Being A Muslim Artist In America
The goal of any artist is to leave a mark and a lasting impression. Some live by this idea while others chase it strictly as a pastime. For Emirati artist Ebtisam Abdulaziz, it’s a way of life with a purpose, and being a Muslim artist, at that, is an entirely different ballgame.
Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Science and Mathematics, Ebtisam Abdulaziz has always viewed the world through the lens of numbers, which she does to redefine the vantage points and strangleholds of everyday society.
In 2007, Ms. Abdulaziz wore a black bodysuit covered in numbers, which were her bank statements. This portrays the damaging characteristics of humanity and how a person could become reduced to bleakness amid consumerist civilizations that only shake the hand of the substantial profit.
Ebtisam has been in Washington, DC for less than four years and is already making waves with her unique artistic message, which left us curious to find out more:
DC Life Magazine: Was there a “yes” moment in life when you decided to become an artist?
Ebtisam Abdulaziz: I was born as an artist, even though I got a degree in science/mathematics. I knew that I wanted to be an artist as it is my passion. As a child, I was a bit different from my brothers and sisters. I liked being alone, drawing and painting continuously. My father encouraged me in that, and so after finishing school, I thought about studying art. However, at that time there was no art school in the Emirates and the Gulf region. And because I have always loved numbers and calculations, I decided to study mathematics.
If you see the work I have created since 2000, you don’t imagine me as a painter. Nonetheless, initially, painting was unavoidable. Because when I realized after my degree that I wanted to create art, the only thing available was the summer courses offered by the Emirates Fine Arts Society in Sharjah. There, students were taught quite traditionally how to draw in perspective, as well as basic skills in painting.
DC Life Magazine: How would you briefly explain your art?
Ebtisam Abdulaziz: Art is, to me, all the media and principles humans use to produce a work that expresses their ideas. A work of art is the embodiment of an idea expressed through an artistic form. It is closely related to social progress and human intellect- the more knowledgeable we become, the more that reflects on our art. I always seek to express myself with the tools of my time- with the tools available because of change.
In my works, I attempt to reflect this emancipation of the artist. Most of my art expresses a great deal of change in myself as an artist and how I deal with the idea and reality. I cannot be detached from the events that surround me. An artwork is being reproduced at many levels. I began to wonder about the entity and the value that makes it a work of art. I used installations, video, photography, paintings, drawings, maps, my body, system art- any and everything that is modern- in producing my art. I also dealt with everyday issues laden with psychological poignancies; issues like life and death, happiness and sorrow, love, hate and jealousy, justice, freedom, women as well as other human situation we are faced within our daily lives. Some works concern the relationship between visual culture and its incorporation of modern technology, giving a new technological visual vigor to my work.
The variety of shapes and materials, from photographs to video, installation, numbers, geometric shapes and performances are definitely exhibited for different purposes. Some document the accelerating times, others are blueprints of giant environmental projects, through which I showcase ideas that search for human nature and sail into an adventure which explores the workings of the human brain. Others present an alternative concept to the accelerating change in our environment, and other visual concepts that explain the contrast between shadow and light. Other aspects of my art raise issues relating to women at its core, and the coalescence of the environment and social issues on women; in this respect, it is my intention to express the conflicts between the individual and society. Furthermore, I represent each and every woman who is searching for freedom.
DC: Has being a Muslim artist in the U.S. been a challenge or has it been unique?
EA: Simple answer is YES. But that’s exactly what I wanted, I basically moved to the U.S to challenge myself, as it has been more than 3 and a half years already. Also, it is a unique experience. In general, being a woman/ Arab or Muslim has been a challenge, especially me being a performance artist. As an Arab Muslim woman from Dubai, who has been judged but not seen, I examine the suffering and challenges that differ from the experiences of men, although both are indivisibly constrained by societies expectations. I speak to the state of the female, Arab artist. In some of my performances, I utilize the body, which traditionally has not ‘been seen’ in Arab society and is regarded very differently in American society. Some other pieces speak about the consumers of Western media. Muslims are constantly exposed to narratives that link terrorism to Islam. I aim to express the conflict between the individual and society. I am troubled by how I am being seen as an artist, female, Arab, Muslim and person of color in American society, which conflicts with how I want to be seen.
DC: Does your work have a goal in mind?
EA: Definitely. I wouldn’t call it a goal, but it’s the concept behind each body of work that’s important. That’s why I call my art conceptual art. Since the concept is the most important element, and it drives the medium of each artwork as a different idea/ notion. I believe art is not what you see, it is what you think.
DC: How are you inspired to create different pieces of art?
EA: I become inspired by anything and everything. My works are a clear and present part of who I am in the theatre of life and daily existence. Some of my art documents the accelerating times, others are blueprints of giant environmental projects, through which I showcase ideas that search for human nature and sail into adventure, exploring the workings of the human brain. Others present an alternative concept to the accelerating change in our environment, and other visual concepts that explain the contrast between shadow and light. Some are intimately related to optical illusion art in a display of visually distorted geometric shapes and lines, which surely betray my closeness to mathematics. Manipulating numbers and mathematical systems is simply a cry of revolt against the shackles of oppressive regimes. Some represent my political statements.
DC: Outside of your art, what artistic field do you enjoy most?
EA: Besides making art, and being a writer which is what I enjoyed most, I like music, movies, reading, and dancing. If I weren’t a visual artist, I might be a singer, I knew I had this from my mother who has a very nice voice. And my father was a talented painter & photographer.
DC: What can we expect from you in the months and years to come?
EA: I will continue to see a big shift in my art since I moved to the U.S. I also see lots of different art coming out. I am also planning on publishing my book, hopefully by the end of 2018. I will continue producing art, and get more involved in the art scene. I see myself collaborating with American artists, which will be a great experience.
DC: Do you have a daily regimen that you follow?
EA: For sure. I am an artist and a mathematician too, so I love to organize my day. Having said that, I get bored having a routine in my life, so every day is different but has some sort of regimen. I can’t start my day without my morning coffee, and I must work on something. I am a workaholic when it comes to my art career. I do have a part-time though that I take very seriously since I enjoy it; its related to art and I teach art for an after-school program. I try to stay active every day, so I either take a walk, attend a Zumba or dance class, or go to the gym. Reading is part of my daily routine, too. I carry my sketchbook and I like to write my ideas and make sketches whenever I see something that might inspire me.
DC: For anyone aspiring in the arts, what would you tell them?
EA: Go for it, think big, and go crazy with your art. It is who you are, it is your way to express yourself. Be brave, read, and see art as much as you can.
DATE AND TIME: Sat, January 20, 2018, 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM EST
Washington, DC 20009