shows that many people agree with government policies, but that failure to protest
has permitted these conditions to continue. This ongoing conquest in the Muslim
world today is unlike the conquest of Muslim lands in the past.

War, peace and childhood

Killeens identity as an artist, Muslim, mother and as a female allows her to passionately
campaign against war, occupation and suffering from various points of view. Her
underlying motivation is what she sees as her responsibility to speak on behalf of the
Muslim Ummah who cannot speak for themselves. The connection of the Muslim Ummah
is reiterated in Islamic beliefs that all humans are the sons and daughters of Adam. For the
Muslims, this closeness is especially important, a well-known Hadith states, The Muslim
Ummah is like one body. If the eye is in pain then the whole body is in pain and if the
head is in pain then the whole body is in pain (Al-Nawawi 1997). This concern is
reiterated in works such as The world stood there to watch No. 2 (2009) (figure 21) a red

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love heart with the phrase Wa haatha diful imaan meaning And this is the weakest
(lowest) of faith. This comes from a well-known hadith:

On the authority of Abu Saeed Al-Khurdari, who said: I heard the


messenger of Allah say: Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him
change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his
tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart; and that is the
weakest of faith Prophet Muhammad related by Muslim (Al-Nawawi
1997).

This hadith describes the responsibility of a Muslim to stop an injustice occurring. Killeen
directs this piece toward Muslim leaders who do not intervene in foreign occupation or
war, but allow this to continue without protest. The mirror above this heart invites the
onlooker to reflect on these words. In our conversation Killeen discussed how she
believes that if we (the Muslim world) resolve these issues, only then can we move
forward. She says The Muslim world is like an orphan, constantly being teased and
bullied at school. No one, including Muslim governments take action for the victims of
war.

A large proportion of Killeens work concerns the current conflicts in the Middle East. In
images and installations such as Lock, Stock and Barrel (2008), Looted (2005), The buck
starts here (2005), and The piecekeeping mission (2005) (figures 23-27) Killeen portrays
the underlying motivation for war (oil), and the contradictory role of US Peacekeepers
who invade and terrorize innocent civilians. In The higher they fly, the smaller they
become (2007) (figure 28), Killeen positions green plastic toy soldiers in a neat oval shape
around a map of Iraq. Oil barrels, instead of names mark major cities. The Arabic
calligraphy, reading No war is imprinted across the map, suggesting it is a country that
is protesting against the war that continues to take place.

While Killeens artwork is not explicitly feminist, her female perspective is very
important. More specifically, Killeen draws on her role as a mother and wife to provide a
point of view that challenges the stereotype of the oppressed, voiceless Muslim women.
In Battling the curse and the hyenas (2008) (figure 29), faded Moroccan tiles decorated

32

with geometric shapes forming the twelve-point star line the background of the
installation. The curse is an old way of describing the curse of the womens menstrual
cycle (Karen Houppert 1999 discusses this in depth). A spice rack and four small bottles
containing salt, grain and toy soldiers and green oil barrel in the centre suggests this is an
Iraqi house. The bottled toy soldiers represent the constant presence of soldiers. Arabic
calligraphy on the spice rack Marhaba, la kum baitina translates to Welcome, Our home
is yours, a common Arabic greeting depicting the hospitality of Muslim hosts. Above
this, a framed picture shows a soldier standing over a Muslim woman behind barbed wire.
The title Battling the curse suggests the struggle for women to maintain a household in
the face of war and The hyenas, harshly describe American soldiers who have
descended upon Iraq like a pack of hyenas seeking oil. Killeens position as a woman
provides a frame of reference that informs how she produces art by imagining the
components of domestic life in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Staged: How are we represented now? (figure 30) Killeen re-creates an iconic photo
from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse that occurred in 2003. In this picture, the man is
wearing a black hood and a black cloak and is standing on top of a box with wires
attached to his hands and genitals. The prisoner was told that if he tried to get down off
the box, if he stepped on the floor, he would be electrocuted immediately. Many people
were outraged by the acts of torture at Abu Ghraib prison. Killeen says,

I usually choose the issues that I want to write about. At the time of
making the Abu Ghraib artwork, I was pregnant so I was feeling
nauseous. The physical act of drawing this piece made me feel so sick, I
gagged a few times. I felt like I had to make it. Sometimes I stay awake
at night thinking about current affairs and all the war and murder that is
happening even as we speak. Even when I finished I was dreamt about
pulling off the hood and saying sorry to him.

The title of this piece suggests two prevalent modes of representations for Muslims by the
West. Through Orientalism Muslim women in particular have been viewed as silent and
submissive. In this painting, the nameless women is dressed in a traditional outfit which
does not seem to belong to a specific culture or place except that it is non-Western. The

33

second dominant characterization of Muslims is of course dominated by terrorism or in


this case, suspected terrorism and hostility to the West. For Killeen however, the act of recreating the situation for the figure in her picture caused her to be sickened with disgust.
However, she continues to portray images that most people chose to ignore.

As a mother, Killeen also speaks about the loss of innocence and childhood in the face of
war. In Whatever happened to little Mahmoud? (figure 31) a little boy stands alone staring
into a snipers crosshairs. Behind him is a large flag of Lebanon is pierced with bullet
holes. The corners of the painting, which is made on wood, are faded thus distancing the
boy from the audiences reach. Killeen learnt how this tragic event unfolded on the Al
Jazeera news channel. She recalls,

During the evacuation of Beirut in 2006, people crowded to get onto the
boats. Among the crowd a little boy and his mother became separated.
Eventually the mother got onto the helicopter but the small boy did not.
When she realized it was too late. She saw him standing alone and she
frantically called out for him, Mahmoud! Mahmoud! but no one helped
her. Instead, a cameraman who saw this took this picture instead of
quickly picking the boy up! To this day, no one knows what happened to
him.

The use of a snipers crosshair rather than a camera lens suggests Killeen is accusing the
cameraman for profiteering from the mothers loss. In Twinkle twinkle little star (2005)
(figure 32) a baby girls dress lies on a mat. Both the dress and the mat are outlined in
delicate white lines. The words featured on the dress are the same as the Iraq flag- Allah
is the greatest. Yet, these words are small compared to the worn dress that lies lifeless
and still across the canvas. The dress seems to disintegrate and fade into the mat. This
alludes to the loss of countless number of children who continue to be unseen casualties
of the Iraq war.

