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Making space: Muslim artists hold panel on creative careers

The Muslim Feminists for the Arts hosted an Artist Career Panel on Tuesday, April 16 at the Kathleen W. Ludwig Global Village Living Learning Center on Douglass campus. The event included a guest panel of three Muslim artists that taught the attendees various skills from how to make your own web-series to the basics of Arabic calligraphy. When I walked into the room, I felt a candid and amicable atmosphere wash over me. People laughing, talking and encouraging each other to eat made me feel welcomed. 

Ali Abbas was the first of the panelists to deliver his presentation and talk. He is a queer, Muslim writer and creator based out of New York City whose focus is in horror, sci-fi and comedy. Some of his works include the hit horror dark comedy web series, "The Girl Deep Down Below." Currently, Abbas is a diversity fellow for the Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC and is working on his new horror sci-fi series about artificial intelligence.

His presentation at the Artist Career Panel delved deeper into his own experience and obstacles navigating the filmmaking industry. It’s already hard as it is for most people to squeeze their way into meetings with renowned writers and producers. Abbas highlighted that it’s even harder for people of color to move through these spaces and tell their stories accurately. His presentation included a rundown of tips and resources for those who needed to know the 101 on scriptwriting. He also pointed out some stereotypes and tropes used in TV shows, films and media that render many people of color and their identities as one dimensional and invisible. 

“I focus on science fiction and horror because I grew up with these genres thinking that I was a part of them, until I realized that there aren’t many spaces either in science fiction or horror for people of color, Muslims or queer people," Abbas said. "I realized that these genres that I wrote for and loved didn’t have room for me, so I set out to create that space.” 

Many spaces for artists aren’t designed to include people of color or examine the art from the Muslim world and other heritages that aren’t Eurocentric. The second panelist was Zahra Bukhari, a designer at GHD Partners, who made sure to expand on the lack of spaces for Muslims in the art world. She received her Bachelors of Fine Arts at Mason Gross School of the Arts where she studied visual arts with a double concentration in design and printmaking. Bukhari also co-founded and co-led the Muslim Feminists for Arts organization.  

“My goal is to create a platform for people to speak about the importance of Islamic feminism through the visual, literary and performing arts,” she said. 

In her talk she highlighted how difficult it can be pursuing a career in the arts when people from her own community don’t tend to take her profession as seriously as her brother’s degree in finance. But she made sure to leave on an empowering note as she talked about the need for more Muslims to go into art, filmmaking and design so we can create art that represents the world we live in. 

The last guest of the evening, artist Areej Sabzwari, gave the attendees the opportunity to interact with her, and each other through art. A design enthusiast, her work is rooted in creating an emotional connection with the environment and the viewer. She runs her art studio with a focus on Islamic art and calligraphy. Sabzwari holds a Bachelor of Architecture from NJIT and a Master of City and Regional Planning from Rutgers University. She is a self-taught artist and was brought to share some of her work and expertise with attendees.  

She hosted a short workshop that gave the audience the chance to try Arabic calligraphy for themselves. Students stacked papers so the markers wouldn’t bleed through as Sabzwari talked the audience through the steps of writing Arabic alphabets and words during her calligraphy workshop. 

As the night and event came to an end, students and faculty rushed to talk with the guest panelists. Many of the guest panelists exchanged the list of resources at their disposal with students looking to expand their interest in the arts. For me, as a content creator and student at Rutgers, I was grateful to be in a space where successful artists validated my line of work. It was amazing to see the way these artists were so open to helping others create room for their stories and encourage all to live in their creative expression.

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