All posts in Chicago
Today was a jam packed day, with plenty of media including, NY1 TV, Associated Press and New York Times. Will post more pics soon. I’m finding it difficult to maintain the blog as i’m exhausted after a whole day of painting. Please do not be surpised if I am updating like every 2 days.
Day Seven brings you a powerful and emotional picture gallery featuring Aerosol Arabic (me) at work on the memorial wall mural on 56th Mt Eden Avenue in the heart of the Bronx, NY. To view our day in the Bronx click here
Bereaved mother helps Mohammed with the commemorative mural in remembrance of the children who died in the Bronx fire.
Breaking down a cultural wall
With graffiti, British artist offers vision of unity between Islam, West … but mural here must wait
By Azam Ahmed
Tribune staff reporter
Published April 16, 2007
In a world where Islam and the West are sometimes viewed as clashing cultures, Mohammed Ali’s art says otherwise.
Like many young Muslims, he grew up reading the Quran and watching music videos, praying at the mosque and listening to hip-hop.
Through his work, the British-born graffiti artist — who visited Chicago as part of a U.S. tour to promote a dialogue about Islam and the arts — challenges the assumption that the two cultures are at odds.
Instead, he offers an airbrushed metaphor for how young Muslims raised in places like Europe and the United States can connect with their faith. Ali, 27, says graffiti lends itself to blending with Arabic calligraphy because both art forms are script-based.
“I hope to inspire youth by introducing a new kind of Islamic art that is born in the West, and therefore something that belongs to us,” said Ali, who started work Thursday on a mural in Chicago.
But for now, plans for the mural, on the side of a mosque run by the Islamic Circle of North America, have been postponed, in what some Muslims say is a poignant reminder that peaceful coexistence between the cultures is a ways off.
On Friday, Ali had to stop work on the mural, which was about 5 percent done, because organizers at the mosque failed to get the necessary permits for the project.
But the oversight only surfaced after an anonymous call about the mural to the office of Ald. Bernard Stone (50th). Stone said what might have prompted the call was a misunderstanding of what the mural depicted: The letter ‘a’ in Arabic looks like a slanted column, and the a’s in the last syllable of the word “Salaam” may have looked like the falling World Trade Center towers.
It will take about a month for members of the Islamic Circle to get the mandatory permits. By then, Ali will be back in Birmingham, England, said Mahmood Khan, the president of the Chicago branch of the Islamic Circle of North America.
Khan, who plans to apply for the paperwork, said the group didn’t know they had to get permits.
“The idea behind this project was, ‘How can we connect with the masses?’
” he said. “Ali’s art is meant to bring about a message of peace and unity.”
The mural won’t be completed until Ali can return to the city, and no one is sure when that will happen. The incident devastated the Muslim youths who had campaigned so hard to get the leaders of the mosque at 6224 N. California Ave. to invite him to Chicago.
Waleed Syed, 15, said it is sad that Ali’s goal was undermined by the phone call. But he still supports the principle underlying his work.
“If you want to hold on to the traditions of Islam in America, at some point you have to blend these things together. His mural proves that [graffiti and Arabic calligraphy] can be combined,” Syed said.
The mural depicts a cityscape against a light blue background; dark blue Islamic patterns are sprayed on each side. Layered over the scene is the word “Salaam,” written in Arabic, which means “peace and blessings be upon you.”
Ali’s work, all done legally, is not about promoting Islam. Rather, he speaks to the duality felt by Muslims raised in the West, the constant pull to be devout while engaging with their society.
“That’s the power of graffiti, there couldn’t have been a more accessible art form to fuse Islam with,” he said. “You won’t find many young people who don’t enjoy graffiti.”
For Ali, the mural holds meaning beyond the synergy of two cultures. It was also a chance to do graffiti in the country where it originated. Ali has been fascinated with America’s urban scene, revering graffiti pioneers.
“Growing up I was involved in the graffiti movement in Birmingham, and there was nothing Islamic at that stage,” he said. “Like any kid, I was drawn to it. The hip-hop, the graffiti and the whole culture interested me.”