Killeen holds strong hopes for the future generations of Muslims who are living under war
and occupation. She believes that with tragedy there is hope. The Donkey and the Rose
(2007) (figure 32) is a series of thirty-five pieces that carry various messages of hope such

34

as Salam not war, Open roads not check points, Peacemakers not fortezals, parks not
oil rigs, roses not bombs, generosity not greed, tolerance not racism and housing not
detention. Against these words is a picture of a rose against a pink background. Peace is
in the period of struggle (2005) (figure 33) features a white dove the universal symbol of
peace against a blue background with the Arabic words No war. This reminds viewers
that peace is not the absence of war, but the opposite and even if peace exists in the West,
there is no peace in the Middle East. In Tragedia tras tragedia (2007) (figure 34), which
translates to tragedy after tragedy in Spanish Killeen choses to use a red rose reef which
symbolizing the blood of the martyrs against a blue background of ornamentation. This
implies peace lies in monotheistic beliefs in God that ironically, has been the cause of
much conflict.

Peter Gould

Peter Gould is an Australian digital artist, born and raised in Sydney. He studied digital
media and design at university where he began free-lancing for major companies. After
embracing Islam in 2002, Gould travelled extensively around the Middle East where he
reached a turning point in his creative and spiritual outlook. Upon his return to Sydney,
Gould established Azaan, a design company specializing in contemporary Islamic art in
domestic and commercial products. Here, Gould seamlessly ties both place and
inspiration together under his journey to explore his passion for contemporary graphic
designand the rich visual & spiritual traditions of Islam (www.azaan.com.au). As
Goulds reputation spread amongst Muslim circles he began working for national and
international clients who appreciated Goulds ability to transmit clients messages to a
Muslim audience through contemporary Islamic designs.

Unlike Killeen, Gould is apolitical in his approach to Islamic art, instead focusing on the
potential of Islam to unify people and allow them to live in peace. In an interview with
him, Gould explains choosing the brand name Azaan:

One of the reasons why I use Azaan as a brand is because Azaan is


like a call to prayer (from the root word atha which means hear
from the ear) but I like to think about it as a call to all people. This is

35

what artwork tries to do- to call to people. Its like a dialogue people
can have instead of getting stressed out over political issues.

In this brand, Gould suggests he intentionally seeks to call to people not only through
commercialized work, but through simple Islamic motifs that can be hung in domestic
spheres or living space.

Goulds interpretation of Islamic motifs draw from his experiences as a foreign traveller
in the Muslim world, coupled with his training in Western contemporary design.
Domestic prints display Islamic ornamentation and Arabic calligraphy against a mixed
background of colours, tones and shades while black and white photography display
various architectural images from Goulds travels across the Muslim world. These prints
contrast with the ultra-modern, cutting edge designs of his graphics. As a contemporary
form of art and design, Goulds work is consistently up to date with the latest western
designs. Here, Goulds imagination of a contemporary Islam is marketed to a growing
clientele of Muslims seeking to reconcile Western and Islamic identities. Thus, Goulds
work is strikingly postmodern. Through his artwork Gould creates a fusion of the past
and present through the aesthetic creation of a Western Islam that exists apart from
social, political and economic struggles of the western Muslim community today.
Furthermore, Goulds vision of a global Muslim artistic Ummah suggests his work,
whether it is highly commercialized, is purposefully and spiritually guided.

Domestic Art

The use of Islamic ornaments to beautify a Muslim home is not new. For many Muslims
the home is a space infused with religious meaning. The Muslim home is a space where
daily ritual acts take place such as performing salat, preparing and eating halal food and
wearing sandals in the bathroom and toilet. It is also a space that reflects other Islamic
values such as the separation of men and women (more so for non-related people than
family members) and reflects ideals of minimal consumption and cleanliness. McCould
(1996) suggests the role of the domestic sphere in understanding Muslim beliefs Western
contexts have previously been overlooked. In McCoulds study of African-American

36

Muslims from Philadelphia she suggests a typical household contains a range of


oriental objects that draw on the entire Muslim world for interior design and thus form
a typical melting point of Muslim culture not seen since the earliest centuries of Islamic
history (McCould 1996). In a Western Muslim household, the inhabitants may pick and
chose any aspects of Islamic culture they like. McCould suggests that these choices are
almost always based on core religious needs such as turning a living room into a prayer
space without difficulty. The use of Islamic ornaments serves as reminders for the
Muslims and more importantly demarcates a Muslim space from a Western one.

McCoulds study may not have reflected the majority of Muslim households in the United
States or Australia in the mid 1990s, but in the fourteen years since her publication, there
has been a definite growth in the market of Western-born Muslims buying and producing
various forms of Islamic art ranging in medium, quality and price. As Gould personifies
the Azaan brand, he reflects the growing cosmopolitan nature of many Western Muslims
who are able to travel internationally between Australia, the United States and various
parts of the Muslim world. Goulds personal experiences are often described as a fusion,
the meeting of East and West that easily transfers onto the canvas and into the domestic
sphere. I asked him to describe his typical client-group:

I get a lot more interest from the US only because its a bigger
community. In Australia, mostly Muslims, although there are nonMuslims buying art as gifts for wedding presents or as gifts for their
Muslim friends. Lately there has been interest from non-Muslims looking
for a Moroccan aesthetic for their house [. . . ] or young couples who
are decorating their homes who want to bring an Islamic feel into it in a
contemporary way, not that black and gold plastic stuff that you buy
from Muslim shops.

Goulds artwork and photography range from US $30 to US $250 depending on size. There
are over seventy prints that include simple Islamic canvases, black and white photographic
prints and a fun childrens range. Goulds prints and photography feature simple yet
significant Islamic terms such as Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, Subhan Allah
meaning glory be to Allah and Noor meaning Light (figures 36-39). Dhkir (figure 40)

37

features modern Arabic calligraphy that says God is the greatest, All thanks are due to
Allah and Glory be to Allah in repetition. This forms what is known as dhkir or the act
of remembrance. The calligraphy is square-shaped and edgy and two lines of Arabic are
contrasted in white. Other lines cross the canvas in varying sizes and fade into the deep red
background. Hajj (figure 41) pictures the Kaba against two shades of grey, the top half
depicting sky and the larger portion depicting land. Against this land a few figures move
toward the Kaba. The use of shades of grey removes the oft-seen crowds of pilgrims
attending the Hajj journey, instead using minimal lines to evoke the solemn spiritual journey
individuals make toward the Kaba, the most sacred rites in the Hajj. Both pieces highlight
Goulds simple, modern designs and foregrounds the importance of Arabic terms, Islamic
rituals and values. Goulds colourful kids range (figure 42) also reflects the importance of
the family unit in Islamic beliefs. Islamic art used to decorate childrens rooms stresses the
importance of Islamic enculturation from an early age. These contemporary prints can easily
fit into any modern home. For the Muslim buyer, it suggests a welcoming of Western
aesthetic into a Muslim space.

