by BETSY MOWRY
As if being an artist isn’t challenging enough, Tekween—a combination of visual arts and art-related workshops—at the Center for Independent Artists (CIA), explores the unique characteristics and difficulties of being both an artist and an Arab in the United States. In Arabic, Tekween means “forming” and “formation,” and for this show it provides a thoughtful forum for Arab artists to ask meaningful questions surrounding both their heritage and their artwork. Is work by an artist of a particular culture accessible to other cultures, and should it be? Should immigrants stay true to the “visual vocabularies” of their cultures? How is art produced that is recognizably Middle Eastern? Is it more important for Arab artists to connect to their roots when they are living away from home? Can work translate into other cultures? Why is Arab art subjected to Western definitions and values?
questions and more were the focus of Tekween’s six workshops held
over two months. The sessions were lead by art professor Elizabeth Erickson,
who runs the Women’s Art Institute at the Minneapolis College of Art and
Design. In fact, the women’s program at MCAD was used as the model for
Tekween. In the workshops, artists from countries including Egypt, Jordan,
Iraq, Morocco and Saudi Arabia aimed to define the languages of contemporary
Arab art and their connections to Arabic cultural values. Participants talked
about their artistic identity, their vision, how they related to their homelands,
what they brought to American culture and what they brought to contemporary
art. In addition, the artists had on-line discussions with Sana Makhoul, a California-based
Palestinian art historian. Through questions, discussions and critiques, they
explored their artistic connections with their Arab roots.
CIA assistant director and Tekween program coordinator Hend Al-Mansour
believes in the necessity of pursing art with cultural significance. “For
me, I am driven to make art that carries the Arab identity,” she said.
“At this time, being an Arab here [in the United States] is a responsibility
to ascertain who you are. We have to invite people to know how we think and
Al-Mansour continued, “There are a combination of challenges that artists
in general face, and challenges that minorities and immigrants face …
we are torn between the institution represented by museums and art critics,
and our own visual language and expression. It is a struggle with the desire
to be in the art scene and to be honest to our inner voices at the same time.”
The group discussed the challenges they face as Arab artists trained in both
Western and Middle Eastern art models. They looked at different examples of
successful Arab artists and examined their own work as a group in an effort
to answer some of the many questions surrounding them each day. Each participant
created new work that will be featured in a group exhibition and performance
The display promises to be a rich and intriguing collection of work. The core
of Tekween artists are members of a local organization called Arab Artists
of the Twin Cities, and all but one of Tekween's contributors is a practicing
artist. In asking Al-Mansour about the goals of the project, she said, “Our
main goal is to grow artistically as Arab artists. We want to have a distinctive
and authentic voice. We also want to build a community. We already have fantastic
runs Aug. 11–Sept. 3. Opening reception is Fri. Aug. 11, 7–10 p.m.
CIA is located at 4137 Bloomington
Ave. S, Mpls., 612-709-1734. Gallery hours are Tue.–Sat. noon–5
p.m.; Wed. noon–9 p.m. & by appointment.