In his late teens and early twenties, Ali entrenched himself in the urban music scene, a lifestyle of late nights and partying that he said eventually left him disillusioned.
“I lost a good friend to drugs and it made me wonder what I was doing with my life,” he said. Like many Muslims he knew, Ali found solace in Islam during his college years. He embraced the traditions of the religion, the beauty and poetry of the Quran, and discovered a newfound sense of pride.
As he researched the religion, he unearthed the rich heritage of art that existed in Islam, evidenced through centuries of architecture and Arabic calligraphy.
“When you think of religion, you don’t always think of creativity, and to discover this was a huge breath of fresh air for me,” he said. “I found it could mix with my graffiti art, and that it wasn’t conflicting at all.”
To Chicago-born Mohammad Khawaja, 20, the mural reflects his reality.
“This shows the younger generation is in tune with Islam,” he said. “It’s art in terms the whole neighborhood can understand, not only Muslims,” Khawaja said.
And though much of his work hangs in galleries, Ali says the charm of graffiti is its public nature. It’s a conversation stimulant outside the halls of a museum, a democratic street art that’s available to anyone walking past it, and local Muslims say that’s what they wanted most out of the mural.
“People can see this as what we are,” said Omar Moqteen, 20. “It’s about being a part of society, and this was an important way to put a positive message out for everyone to see.”
I am writing from New York having spent 4 days in Chicago for first part of the USA Tour. We are about to embark on the mural and seminars in the New York and hoping the weather will not hinder us too much, as there are severe storms going on. As many have probably heard, the Chicago mural was stopped in its first day. You probably have read various blog postings from people who were present on the day, including my blog. I have entrusted one of the participants on the day to manage the blog to report back to everyone on the progress of the murals and seminars. So where you see certain postings by myself – it doesnt necessarily mean I wrote that! (I will try to check everything and ok anything that goes up from now on!)
I make this clarification, because when I came online today I was rather surprised at the discussion of this Chicago mural on the net and a lot of people who are supporting us in this. There is supposed to be a feature in the Chicago Tribune today on this, but more so covering the work that I do. As to how much they focus on the unfortunate postponing of the mural – I do not know, as I have to get hold of a copy.
Firstly I would like to thank everyone for their support so far. This incident truly saddened me, and I have had to leave the mural only 10% done. But I have written, “to be continued….” next to it.. so I have no intention on abandoning the wall. In fact what has happened and the support from ICNA, and the islamic artists group, as well as many others, has motivated me more so in continuing the work that I do, in using Art as a means to connect communities and encourage dialogue and understanding.
However i must add, at this point, i’m not so sure what the best move is, as I think there certainly has been a lot of injustice, but also a lot of misunderstanding.
The fact is, the letters of the world Saalam/Peace, (Seen, Laam, Alif, and Meem) it seems was interpreted as depicting the toppling twin towers, when in fact it was an innocent Laam and Alif at an angle! The ones responsible for the complaint, saw this as a negative thing, and did not see that this mural was promoting peace and unity, alongside the chicago skyline, which would also feature a mosque and a church.
This is clear bigotry and hence a complaint was made regarding a “permit” that would be required for such a mural to be painted. We are still investigating whether this is really the case, as this was a private building. Anyway, Alderman Stone, reacted by personally visiting the site and stopping us due to the “lack of a permit”.
There are a number of representatives from ICNA who are negotiating and discussing with the relevant departments in resolving this issue quickly and smoothy, without any issues, or any further fitnah(arabic for trials and tribulations) caused.
I am quite confident that we will granted permission (thats if we actually do need a permit for painting a privately owned wall!). Either way, I am sure it will be resolved and I ask any of you from refraining from any judgements until further clarifications are made. Yes, this is a sad incident and I am truly disgusted by the bigotry here, but lets use a bit of Hikmah(arabic for wisdom) and not be hasty in dealing with this situation. I shall post more info on this matter soon,
Right now, i must go and check the wall location in the Bronx and see if the weather permits me to paint.
Thanks for your time in reading this. I do hope and pray the rest of our tour is a success and opens up peoples eyes. Ameen.