In contrast to works without explicit (if understated) Islamic motifs, Gould also makes art
without any texts or explicit religious references and these pieces appeal to an even
broader audience. In the Road to Marrakesh (figure 43) a lone man and his camels walk
against the sunset over a dislocated desert land. In Al Haqq, (figure 44) an abstract white
pattern unfolds over an apple-green canvas. Dubai UAE Moonlight (figure 45) is far
removed from images of Dubai as growing modern Westernized city. Photographic prints
featuring simple archways and cross-sections of Mosque ceilings and walls (figures 4649), may likewise be appreciated by wider audiences without the need to understand
underlying religious intricacies.

Other Islamic artistic companies also create products that may appeal to audiences who
appreciate Islamic designs without necessarily sharing Islamic beliefs. Khadijah
OConnell, creator of Barakah Life (blessed life), an Islamic interior design company
produces decorative pillows and silk cushions that feature poetry from Rumi (figure 50).
These silk cushions come in three different colours and feature simple quotes such as Let
the beauty you love be what you do and Only from the heart can you touch the sky.
Rumi is a highly regarded Islamic scholar named Jall ad-Dn Muhammad Balkh or Jall

38

ad-Dn Muhammad Rm who was a teacher of Islamic Law and jurisprudence, later
writing about the science of tasawwuf (cleansing of the soul, purity) or Sufism. This
Westernised Rumi not only takes Islamic teachings out of context, but reduces them so
they may be shared with wider audiences. The use of Islamic decorative products to adorn
living spaces suggests the necessity of creating a Muslim space. In this space all
material aspects are attached to, or inspired by Islamic beliefs or exotic cultures of the
East. This idea may be carried on into the space of clothing. Islamic inspired brooches by
the Souk collective (figure 51) also alludes to the romanticisation of Islamic motifs.

Commercial design and networking

The largest component of Azaan is graphic and website design where Gould and his team
create specialized brands, logos, visual campaigns for international companies, events,
organizations, publications, websites and apps. In an interview with Gould, he described
how his business emerged:

I never went out with the intention of working for all these amazing people.
Alhamdulliah its all from God. My commercial background helped get me
started. When local community groups needed a logo for their organization,
like Mission of Hope, I started with that, then when Hajj Noor Deen came
out a few years ago and he really like my photos. Then I asked him if he
needed help with his work and he took me up on the offer. From that, he put
me in touch with Sami Yusuf and I did a lot of work with him. So it kind of
grew from there. I feel blessed because I get to work with a lot of people
that I really admire.

Goulds success is due to his unique position within the Muslim community as a digital
artist, a sought after skill that is still overlooked. As Goulds reputation grew
internationally, so did the local needs of the Australian community. At the same time as
working with international artists and songwriters like Sami Yusuf and Hajj Noor Deen,
Gould began free-lancing for emerging Muslim businesses in Sydney and realized a niche
market existed where distinct modern Islamic branding was needed for products catered

39

toward the growing Muslim population. Early clients MCCA Finance and Ahiida are
good examples of businesses that provide Islamic alternatives to Western products and
in doing so, create an Islamic brand (in this case Islamic-principle based finance and
female swimwear known as the burqini) (figures 52-53). Other examples include the US
company Innovine where Goulds studio developed a series of Islamic applications for
iPad & iPhone including branding & identities, interfaces and supporting graphic
elements & icons (figure 54a). Gould also worked with Silver Envelope to develop a
series of Islamic inspired gift wrap featuring bright patterns with the Islamic greeting Eid
Mubarak! (Figure 54b). Eid is a Muslim celebration that is becoming increasingly
commercialized especially as it is often compared to Christmas. Islamic brands range in
various type of products and uses all made by local Muslim businesses which cater to a
local, national and international Muslim clientele.

Despite this comfortable idea of a Western Islamic artistic identity, Gould discusses the
problem of being labelled a Muslim first, and artist second.

I dont want to be seen as like a Muslim brand where people will say,
oh youre a Muslim brand. You are who you are, whatever your label
is. I happen to be Muslim but I happen to be a professional designer as
well.

Goulds personal challenges are reflected in his brand. Azaan as an Islamic brand is not
seen as problematic as it directly caters to the needs of the international Muslim community,
that is, providing an artistic service even though it may be seen as commercializing Islamic
art.

In a larger response to network with the international Muslim community, Gould and
OConnell created the bi-annual international Spiritual and Creative Conference in
February 2009 (figure 55). The aim of this conference is to facilitate dialogue on topics
relevant to Artists, Designers, Musicians, Directors, Writers, Thinkers and Creative types
linked by an interest in Spirituality and Islam (http://www.spiritualcreative.com/). The use
of the Internet and fast communication has been vital in connecting Muslim businesses such
as Gould and OConnell who organized this conference through phone calls and emails.

40

Within this western-Muslim community, Islamic brands are being created alongside various
areas of specialty. These artists also share a common desire to move away from such
negative markers of Islam in the West and thus rebrand Islam through artistic pursuits.

Two ways of looking at the globalized Muslim Ummah

Killeens depictions of war, occupation, suffering, and loss form part the way she views
her art. While Gould prefers not to stress out about politics, Killeen does. Furthermore,
Killeen places her work within certain historical contexts, for example Al-Andulus,
Morocco and Australia, where Gould is more abstract, mixing history with place, in an
effort to create a sense of a Muslim homeland comfortably positioned in the West. Gould
brings tradition into a digital age and sells a new brand of Islam which suggests
Muslims in First world countries are going back to spiritual paths through art. In doing
so, Gould creates a new brand of Islam, which is non-threatening, idyllic and
contemporary. Gould enters the commercialised world with Islamic themes. Interestingly,
Goulds most important consumers are the American Muslim market who are more
comfortable with their identity, reaching this point at a time when Australian Muslims
have only just begun to grapple with these debates. Killeen rarely discusses identity as
one of her main features in Islamic art instead focussing on giving a voice to oppressed
Muslims in the Middle East.

