The Arabic Dancers of the Toledo Mosque, circa
1969-70, from the film “A Thousand and One Journeys: The Arab Americans.”
Credit Zeitoune FilmWorks/The Islamic Centre of Greater Toledo
visit “Wondrous Worlds: Art and Islam through Time and Place” at the
Newark Museum may also be interested in a screening of “A Thousand and One
Journeys: The Arab Americans,” an award-winning documentary currently on the
festival and screenings circuit.
they may not be.
together Islam and the Arab-American experience is precisely what the curators
of the exhibition and the executive producer of “A Thousand and One Journeys”
hope people will not do.
is a goal of both undertakings, whose paths converge only in that they hope to
engage New Jersey audiences.
who grew up in Paterson and is the executive producer of “A Thousand and One
Journeys,” said that when he tells people that he’s from Syria and a Christian,
they are often stumped. “They just assume I’m Muslim,” he said. “There are so
many misconceptions out there about what it means to be Arab-American.”
started pooling funds to make his first documentary in 2007 after what is now
known in his family as “hummusgate.”
“My son was
at day care; he was 3 or 4 and somebody made a face and said something to him
about his hummus sandwich,” Mr. Kasbo said. “It brought me back to when I first
came here from Aleppo as a 10-year-old, and the same sort of stuff happened to
me. Now it’s 36 years later, and nothing has changed. Now we have Trump talking
about Muslims and Arabs.”
Part of the
appeal of the 90-minute film is the help Mr. Kasbo recruited in telling it:
Former Senator George J. Mitchell, the actor Jamie Farr, the political activist
Ralph Nader and the journalist Helen Thomas, who died in 2013, all of Lebanese
descent, make appearances.
particular interest to New Jersey audiences may be the movie’s discussion of
the Paterson silk mills, and the Arabs who settled in the area to work in them
in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. “They were textile workers back in
Syria and Lebanon and Palestine. They helped build those industries,” Mr. Kasbo
to the misguided notion that all Arabs are Muslim, Mr. Kasbo addresses other
pet-peeve fallacies in the film, including the idea that Arab-Americans come
from unsophisticated cities.
as cosmopolitan as New York, but people think its backwoods. It’s ridiculous,”
he said of Syria’s largest — and currently war-torn — city.
cosmopolitan cities and rural edges of the earth, from Africa to Australia, are
represented in the “Wondrous Worlds” exhibition; the only continent without a
presence here is Antarctica.
“One of the
very unusual things about this exhibition is that we’re featuring works from
all over the world, not just the Middle East,” said Katherine Anne Paul, lead
curator of the exhibition and the curator of Arts of Asia at the museum. “I
think there’s a lack of awareness of how expansive and far-reaching the world
of Islamic art is.”
pieces on display date from the ninth century and are drawn from the museum’s
vast collection of 275,000 objects, including carpets, costumes, jewellery,
ceramics, prints, paintings and photographs.
heavily represented include Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Iran and India. But
France, China, the United States, Indonesia, Malaysia and many other countries
make appearances, too — some more lavishly than others. For example, from
Uzbekistan and Tajikistan is an embroidered, sequined horse cape dating to the
late 19th or early 20th century.
how you pimped your ride back then,” said Dr. Paul, whose co-curator for the
show is Kimberli Gant, the museum’s Mellon Curatorial Fellow of Arts of Global
Islam are not always obvious in “Wondrous Worlds.” Prestige garments like the
horse cape, for example, might seem opposed to the modesty of dress Islam
encourages, such as the simple 19th-century Sudanese tunic that is on view
beside it. But in the secular Islamic world, such items marked social rank in
throughout the sprawling show helps connect the dots. So does the show’s
division into sections. In addition to “Modest Beauty: Dress, Fashions and
Faith,” the section with the tunic and horse cape, “Wondrous Worlds” explores
the Quran and calligraphy and book arts; hospitality and the domestic arts
through objects like ceramics and musical instruments; architecture and its
offspring, such as tiles; and the intercontinental trade nurtured by the hajj
item displayed is a knotted Egyptian prayer rug from the early 17th century.
“There are only five known similar examples,” Dr. Paul said. “What
distinguishes it is the quality of the materials — fine silk, wool and cotton —
coupled with the specific format that was most likely drawn in the Ottoman
court,” she said. A section of the rug is worn, she added, probably from daily
show opened in February, Dr. Paul expected controversy, but she hasn’t
encountered any, perhaps because of her guiding principle.
goal in presenting anything is, ‘Look, we’re all people, and this person
thought about creating this thing this way because they live in this place in
this time and have these resources,’” she said. “One of the great things about
art is it can speak to the basics of humanity. That’s what I hope we did here.”
Worlds: Art and Islam Through Time and Place” is at the Newark Museum, 49 Washington St.,
Newark, through May 15. For information: 973-596-6550 or newarkmuseum.org.
and One Journeys: The Arab Americans” will be shown at Sacred Heart Armenian
Catholic Church, 155 Long Hill Road in Little Falls, on April 10 at 2 p.m., and
on May 19 at the Paterson Museum, 2 Market Street, Paterson. For more