Arab American Heritage Month has been celebrated in individual states or school districts since at least the 1990s. Beginning in 2017, there have been concerted efforts to have more state legislatures and the federal government formally recognize April as Arab American Heritage Month. Support is growing, with resolutions introduced to Congress in 2019 and 2020.
This month at Haas, we'd like to join these efforts and explore the contributions of Arab-identifying artists represented in our special and general collections. Arab heritage brings together ethnically, linguistically, religiously, and politically diverse communities. Given this monumental scope, we hope visitors will find this display as a starting point for expanding curiosity and exploration rather than an end point. In addition to information about each piece, project, or artist, we hope you'll explore links to external material to learn more!
28 Letters is an artist’s book by Islam Aly featuring the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet, laser cut and bound into a movable accordion style the book allows the reader to interact with the letters.
According to Aly, "the binding plays a powerful role in producing my artist's books, the look and presence of these bindings is an integral part of my work and they are linked to the content and aesthetics. The final pieces encourage the viewer to interact with the work." Furthermore, "I wish to explore new ways to use the rich structures of historical books in contemporary artists’ book practice and incorporate contemporary content into strictly historical structures."
The War Works Hard (2012) is a poem by Iraqi-American poet Dunya Mikhail presented as an eleven page accordion fold artist's book created by Lisa Rappoport. The English text, translated by Elizabeth Winslow, is on one side; the Arabic text is on the reverse and has its own cover, opening of course from right to left. Both sides contain drawings made for the book by John Paisley.
Dunya Mikhail was born in Baghdad and fled to the United States in the 1990s after being placed on Saddam Hussein's enemies list. She writes poetry and prose in Arabic and English exploring themes of war and exile.
Take a look at the book's catalog record. To read more of Mikhail's poetry in translation, check out this book available online or Poetry Foundation's author page. Here is the author's website. Here is Lisa Rappoport's website.
Listen to Mikhail read The War Works Hard below, or read the transcript here:
Another artist’s book by Islam Aly, The Square is an artist’s documentation and interpretation of the Egyptian uprising centered around Tahrir Square. In the artist’s own words, "Egyptian uprising called for democratic reform. Tahrir Square in Cairo became the focal point and the most effective symbol of the protests in January and February 2011. For 18 days Egyptians repeated the slogan: The People Want to Bring down the Regime (al-sha`b yurid isqat al-nizam) until the regime stepped down on the 11th of February 2011. This book focuses on the revolution slogan 'al-sha`b yurid isqat al-nizam.' Using Arabic Kufic script, the words of the slogan are repeated in an ascending sequence. Section 19 contains the English translation for the slogan 'The People Want to Bring down the Regime.' The last section contains the time and date when the regime stepped down along with the sentence 'Al Saa'b Askat al Nezam' with its English translation 'The People have Brought down the Regime'."
Jamelie Hassan’s Smurfistan is an artist’s book presenting fragments of her installations of the same name. The Smurfs, created by Peyo, were very popular among children in the 1980s. In this calamity, Smurfs preside and soldiers, cowboys, dragons, and dinosaurs dispute with each other. Hassan focuses on the world of a child, learning situations and the rupture of socio-cultural norms. The bookwork also contains a companion text, "Children & Social Spaces: Why Did Derrida Say No" by Ottawa-based fiction writer Marwan Hassan.
Sophiya Khwaja is a Pakistani artist living and working in Dubai. Her images often picture a solitary female figure, the artist herself, navigating the strange world. Landscapes diverge from reality where the earth sprouts fuzzy black hair and the atmosphere is marked with symbols -- a tiny black cloud, a single raindrop, a blue balloon -- that indicate the emotion of the work. Some of Khwaja's recent pieces use her familiar iconography, this time encased in embroidery hoops not only for their obvious association with women's work, but also for their shape. The hoops trap the figure in a never-ending bind, intricate and measured.
Take a look at the book’s catalog record. To see more images from PB&J check out the Cade Tompkins Projects page. To see more of Khwaja’s work at the gallery, check out her artists profile. Here is the artist’s website.
In addition to the Arts Library Special Collections items featured above, we have a variety of books available in the collection for you to check out, scan, or have mailed to address. Check them out below!
Hover over or click (mobile) on the Information icon to learn about each item.
Click on external links or watch embedded videos to learn more about featured artists and curators.