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Chapter Four
Art on the Streets: Islamic Graffiti Art and Grass Roots Community
Engagement
We are currently living through a veritable silent revolution in Muslim
communities in the West: more and more young people and intellectuals
are actively looking for a way to live in harmony with their faith while
participating in the societies that are their societies, whether they like it or
not (Ramadan 2004, p.4).
Contemporary forms of Islamic art continue to be shaped by a range of groups and
individuals in the Western Muslim community. Manipulations of Islamic motifs, such as
calligraphy and ornamentation have lead to the flourishing of a new Muslim sub culture in
the West. At the heart of this sub culture is the symbolic use of Street art as a subversive
means of challenging dominant perceptions of Islam, beyond the glass walls of galleries.
Like Gould and Killeen, Muslim graffiti artists are inspired by the glorified Islamic past and
through art, seek to connect to a global Muslim Ummah on an international stage. This
chapter looks at two case studies involving second-generation Muslims graffiti artists from
Australia and Canada. These are the Crooked Rib Art collective and El Seed, respectively.
These perspectives offer an important angle for this thesis. The use of street art by Muslim
youth particularly highlights issues faced by second-generation Muslim youth who are
deemed minorities although themselves, western. Rather than focussing on these
discourses, Islamic art once again offers a space in which to challenge, conform, reflect or
reject certain identities.

Crooked Rib Art

What does it mean to be young, female and Muslim in Melbourne? It


can mean listening to Lupe Fiasco on your iPod, studying hard,
attending extra-curricular Arabic classes, playing soccer, attending an
Islamic camp, discussing fashion and art, and more
(http://crookedrib.blogspot.com/).

42

Crooked Rib Art was formed in November 2007 through the City of Melbourne's
Community Cultural Development Program in partnership with the Muslim Women's
Council Victoria. The Crooked Rib Art group are one of the first Muslim artistic
collectives in Australia. They uniquely identify through shared Islamic beliefs, and their
experiences of being young, female and Muslim in Melbourne. The aims of the yearlong
program were to participate in a number of artistic workshops run by a professional artist
and produce a final exhibition. Workshops include henna art, Music and Rhythm, stencil
art, spray paint art, recyclable patterns, human art, photography and public speaking.
Accompanying the final exhibition was the production of an Islamic inspired graffiti
mural, A Thirst For Change with UK Islamic graffiti artist Muhammad Ali.

The name Crooked Rib Art was chosen to highlight the negative perceptions attached to
the idea that women are flawed by nature as well as the negative perceptions attached to
Muslim women. The interpretation of this name through Islam, provides a new way to
understand the crooked rib. In the Islamic tradition, the term Crooked Rib derives from
a number of hadith explaining Eves creation from the rib of Adam. Islamic scholars
maintain this view is a misconception of Islamic teachings, which the artists agree with.
In their blog, the Crooked Rib artists explain their use of the term as a positive symbol of
Islamic womanhood,

Firstly to express our pride in how we were created to function


with the other, in unison, whether it be gender, faith, race or else,
for a great humanity.

Secondly, to use a generic term to join others perceptions with


ours as a protective function to maintain harmony and
reconciliation for our societies.

Finally to express the flaws in the misinterpretations of our faith


made by those claiming to hear our case, yet unwilling to hear our
voice.

43

So please
Crooked, is beautiful.
Crooked, is natural.
Crooked, protects.
Crooked, functions for humanitys sake.
We are proudlyCrooked Rib.
(http://crooked-rib.blogspot.com/)

The Crooked Rib artists draw on their own experiences of discrimination on a number of
levels, religious, culture and gender. By highlighting these issues as a group, they move
beyond self-reflexivity and identify with other groups which have been discriminated
against. Thus, they not only aim to challenge perceptions of themselves, but also work to
question perceptions of current social issues (http://www.crookedribart.com/). Other
emerging themes are belonging and heritage, Islamic beliefs and practices, personal
development and an emerging Western-Muslim youth sub culture.

Identity, belonging and subculture

In an interview with Crooked Rib artist Lauren Thomas, she suggested that while they all
identify as Muslims and specifically are a Muslim group, there are many backgrounds
which the artists draw on, Some of the artists use tradition, some use culture and some
draw on contemporary references for their artwork. Under the banner Muslim, the
Crooked Rib artists are able to showcase the diversity of the Muslim experiences in
Melbourne. The main themes of the Growing up as Muslims in Australia (2008)
exhibition were Australian-Muslim identity, family, heritage and challenging stereotypes.
Materials ranged from photography, stencilling and graffiti art on various mediums. The
photographic piece Differences That Are The Same (figure 56) Sarah Mahri depicts day-today routines of her self and friends such as performing the five daily prayers to walking
through Melbourne city, window-shopping and relaxing against a wall with friends. The
author suggests perceived differences such as wearing the hijab and performing salat,
should be viewed by an outsider as really being normal, unexotic and at times, typical.
Furthermore, being typical young adults in western Muslim terms includes shopping in
mainstream fashion stores and spending time with friends, often in evenings. In Prayer

44

(figure 57) by Lauren Thomas, close up images of her hands and face performing the
various stages of prayer, invites the viewer to appreciate a solemn, peaceful act that is
rarely seen. This detracts from common images of the Muslim men massed in large
congregations of prayer, as robotic and mechanized. Thomass Spray paint girl (figure 58)
also a self-portrait depicts herself in white clothing and a red hijab in the act of spraypainting. The At First Sight (figure 59) is one of the most strikingly pieces in the Growing
up as Muslims in Australia exhibition as it features duplicate pictures of the artist holding
various labels she has created that feature words and phrases that have been used to define
her both from outsiders as well from herself. Labels include Arab, Muslim, Bloody
terrorist, Lonely, Happy, and Funny. The range of labels display a personal struggle
for young Muslim females to defy various challenges of popular perceptions of Muslims,
including the ability to speak on their own behalf.

A large component of the Crooked Rib Art project was the Thirst for Change graffiti
mural (figures 60-61) set up on an abandoned wall in Spark Lane, Melbourne CBD. In
addition to the support from the City of Melbourne and the Muslim Womens Council
Victoria, the British Council and the Melbourne International Arts Festival also supported
the mural. The Crooked Rib artists initially contacted Muhammad Ali a well-known
international graffiti artist under the name Aerosol Arabic from Birmingham, UK.
Thomas explains:

We liked the appeal of graffiti art because its art thats not just for
people in galleries. Its art for the public and has messages that you can
really relate to. The graffiti art like Muhammad Ali is a fusion between
Islamic calligraphies and ideas and street art.

