Empowering Women Artists Spreading The Beauty of Islamic Arts

The Islamic Arts Society (IAS) is a 501(C) organization based in Houston, TX, dedicated to sharing Islam’s rich artistic heritage with communities nationwide. Through meticulously curated events, IAS showcases Islamic Arts to audiences of both Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds throughout the United States. By harnessing the universal language of art, IAS endeavors to foster mutual understanding and religious harmony within the diverse tapestry of American society.

Preserving Tradition, Sharing Heritage: IAS’s Mission

The roots of Islamic Art can be traced back to the 7th century, emerging in lands inhabited by early Muslims. Over the course of more than 1400 years, Islamic Art has continued to evolve and flourish, leaving an indelible mark on the places where Islam has spread. This artistic tradition serves as a vivid testament to the diverse and culturally rich landscape of the Islamic world, embodying a profound legacy that transcends time and borders.

Noor Al-Hakim in front of her Islamic art display 

Since its founding in 2014, the Islamic Arts Society has organized various programs, including exhibitions, art festivals and cultural events. It has also served as a platform to allow women artists to showcase their talent and artwork. The Society also provides women with opportunities to network with artists and organizations in their community and collaborate with like minded individuals. In this way, female artists are able to make connections, build their artistic brand, and expand their reach. IAS additionally offers skill development for female artists and trains those who are interested in Islamic Art techniques. One artist, Mona Raja said that “IAS has been a catalyst in my artistic journey …and has catapulted my passion for Islamic Arts. At present, I am working on my Ijazas (teaching certification) for Ottoman tezhip (the art of illumination) and Arabic calligraphy script “maghrabi style.” 

Empowering Female Artists: IAS’s Commitment to Women in Art

Throughout the years, the society has established connections with the organizations in Houston dedicated to the fine arts, including, but not limited to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Houston Grand Opera, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Asia Society. Many of these organizations now co-sponsor the society’s annual programs and have also taken the Islamic Arts program to other cities. Female artists have the opportunity to take on leadership positions within IAS and lead projects in collaboration with these partner organizations. For instance, one artist, Kaneez Zohra Siddiqui reports, “I am proud to have the privilege of representing the Islamic Arts Society in unaccountable exhibitions, community events and public workshops. As the Henna Department Director, my team of henna artists and I, showcase the art of henna, an all-natural plant-based temporary form of body art, loved by art enthusiasts of all ages! The opportunity to connect with art enthusiasts and hear their interpretations of one’s artwork is priceless!” 

Artist Zohra Siddiqui mixes up paint as she prepares for a live art show during the annual Islamic Arts Festival 

Cultural Connections: IAS’s Collaborations and Impact

Another way female artists are given the opportunity to expand their horizons is through the Society’s signature “Building Bridges through Islamic Arts” program, where participants learn about various Islamic Art techniques. Through this interactive series of workshops in schools, libraries and colleges, female artists are able to showcase their skills to people interested in learning about Islamic Arts in Houston and in other cities beyond the state of Texas. One female artist, Shaheen Rahman, stated, “Since the formation of the Islamic Arts Society, women artists have always been fully included and supported in the full array of its events and programming. I am very grateful for this inclusivity and support which have had a tremendously positive impact on my growth as an artist. As someone who uses art as a means of outreach and connecting with a broader audience, such a platform has been the best opportunity ever!” 

Sana Mirza is illumination and calligraphy trained in the classical style.

Inspiring Creativity: IAS’s Flagship Event and Community Engagement

Another avenue for female artists to display their talent and network with others is through the Society’s flagship event, the annual Islamic Arts Festival (IAF), which is the largest and oldest festival of Islamic Arts in the United States. In 2023, the festival welcomed over 6,000 visitors and displayed the artwork of over 50 artists including three renowned women artists who flew in from different parts of America. These included Jennifer Usman from Chicago, Moina Sajjad from Dallas, and Behnaz Karjoo from New York. The festival is held on the premises of a local mosque and visitors are able to tour it. For many non-Muslims, this may be the first time they are able to view a mosque. The festival’s atmosphere is warm, positive, and curates’ curiosity for both visitors and artists alike. 

Artists are encouraged to advertise their work and engage with visitors through various activities, such as art technique demonstrations. One artist, Fetema Josh, states that the IAF has “….allowed me as an artist to use this platform to showcase my Islamic art genre and collection while being constantly connected to my roots.” She also believes that “..the IAS has also been a great contributor to bringing the community together… and brings a fresh outlook towards Muslims and their culture besides the stereotypical norms.” 

Artist Fatima Josh has started her own small business selling Islamic art. 

Nurturing Tomorrow’s Artists: The Islamic Arts Society’s Empowering Mentorship and Education Initiatives

The Islamic Arts Society’s commitment to mentorship and education stands as a beacon of empowerment for female artists. This commitment is vividly demonstrated at the Islamic Arts Festival, where the participation of as many as 200 high school youth exemplifies the society’s dedication to nurturing the next generation of creatives. Through mentorship programs, emerging female artists are connected with established figures in the field, enabling them to navigate the complexities of the Islamic Arts world and inch closer to their career aspirations.

The impact of such initiatives is palpable, as echoed by artist Hina Chaudhry’s heartfelt words. She eloquently expresses how the Islamic Arts Society has not only propelled her career forward but has also imbued her with confidence and provided a vital platform for showcasing her artwork. The profound sense of acceptance and inclusion within this esteemed group has not only boosted self-esteem but has also ignited a deep sense of fulfillment in pursuing artistic endeavors aligned with individual callings.

Ebru Artist Nazli Cizmeci prepares for a water marbling demonstration during our annual Islamic Arts Festival

Fostering a Community of Empowerment: Where Women Artists Flourish and Connect

Through this nurturing and supportive environment, the Islamic Arts Society cultivates a space where women artists are not just encouraged and valued but truly connected. This sense of belonging is undeniably empowering, offering a sanctuary for sharing experiences, seeking guidance, and drawing inspiration from fellow artists facing similar journeys.

As the Islamic Arts Society continues to expand its reach and impact, it remains steadfast in its mission to welcome and nurture new artists, ensuring that the legacy of Islamic artistry thrives for generations to come. In this ever-growing community of creativity and support, women artists find not only a canvas for their work but also a home for their aspirations, fostering a vibrant and empowered artistic landscape.

Basma Amro creates beautiful artwork with arabesque and Quranic calligraphy using 3D laser-cut woodwork 

The Islamic Arts Society stands as a testament to the transformative power of mentorship, education, and a supportive community, championing the voices and visions of women artists who illuminate the world with their creativity and passion.

Artist Moina Sajjad draws a free-hand piece of Calligraphy in the Chinese “Sinni” Style. 

By: Saman Essa

 

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