Yesterday was opening day for a new exhibit at the William Benton Museum of Art entitled, “UConn Reads: Sacred Ground,” a collaboration between the museum and The UConn Reads program, which annually chooses a book to engage community dialogue.
For the 2016-17 school year, the selection committee picked “Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America,” by Eboo Patel (http://www.beacon.org/Sacred-Ground-P930.aspx). The UConn Read’s theme for this year is “Religion in America,” making Patel’s book the perfect choice, as it centers around defending American values of inclusiveness and pluralism. Patel discusses issues American Muslims face as well as how our prejudices challenge the notion of America as an ideal.
The exhibit features multiple artists and mixed mediums of artwork, including photographs, oil paintings, prints and layered pieces. The Sacred Ground exhibit includes passages from the text to accompany the art in order to reinforce the themes of the book. Photographer Diana Barker Price coordinated the images with the specific quotes. As you walk through the exhibit, videos of Patel also play in the background, allowing you to not only read his words and view the artwork, but listen to him discuss his book.
The Benton’s Executive DirectorNancy Stula, says the exhibit and the book speak to” a kinder America where every religion is accepted.” Featuring mainly Muslim artists, the pieces include dual imagery and the merging of two traditions. Artist Shadi Ghadirian, who has five archival digital pigment prints in the exhibit, used her friends as models, photographing them against traditional Iranian and Persian backgrounds and adorning them with modern objects such as telephones and cameras. Artist Mehdi-Georges Lahlou has three pieces in the gallery, a series of Catholic Renaissance-style Madonnas over which he layers Muslim-inspired mosaic patterns. Artist Mahmood Sabzi also merges the American and Muslim cultures by combining iconic American images, such as Liz Taylor, Elvis, McDonald’s and a Batman comic, with Persian rug patterns. Hojat Amani, an Iranian artist, combines typical Persian still life paintings with American culture as well, incorporating Coca-Cola bottles in his art. All these artists draw from their backgrounds, religion, childhood, and familial relationships as inspiration.
Shoja Azari, who incorporates his experience as a filmmaker in his art by mounting his oil paintings on very powerful filmstrip-esque wallpaper, crafted two of the largest pieces in the gallery. Also, featured prominently in the entrance of the exhibit, is a well-recognized photograph by Steve McCurry, which was used as the cover of National Geographic magazine.
Stula said she hopes students will visit the exhibit. “It’s very timely. The current political situation reverberates around campus...We chose works that would suggest to the viewer that all religions are linked,” she said.
The exhibit will be available at UConn until March 12. Patel, one of the best-known American Muslim leaders and author of the book in tandem with the exhibit, will be visiting campus on March 1. All works in the exhibition are courtesy of the Leila Heller Gallery.
Julia Mancini is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.firstname.lastname@example.org.