The mural featured the large, bold words A Thirst for Change in blue and green
graffiti script that made it look like it had been splashed across the wall. Beneath this,
the viewer is invited to look into a circular shaped cloud that bordered the mural into a
dark city on the brink on dawn. The pink reflection of the first light casts a glow over
the water feature that is surrounded by tall buildings. The phrase Do not waste water
even before a flowing stream- The Prophet is written in white graffiti, so that the
message stands out. Through Alis mentorship, Crooked Rib Art group drew on various

45

Islamic themes such as Arabic calligraphy, stencilled ornamentation and hadith to create
a universal message about the issue of water conservation and the individual
responsibility to enact change. Sumaya Ashvat discussed the use of Islamic patterns and
calligraphy, We dont see it as anything different, because that is part of our lives. But I
can stand out for people because it is interesting to see Muslim women doing street art,
but thats part of todays culture. The group gained a lot of media attention such as
from the ABC Australia Network NewsHour, Melbourne Age, Leader, The Herald
Sun, SBS Radio's Alchemy and BBC Birmingham. A documentary Ali and the
Crooked Rib directed by Thomas Baricevic, also traced the journey of Ali coming to
Melbourne to work with the Crooked Rib artists. Muhammad Ali commented that the
creation of the mural was significant as it reflected the contribution the artists could
make in transforming the ugly grey wall [. . .]into something artistic and colourful
(Ali, Ali and the Crooked Rib Trailer).

The Crooked Rib Arts second exhibition continued these themes, although with a
specific focus on heritage and belonging. This was the groups first independent
exhibition entitled Roots held in July, 2010 at the Desypher gallery, Melbourne.
In comparison to the Growing up Muslim in Australia exhibition, the Roots exhibition
was more sophisticated, less experimental and featured fewer self-portraits that delved
into issues of identity. Instead, strong ideas about heritage that informed identity came
through. Sarah Mahris photographs Hadaramount (figure 62) depict three pictures of
traditional towns in Yemen, which forms part of the artists heritage. Return by Sarah El
Agha (figure 63) pictures modern day Palestine and the Dome of the Rock. Exploring the
Journey by Nour Sukkar featured a cylindrical shade covered in black and white
newspaper clippings, photography, a passport and handwritten notes, relating to the
artists parents life. Saffiyah El Attars piece My Umi Says, (figure 64) is a series of nine
square canvases that contain a poem, Tomorrow may never come, for you or me, life is
not promised, you better hold, this very moment, very close to you, my Umi says, shine
your light, on the whole world. Umi is the Arabic word for mother. The InteracTree
also featured silver leaves on chains where the community was encouraged to think about
their own roots (figure 65). According to Thomas, reactions from the audience varied.
She said, With our interactive piece, Australians thought they didnt really have any

46

roots, others were again surprised that Muslim roots were mixed with religion as well
as culture.

Public and community art

In conjunction with the artwork exhibited on murals and galleries, the Crooked Rib artists
take part in public programs with local community groups such as the Yarra Youth
Services, humanitarian fundraising events and community market fairs. In the
collaborative work with the Yarra Youth Services, Crooked Rib Art played an educative
role by facilitating workshops with a small group of public high school students. The
artists met the students weekly over a two-month period and taught them a range of skills
such as stencilling and aerosol painting. At the end of the two-month period the group
created a public mural for the White Ribbon Day campaign; a nation wide cause
dedicated to eliminating violence against women (figure 66). The Crooked Rib Art work
promotes the idea of social change through learning, teaching and sharing with the wider
community.

El Seed

El Seed is another emerging graffiti artist from Canada who was born and raised in Paris,
France to Tunisian immigrants. He has participated in a number of Muslim artistic shows
in Canada, USA and Dubai, including the Fakie Dekk show, Dubai (2010), TakinIt to
the Streets, Chicago (2010), Festival International Montreal Art, Montreal (2010) and
MuslimFest (2010), Ontario as well as his own solo exhibitions in Canada. In an
interview with El Seed, he described how he began tagging walls in Paris in 1998
merging his love for calligraphy and graffiti in order to combine two aspects of identity,
his North African roots andFrench European education. El Seeds ability to creates
works of art on large abandoned walls as well as on a range of mixed materials (figure 67)
is driven by his idea of empowering people to beautify their own communities
withpositive messages. The main themes in El Seeds work are identity, respect for
tradition and peace and war. Thus, El Seeds joins the plethora of other Muslim street
artists such as the Crooked Rib Art group and Muhammad Ali, who create Islamic art in
47

westernized contexts in order to explore their own identity. In doing so, these secondgeneration Western Muslims create a definable sub culture in Street Art.

Street art sub culture

Graffiti first emerged in the 1960s as an illegal activity associated with lower-class youths
in New York. It was only in the 1970s that Graffiti art became a recognised art form
gaining the respect of the art world under Pop art (Powers 1996). Around the 1980s, the
novelty of original graffiti art wore off as few artists conformed to the changing
standards within the art community. Graffiti art was seen as lacking in aesthetic and thus
denigrated to low art (Powers 1996). Even so, graffiti art still developed into a distinct
form of art. One of the main characteristics of graffiti art is that it provides a degree of
anonymity in a large public space where the message speaks louder than the artists mark
or name. With this anonymity, graffitists may produce works about rebelling against the
dominant political and economic order, or bring to light issues that effect their world.
Artistic expressions through graffiti art change the popular view of graffiti as simply
vandalism. Instead it is considered art that contains complex lettering and abstract forms
beneath which lies a message. Graffiti artists Muhammad Ali and El Seed both express
their upbringing in cities marked with graffiti art as well as their influence by some of the
most famous international graffiti artists. Applying their knowledge of Islamic artistic
practices such as calligraphy, these artists developed their own complex style of
expression. Both calligraphy and graffiti art speak to different audiences, yet these graffiti
artists endeavour to bridge the gap between a subversive youth culture and a classical
Islamic artistic heritage which has mostly been the preserve of Western scholars.
Although many members of the Muslim community support these graffiti artists, they
have become role models for Muslim youth in particular. While these artists produce
beautiful works of street art, they both endeavour to travel internationally to spread
messages of Islamic values through graffiti art.

48

Identity and Arabic Graffiti

El Seeds artwork is a reflection of his personal challenge to reconcile a hybrid,


multiplicity of identities, by inverting often negative experiences into an inspiring art
form. The meeting of a high art and a low art suggests El Seed breaks from both traditions
in order to question dominant structures within. The move away from tagging to the
production of an artistic expression has also been part of his journey through which he has
formed his identity. He explains:

The multiplicity of identities which make up the fabric of each person are
reflected in each letter which, sometimes bold and cutting, or soft and
complacent, weave together and intersect in creating the meaning of a
word. Navigating identities is often a difficult process, as these are both
consciously and unconsciously created, and often imposed on us.

