When you look at modern Muslim artists today you’ll find that the vast majority of them have studied in, learned about, and adopted, various aspects of the many cultures in which they’ve lived and traveled. I meet very few Muslims who, if they have the means, have not traveled abroad from wherever their home country is. Interestingly, all Muslims are supposed to travel, at least once in their lifetime (if they can afford it) to Mecca, K.S.A. to partake in the annual ritual pilgrimage – a forced interaction with people from dare I say all places and cultures of the world.
I’m a convert to Islam, I converted in 2000, and I consider myself an expat American. I’ve traveled throughout the Western USA, the Netherlands, Egypt, and the U.A.E., and I’m now currently living in and traveling throughout Pakistan. I like to think of myself as global citizen, which is what many of the other Muslim artists I know also are, and that’s reflected in our art. But we each also have our roots and our own rich family histories to make sense of and re-interpret. I think much of what we do as artists is strive to blend and combine all these new experiences we’re having with our own personal traditions in new ways.
In this global economy, and in this diasporic condition of cultures, subcultures, refugees, and immigrants, we are finding that our artistic traditions are blending together like an ever-deepening Gaussian blur.
For millennia our interactions were based on the trade of spices, foods, handicrafts, fabrics, and other raw materials – this has always been one way that we “met” each other and were exposed to new people and cultures. Trades and traditions intermingled and shifted. It’s just happening faster now. We can go online and order an exquisitely made hand-carved Moroccan end table, bring it into our home, and put a Chinese jade sculpture on it, with a Peruvian rug on the floor below. Just a few centuries ago these were expensive collector items that only the most affluent or adventurous travelers could acquire. So due to greater accessibility we’re being exposed earlier and earlier to all these various traditions.
At the same time the influx of exposure is leading to massive worldwide exploitation of these crafters as well. More often than not they are not being paid what their time, skills, or even the raw materials (like semi-precious stones) alone, are worth – only “pennies on the dollar” as we say in the States. Highly skilled artisans and craftspeople, and the natural environment, are being exploited on a global scale. We really ought to be honoring the objects, and their craft, as a rarity, and giving them the respect they deserve – which means starting by at least paying a fair price for the crafters’ efforts.
I believe the diaspora, bringing with it this deepening exposure to the richness of niche talents and handicraft in many countries, has also created a sense of entitlement in the more exploitative nations. They want to experience the richness of those traditions, but are still not willing to pay a living wage to all the brokers and craftspeople – and that’s unfortunate.
I sincerely hope that more people begin to place higher value on their possessions and save up diligently to pay extra for quality fair-trade artworks and artifacts because that bit extra that someone in a privileged country is stingy to give is quite honestly the difference between life and death for a worker, artist, or craftsperson in an exploited country.