Asma Ahmed Shikoh: redefining art

Posted on October 2, 2013 by

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Asma Ahmed Shikoh is an American Muslim artist currently living in New York City. She grew up in Pakistan, within a very traditional society and identified herself as a Muslim. Her artwork today has been nationally recognized, as she is working to create a new kind of Islamic art that is Westernized and female-centric. Shikoh is looking to move past the common stereotype of a female Muslim and identify herself as something more than where she is from and her religious affiliation. She is representing a community that is in desperate need of representation as American Muslims are often times overlooked, misunderstood, and seen as threats to society based on their inescapable ethnic marker.  Her art portrays her new identity as an immigrant in the United States on a very personal level, yet still holds true to her Muslim heritage.

One of her most recognized and powerful pieces of art is her installation, the “Beehive” where she created a visual display of over 100 hijabs, the adorned head scarves that most Muslim women wear and placed them inside a large beehive. In the Quran, Honeybees are said to have a special healing power, in which it states “And consider how thy Sustainer has inspired the bee; Prepare for thyself dwellings in mountains and in trees, and in what men may build for thee by way of hives. And lo! There issues from within these bees a fluid of many hues, wherein there is health for man.”  The significance of the beehive for this project is the fact that all the worker bees are females. The hive is formed of cells of each of the hundred women who have submitted a scarf. “Each cell holds a scarf with the identity, occupation and location of the owner; it reflects the belief in the self-empowering identity of the Muslim American women” states Shikoh. The head scarf conforms to a standard of modesty and morality. Shikoh thought back to when she attended college, to the reserved student in the back wearing a head scarf.  The woman was always disregarded and forgot about as she sat in the corner. “She had such beautiful things to say, I’m so sorry I didn’t realize that until I moved here (New York).”   Subsequently, after moving to New York, being a minority, she joined the local mosque. “I made a few Muslim friends, and it opened my eyes. There were women who were progressive, modern, fashionable and wearing the head scarf.” After collecting scarves from over one hundred Muslim women, she was intrigued to hear the stories behind the seemingly meaningless scarves. One woman sent in her head scarf that she wore when finishing the “Bolder Boulder” marathon, and another from a Texas college student who sent the scarf she was wore boldly after her friend was attacked on their campus for wearing a hijab. She compiled all of the scarves into the overly sized beehive, creating the marvelous visual display.

This later went on to inspire her solo exhibition “Liberated”, another influential depiction of popular icons and the hijab. Shikoh particularly tries to address the stereotypes that associate Islam with terrorism and violence. She focused on creating the conception of a “unique national identity” and the idea of wearing a head scarf in a non-Muslim environment. She empowers Muslim women, giving them hope for a better future, and a sense of pride and power.  In an interview with she states, “art needs to have something to say, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”

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Posted in: Islam