The use of Arabic calligraphy as a communicative tool, rather than a purely religious one
allows El Seed to use it in abandoned walls amongst other expressions of vandalism.
Here, Arabic graffiti is not denigrated to a menial position, but provides a message to
passer-buyers. El Seed also uses Arabic graffiti in other mediums such as on textiles,
canvas and furniture (figure 68). At the core of this identity is a unique style of street art
and Arabic calligraphy he calls, Arabic graffiti. El Seeds uses art as a space for an
expression that cannot be vocalized in many other mediums. Through Arabic graffiti, El
Seed finds deep meaning in the forms of Arabic, a language, which he grew up with, as
well as street art, which he started as tagging as a youth in 1998. Both forms of art come
with their own set of traditions, values and constraints. He explains that by producing
beautiful works of graffiti art, he responds to the globalization of western culture that
deems both Arabic calligraphy and graffiti art as illegitimate forms of art in the West
thus seeking to homogenize an otherwise diverse world. El Seed views both Arabic

49

calligraphy and graffiti art as extensions of his own identity. His ability to produce art
with loaded messages is an act of living out his own expressions of identity.
Natural (2010) (figure 69) features a large mural painted with the Arabic graffiti Natural
translated from Arabic. Both the Arabic and the English words that say Panik Eat
Organic are white off-set by bright green borders. To the left is a confrontational masked
man, wearing a nuclear gas mask, suggesting the imminent danger of a chemical or
nuclear attack caused by human damage to the ecosystem. The Key (2010) (figure 70)
depicts a large key shaped Arabic graffiti that says El Seed in Arabic. It is brightly
coloured with splashes of yellow and red against the pink and purple word. Other murals
such as Back to my roots, Balance and Gimme the Light (figures 71-73) all stage the inner
search for identity among abandoned streets in the West.

Respect for tradition, place and culture

The Respect your elders mural (2010) (figure 74) was painted on another large abandoned
wall in Montreal, Canada. As El Seed worked on the mural, a number of children and
parents would sit and watch the mural take shape. Respect your elders features bold
Arabic graffiti that translates into Respect. The words Look into the past are written in
English above a large hand leaning onto a walking stick, indicating an elderly person.
Behind this hand is an ornamentation pattern of intricate stencilled twelve-point stars,
drawing on Islamic artistic tradition. El Seed explains this mural seeks to bring attention
to the dangerous gap we have created between generations, and endeavours to instil the
admiration and respect that our grandparents deserve. The use of graffiti reflects the art
of the youth; a new medium painting the patterns and arts of the past. Thus, this mural
calls for the respect of elderly people and the wisdom and grace found in old age. El Seed
does not sign his name on the walls anymore, following the proverb of making your
name disappear will make the message last (http://www.elseed-art.com/).

Most recently, El Seed has produced a mural Olive Tree: My Name is Palestine (2010)
(figure 75). Similar to earlier works Salam and Heart tank (figures 76 and 77) El Seed
adapts Turkish mosaic glass traditions by using acrylic and paints on canvases and on

50

walls. Using different shades of colours that resemble the reflection of light, El Seed
pieces together broken shards to form a message.

The scattered pockets of colour, which compose this mural, are but a
symbol of a culture, an identity, which is itself disjointed and in
fragments. In contrast, the phrase My name is Palestine affirms the
existence of this identity. Naming is one manner through which to assert
the presence of a people, a history, and a culture.

The olive tree is a symbol of peace and also an important part of Palestinian culture as it
was one of the main sources of income for Palestinians. Through the use of broken glass,
the artist alludes to the fragmented nature of Palestinian people. Anisa Sharif from the
You Am I exhibition also shares the concept of fragmentation, but in a positive sense.
Sharifs Multi faith community project, Trees of Life (figure 78) brought together
Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindu's and Buddhists who came together to help glue down
the leaves on these trees.

Grass roots art programs in WA

Like Crooked Rib Art, El Seed creates an artistic Muslim subculture which reflects a new
understanding of identity. This identity blends past and present, tradition and innovation
and street and gallery art. Both El Seed and Crooked Rib Art maintain the usage of
Islamic motifs within their artwork as a living language and a powerful unifier for the
Muslim Ummah. As we have seen with Crooked Rib Art community projects, concern for
the welfare of others is also part of this concern. Muslim youth groups in W.A, namely
Muslim Youth W.A (MYWA) connect to this global Muslim Ummah by bringing artists
such as The Brotherhood, a Muslim hip-hop group and the Fear of a Brown Planet
comedy group (both from Melbourne) to Perth audiences. El Seed and MYWA are
planning a collaborative project in 2011 directed at Muslim school students from the
Australian Islamic College, Perth. Muslim community leaders such as Shameema Kolia,
President of MYWA, recognize the educative role artistic expression plays for the
development of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) youth as well as youth
at risk. According to Kolia, she suggests that art workshops have been one of the most

51

effective ways of tackling issues of isolation, gang-related behaviour, low school


attendance rates and racism within the school community. These very real issues that the
Muslim community is currently facing has multiple avenues for solutions and art
education remains a large part of this.

52

Concluding Remarks: Universal Islamic Art

As an important background to my thesis, I have asserted that the production of Islamic


art in Australia is a meaningful experience motivated by multiple influences. The rich
diversity of the Muslim experience is brought together through universal ideas of Islam.
Classical Islamic motifs capture the idea of Islamic universalism but it does not end there.
Various manipulations and interpretations of Islamic motifs give rise to new forms of
Islamic art celebrating fusion, hybridity and the manipulation of traditional art forms.
Muslim audiences in the West as well as in Muslim-populated countries largely welcome
contemporary Islamic art. Against current anti-Islamic sentiment, artistic expression
provides somewhat of a break from politics and negative views of Muslims being
anything but artistic.

