By: Kanwal Malik Saba
As I gazed at the art work of the various artists that were present at the Wiregrass Art Show, I had to do a double take. Did I just see a hijabi artist displaying her work? I squinted and looked again and sure enough there was a beautiful hijabi talking animatedly to a group of people about her work. Subhan Allah!! I picked up my pace, and my son and I started walking towards her. As I said Salam and hugged her, I felt I had met a kindred spirit! My forgotten journey towards the world of color felt light years away as I started talking to Ameena Khan. It turned out that Ameena Khan was a local artist and was pursuing her love for art by displaying her work.
I have taken the opportunity to interview Ameena Khan so the local community can take advantage of her talents and learn more about this significant artist who is highlighting the struggles of Muslim women through her work. Khan’s work was recently showcased by the USF Department of Women and Gender Studies and artist-led organization Art2Action. Her work was displayed in the on-campus gallery “Dialogue in Color” (The Oracle, 2015). Khan is also currently holding an exhibition at HCC called “Loud Print”.
Ameena Khan was born and raised in Gainesville, FL. She has a Bachelors, Masters, and PhD in Environmental Engineering, specializing in water chemistry. Also, she worked as a consultant with Jones Edmunds and Association for two years, designing water treatment plants and chemical delivery systems. Khan is married and became a proud mom of a daughter in 2008 and a son in 2010. During these years, she took a break.
Eventually she went back to work part time as the Associate Director of research and development for a company inventing new technologies for water and air purification in the power industry. She worked there for two years. Subsequently, her family moved to Tampa in 2012, so the kids could take advantage of the Islamic curriculum at UAF.
At that time, she decided not to work in engineering anymore and, instead, concentrate on her passion for art. This was a very difficult decision for her, but she believed it was the right one! After a year in Tampa, she had an offer to teach art at AYA, so she began there in 2014, teaching Elementary Art.
Khan has highlighted issues regarding hijab and other struggles faced by Muslim women. An excerpt of her interview from The Oracle states “One piece in particular, “No Need for Rescue,” depicts a fierce Muslim woman glaring at the viewer from the frame. Her lips pursed and eyes fixed, her face and clothes left unpainted on an indigo backdrop, the piece demands attention.
“With that piece in particular, it is addressing the idea of the Muslim woman being a victim of her religion, of the male figures in her family, because that’s a common perspective – that the men are controlling the women,” Khan said (The Oracle, 2015). As a response to such emotions, Khan started doing a series of sketches called “No Need to Rescue”. This depicted her beliefs that the Muslim culture is often misunderstood. Khan is mostly interested in displaying her work at universities, because it can give her a platform to deliver the message that Muslim women are powerful, liberated beings who choose their own voice and are not victims. This is a great opportunity to start a dialogue that can eradicate many questions people have about Muslim women being oppressed.
Do you have a theme or goal behind your work?
I believe art is an important means of communication. Sometimes people may feel shy to ask questions, or uncomfortable with certain topics. With art, you can address difficult or touchy subjects in an indirect way. More specifically, a non-Muslim may be uncomfortable or nervous to talk to a Muslim, so communicating through art is a great opportunity to reach across those communication gaps and connect.
Can you explain the "Beyond the Veil" project on display at HCC?
When I was invited to show at HCC, I knew my primary audience would be non-Muslims. I decided it would be an opportunity to share thoughts and feelings of Muslim women with them.
I had been considering the idea for "Just a peek, please?" for over two years, but finally had the opportunity to create the series for a show. It displays different hijabs and a statement of the Muslim woman who donated the hijab. The statements exude the women’s feelings about being a Muslim woman in today’s world.
It has generated a lot of questions and discussions, so the gallery has organized a panel discussion to answer relevant questions. It is being hosted by HCC’s Gallery 221 and FOCUS International. Two representatives from CAIR and I will speak on Nov 19th 2015 at HCC Dale Mabry from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at the Learning Resource Center.
What is your message to the local young artists of our community?
Everyone is an artist! You may not be a painter or someone who likes to draw, but maybe you are an amazing writer, or perhaps you build incredible inventions! Whatever it is that you like to do, never stop being creative. Keep trying new things and learning new skills. Making art is not easy, but the world needs creative thinkers and I can't wait to see what you make!"
The Oracle website (2015). Local artist shows strength of Muslim women.
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