Art Events in New York and Chicago Explore Cultural Traditions and Drive Meaningful Conversations

In July 2018, MALA launched an ongoing series of seminars and other events centered around Islamic art. These events continue MALA’s exploration of the Muslim American journey.

MALA’s inaugural event, conceptualized and led by MALA community members, was held in Chicago in July. It focused on tessellation art – the instantly recognizable swirl of geometry that is so common across north Africa and the Middle East.

The afternoon started with a conversation about the diverse origins of Islamic tessellation art – including the Greeks, Romans, and Sasanians in Iran – and the role of Islamic mathematicians, astronomers, and scientists in driving the style to its perfection. The mathematical elegance of these designs is that no matter how elaborate, they are always based on grids, and even amateur artists can build a remarkable visual spread using only a compass and ruler.

After this discussion, attendees – each of whom received a compass and ruler – got to work on their own masterpieces. Led by Gabriel Rojkind and Aqsa Bano, this wait-listed seminar was geared towards both those interested in the cultural and artistic dimensions of Islam as well as anyone interested in art more generally.

Meanwhile, in New York City in August, MALA partnered with the American Sephardi Federation to host “Maktuv,” an evening of inter-cultural art. As cognates, Maktoob and K’tuv (together, “Maktuv”) mean “written” in Arabic and Hebrew. The class used calligraphy to explore the significance of Arabic in Islam and Hebrew in Judaism, as well as the close relationship between both Semitic languages.

This hands-on workshop, which was also waitlisted, was a welcoming space for attendees to share their personal connections with the holy languages of two faiths and to engage with these two languages through the beauty of calligraphy.

This seminar was led by Ruben Shimonov. Originally from Uzbekistan, Shimonov comes from the native Persian-speaking Jewish population of Central Asia. This community — the Bukharian Jews — has lived alongside their Muslim neighbors for 1,300 years, engaging in cultural and intellectual commerce.

MALA is excited to host more of these hands-on, arts-centric events in the coming year, including a special tessellation seminar for architects in Chicago in October, and an exhibit of rising young Muslim American photographers early in 2019. MALA is also collecting artist stories to share alongside these events. Stay tuned!



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