Contemporary Muslim artists entering the Islamic artworld quickly justify their place by
drawing on the history of Islamic art in the Golden Age of Islam. This has been both a
challenge and an advantage. While many Muslim artists see their practice of calligraphy,
ornamentation and arabesque as an extension of Islamic heritage, ideas of existing studies
of Classical Islamic art, may seem overly scholarly, western, and detached from the
reality on the ground. Classical Islamic art scholars and Muslim artists both capture the
universal essences of Islamic art, yet there is an obvious difference. Contemporary
Islamic art is an ongoing practice, shaped by the day-to-day lived experiences of Muslims
in, and outside the West. Classical Islamic art is historically and geographically located
and thus limited in the sense of obtaining personal experiences of these Muslim artists.
Nonetheless, contemporary Muslim artists have defined Islamic art in a way that works
within western definitions, recognising that the study of classical Islamic art is not
without its problems. However, an area only briefly touched upon in my thesis is the role
Classical Islamic art may play in informing wider audiences about Islam. Stefano Carboni
shared an anecdote about one such powerful incident:

One of the big exhibitions that I did when I was in the Met is a selection
of works of glass. So it was a general approach on masterpieces,
techniques and to show that Islamic glassmakers became masters way

53

before Venice and France and all these places. This was an exhibition
that I organised together with the Corning museum of glass of New York
so the exhibition was in Corning in summer and was supposed to come to
the Met in the autumn of 2001and then move to Europe. The day the
trucks were ready to all the crates of the artwork with a few couriers
were driving from Corning to New York, which was a five-hour drive,
was September 11, 2001. So you could imagine what happened that day,
you dont know whats going on, its the end of the world, its the end of
the city, terrorists all over the place...and all this. It is one of the days that
I think everyone will remember especially living in New York and living
in the States.

But what happened is that we had to face almost immediately (the


question), what do we do? The board of my museum at the Met started
to say we cannot have this art, its an Islamic exhibition- we are the next
target if we do the exhibition here. So within 24 hours, the day after on
September 12, the Director asked me whether in my opinion as a curator,
whether we should go ahead with the exhibition or not. I met with the
director and the chair and the board and everyone had to make a
decision. And I tried to say that I thought it was important to try to do it
anyways because it was a statement that art can build bridges and that art
can be of solace to the people of New York in a moment when they felt
they have been at war with the Muslims in general. And so I was very
glad that they agreed with me eventually, so I had to go ahead and call all
the lenders in order to tell them why it was important to do it. All the
lenders agreed so it opened and it actually was very helpful.

We had a very good review in the New York Times, exactly


understanding what we were trying to do and a lot of people could
appreciate the great achievements glass makers of the Islamic world were
able to do in 7th, 8th century of production. So I was extremely happy
with it because the message was understood. So it is a kind of dramatic
way of putting it but bridges can be built in this way if you manage to
bring the message across.
54

Carboni and the Department of Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of art have been
involved in several collaborations with Muslim communities to preserve works of Islamic
art (http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/introduction.asp?dep=14). Preserving
tradition through classical Islamic art must be recognised as an important part of the
Muslim heritage.

While the National Action Plan officially ended in 2009, Muslim communities continue to
promote ideas of integration based on ideas of cross-cultural understanding, inclusion
and citizenship and within art, these themes often come out. One of the most prominent
artistic tools used by contemporary Muslim artists is juxtaposing current issues, such as
those outlined by the NAP with images of Islamic values and traditions. The move closer
to more Islamic defined themes suggests many Muslim artists turn to the values within
Islam to solve various social issues today. The Crooked Rib Art collectives latest piece,
Rumman (2010) is based around the mystical nature of the pomegranate fruit oft
mentioned in the Quran. Like other Islamic motifs, this piece undoubtedly suggests a
reflection of the spiritual journey of the artists. As I have explored in this thesis, Islamic
art does not simply reflect a bygone artistic tradition, rather it points to an ongoing
continuation of Islamic values promoting beliefs in One God, worship, constant
remembrance, the relationship with the Muslim Ummah through providing services as
well as speaking out against oppression and suffering. Contemporary Islamic art also
reflects identity, journeys and conversations with the audience.

Such works of art prompt many Muslim artists to think about their role in promoting
positive images of Islam, even though this may not be their intention. With this Islamic
brands are being created along side various areas of specialty. These artists has also share
a common desire to move away from such negative markers of Islam in the West and thus
rebrand Islam through artistic pursuits. These efforts also gain positive results. Peter
Gould recently sold a piece of work 99 Names to New South Wales Premier Kristina
Keneally (figure 80).
An area in my thesis that was not covered in depth is the role of personal appearances in
influencing how non-Muslim audience react to Muslim artists. Fatima Killeens
seemingly exotic appearance as a Moroccan woman could suggest audiences react to her

55

artwork in a more open and objective manner, than the Crooked Rib Art collective whom
the majority wear hijab. Another issue relating to audience perspectives is the role of
gender. This could be extended into Muslim audiences and how cross-gendered
interaction may occur between Muslim men and women through art. We have seen this
with Peter Goulds international collaboration with Khadija OConnell on the conference
Creativity and The Spiritual Path. Positive interactions shaped by the needs of Muslims
working together shows that Muslim community members and artists such as El Seed and
Shameema Kolia endeavour to tackle issues they see at a grassroots level. Another
possible area for further study is the role of art in Muslim schools in Australia. Kolia
mentioned how art programs were not included in the curriculum of the Muslim school
she had worked with, as art was not recognised as a priority. How administrators come to
make such decisions could be further investigated. Nonetheless, Kolia saw the necessity
of providing positive outlets where Muslim youth could express themselves, a need
which is still on going. In these acts of intellectual, political and financial independence,
contemporary Muslim artists enter what I mention as the Third space of artistic
expression, that is not dictated by inclusion or exclusion discourses. In this third
space is the creation of the Muslim personality. Ramadan (2004) says:

My response to all these phenomena is to insist to Muslims that they stay


in the higher reaches, in awareness of their principles, values, and
responsibilities. By developing a global vision of their points of reference
and their objectives, by studying their situation and being reconciled with
themselves, [. . .]. Muslims will get what they deserve: if, as watchful and
participating citizens, they study the machinery of their society, demand
their rights to equality with others, struggle against all kinds of
discrimination and injustice, establish real partnerships beyond their own
community and what concerns themselves alone, it will be an achievement
that will make political security measures, discrimination, Islamaphobic
behaviour, and so on drift away downstream (Ramadan 2004, p.8).

In a world dominated by the seemingly problematic nature of Islam, contemporary


Muslim artists work toward promoting an image of Islam true to their beliefs.

56

57

Appendix I: Figures

Figure 1. Spring Wisteria (2010) Anisa Sharif


Glass and paint.
120cm x 90cm

Figure 2. The Old and the New (2009) Najla Awad


Mixed Media on paper
18cm x 29cm

Figure 3. The Road to the Market: Ethiopia, Maryam Berkis


Acrylic on canvas
60cm x 90cm
Figure 4. Protection, Rania Gouda
Glass and paint
91cm x 61cm

58

Figure 6. Uncle Sam, Nazeem Hussein


Fear Of A Brown Planet,
(http://www.brownplanet.com.au/blog.html)
Figure 5. Allah- The Most Merciful and I Believe! (2010), Lubna
Jahangir.
Oil on canvas, 50cm x 100cm

Figure 7. Call for the Patriot I:


Mc Muslim (2010),
Nur Shkembi
Found objects
(cardboard and plastic),
Collage and enamel
Installation

59

Figure 9. Al-Khatt
http://rupeenews.com/2009/12/01/tracing-the-arabic-scripts-to-theglorious-islamic-empire-of-timbuktu/
Figure 8. Qur'an, Ottoman Turkey, AH 1269 1852 - 3 AD Islamic Art
http://www.superstock.com/stock-photos-images/866-5675

Figure 10. Dish with Artichokes and Tulips


Turkey, Iznik, c. 155055
The Madina Collection of Islamic Art, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost
(http://www.lacma.org

Figure 11. Mihrab


Iran, Isfahan, A.H. 755/A.D. 135455, The Islamic Art collection at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
[http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/collection_database/islami
c_art/mihrab/objectview.aspx?collid=14&OID=140006815]

60

Figure 13. Generous Soil (2001)


Sand, Board, Oil on Wood
90cm x 120cm

Figure 12. How much blood for oil? (2007)


Colour collograph (framed)
29cm x 42cm

Figure 13. Reshuffled Series of 10 (2006)


Series of 10 mixed media paintings
25cm x 35cm
Sand, acrylic on wood

Figure 14. Loose monkey on the terrace (2006)


Colour collograph (framed)
29cm x 42cm

61

No. 1 of 10

Figure 15. We shared food, grain and salt No1


Colour collograph
Mixed materials
51cm x 61cm x 15cm

Figure 17. We shared food, grain and salt No2


Colour collograph
Mixed materials
51cm x 61cm x 15cm

62

Figure 18. Olive country after Olive country (2001)


Mixed media on wood
90cm x 120cm

Figure 16. We shared food, grain and salt No3 (2008)


Colour collograph
Mixed materials
51cm x 61cm x 15cm

Figure 20. Lodged, fed, detained, but we are one (2001)


Acrylic on wood
70cm x 90cm

Figure 19. We crossed roads (2008)


Colour collograph
Mixed materials
51cm x 61cm x 15cm

63

The world stood there to watch No1 (2008)


Colour collograph
Mixed materials
51cm x 61cm x 15cm

Figure 21. The world stood there to watch No2 (2008)


Colour collograph
Mixed materials
51cm x 61cm x 15cm

Figure 23. Lock, stock and barrel (2008)


Colour collograph
Mixed materials
51cm x 61cm x 15cm

Figure 24. Looted (2008)


Colour collograph
Mixed materials
51cm x 61cm x 15cm

64

Figure 26. The piecekeeping mission (2005)


Figure 25. The buck starts here (2005)

Figure 28. The higher they fly, the smaller they become (2007)
Mixed media painting
Acrylic, sand, miniature figures on wood
90cm x 122cm

65

Figure 29. Battling the curse and the hyenas (2008)


Colour collograph
Mixed materials
51cm x 61cm x 15cm

Figure 30. Staged: how are we represented now? (2005)


Mixed media on wood
100cm x 122cm

Figure 31. Whatever happened to little Mahmoud? (2006)


Painting, sand, acrylic on wood
50cm, x 70cm

Figure 32. Twinkle twinkle little star (2005)


Colour collograph
54cm x 42cm

Figure 33. The Donkey and the Rose (2007)


Series of 35 pieces
Embossed paper, acrylic on canvas
12cm x 18cm each

66

Figure 34, Peace is in the period of struggle (2005)


http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/index.cfm?n=7&sn=63>

Figure 36. The Messenger, Peter Gould


www.azaan.com.au

Figure 35. Tragedia tras tragedia (2007)


Colour collograph
29cm x 42 cm

Figure 37. White Noor

67

Figure 39. Celestial Peace

Figure 38. New Dhikr

Figure 41. Hajj


Figure 40. Dhkir, Peter Gould

Figure 43. Road to Marrakesh

Figure 42. Pink Dome

68

Figure 44. Al Haqq (The Truth)

Figure 45. Dubai UAE Moonligt

Figure 46. Corbobra, Spain (Arches)

Figure 47. Fez, Morrocco (Arch)

Figure 49. Kuala Lupmar, Malaysia


Figure 48. Nizwa, Oman

69

Figure 50. Rumi cushions, Barakah Life


Available from
<http://barakahlife.com/>

Figure 51. Brooches, Souk Collective


Available from
<http://www.soukcollective.com/>

Figure 52. Ahiida Swimwear

Figure 52. MCCA Finance

Figure 54a. iPad & iPhone Islamic applications

Figure 54b. Islamic gift wrap by Azaan & Silver Envelope

70

Figure 55. Creativity and the Spiritual Path conference flyer

Figure 56. Differences That Are The Same, Sarah Mahri

Figure 57. Prayer, Lauren Thomas

71

Figure 58. Spray paint girl, Lauren Thomas

72

Figure 59. At First Sight, Reemah Hakim

Figure 62. Hadaramount, Sarah Mahri

Figure 60-61 Thirst for change mural with Crooked Rib Art
group
Close up of wall.
http://crooked-rib.blogspot.com

73

Figure
64.

Figure 63. Return, Sara El Agha


Exploring the Journey, Nour Sukkar

Figure 64. My Umi says, Saffiyah El Attar


Figure 65. InterlacTree, Crooked Rib Art

74

Figure 66. White Ribbon day mural

Figure 67-68.
Baladi mixed materials
Graffiti design shoes and hat.
Ajliss chair
Available from artists website,
<http://elseedart.wordpress.com/about/>

75

Figure 69. Natural

Figure 70. The Key

Figure 71. Back to my roots

Figure 72. Balance

76

Figure 76. Salam

Figure 73. Gimme the light

Figure 77. Heart Tank

Figure 78. Peace Tree, Anisa Sharif


Glass mosaic

77

Figure 74. Respect your elders mural

Figure 75. Olive Tree: My Name is Palestine.

78

Figure 79. Wall painted with the kids of Teboulbou Kids Club in
Tunisia
CET - Teboulbou - August 2009

Figure 80. Kristina Keneally purchases Goulds canvas print

Figure 81. You Am I exhibition flyer

79

References: Interviews

Stefano Carboni, 9th August 2010


Nur Shkembi, 15th August 2010
Shameema Kolia, 27 August 2010
Lauren Thomas, 7th September 2010
Fatima Killeen, 7th September 2010
Peter Gould, 7th September 2010
El Seed, 5th October 2010

80

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