Mohammed Ali (Yes, this is actually me posting this!)
My USA Cell phone while i am here: 773 344 5187
7:28pm Saturday, Apr 14
The mural has been indefinitely postponed due several complications, among them, ignorant and seemingly bigoted firefighters…
Just proves the need of such programs in the first place, to deal with such ignorance. Chicago Tribune has covered the story, so Monday morning there will be a feature.
Oh, and by the way, we did our own research on this “permit” that we are supposed to have for painting this wall., and it turns out, that they had no right to stop us as permits are required for commerical signs and advertisements, and public art is excluded. So its all bit fishy…..!
—The following is an article relating yesterdays depressing events and extreme ignorance that led to the temp. cancellation of the ICNA Chicago Mural—
Friday the 13th and Chicago City Politics; a Lesson in the ‘Windy City’
by: Muhammad T. Akbar aka Tauseef
Muslims are a pretty superstitious people, with our Taveez’s (amulets), crazy Jinn stories, the conspiracies that many of us buy into (i.e. the free masons, P.E.P.S.I or Pay Every Penny to Support Israel, 9/11 (Bush done it!) and other such malarkey, but Friday the 13th is usually dismissed as just another day and hasn’t really affected the American Muslim community the way it has other Americans (some wont go to work on the 13th). Today’s event at the ICNA Mosque on California and Granville in Chi-Town might have changed that belief. This Friday the 13th ICNA was co-sponsoring an event with the Arts Council of England, in which Mohammed Ali, a world class artist who fuses graffiti and Islamic calligraphy on tour in America was to do a mural with the message ‘PEACE’ in both Arabic and English.
The morning was beautiful, forecasts expecting cold weather and a chance of rain had turned out to be wrong (unpredictable Chi-Town weather) and the sun was out bathing us in its rays, that exciting feeling of expectation that only occurs on Friday was in the air. A lot of local youngsters were enthusiastically waiting to do the project, my friend and a fellow Graf. Artist Jorge and his girlfriend Rebecca also showed up so the atmosphere was beautiful; a diverse crowd of different backgrounds coming together to make a landmark in a neighborhood that could really use some much needed color and character. All morning and into the afternoon as we started filling in letters residents and people off the street would come up and say to us, “We love what you are doing,” “this is a great idea” and “we support you.” Mind you this is a community where there isn’t much communication amongst neighbors. Some people would stop by and just admire the work; all I know is as we progressed on the mural more and more people started showing up.
The only uneasy feeling that we had was the all white mostly Fire House across the street. Company 71 firefighters standing out there watching what we were doing, growls on their face, hands crossed on their chest watched us and it seemed strange, but we decided to continue with the work. Then out of no where this brand new shiny silver Benz pulls up and looking like Freddie Krueger the oldest Alderman in American history Bernie Stone pops out and his super man chauffeur asks us very rudely, “Where is your permit?” Taken aback by this we ask “Who are you?” and he points his finger to Bernie “Do you know who this man is? This is Bernie Stone.” And of course we were like “and?” but the strangeness didn’t end there. As Bernie went on to explain that “For any sign that is over 100 square feet you need a permit authorized by the City, this can take months,” his chauffeur butt in and pointed towards the Fire House, “Those guys say that, ‘After everything that happened in New York [9/11],’ and now we have to look at that [the mural] every time we go out!’” (all recorded on video and going on YouTube soon). Well, fair to say at that point all hell was about to break loose as those participating in the mural were ready to wreak havoc and get fired up. What has this got to do with what happened in New York we were thinking and the ironic thing is that in a few days Mohammed stops in New York as part of his tour and he plans to do a mural commemorating those who died in the recent Bronx fire!
The political factor is that Bernie Stone is involved in a run off election for the aldermanship against Naisy Dolar, a race which is very close and a true challenge which Bernie hasn’t faced in over 30 years. Safe to say they are scared as hell because to add fuel to their worries is the fact that the C.F.D and the Unions aren’t backing Bernie but instead are favoring Naisy. So what is going on here? Let’s just say it looks like good ole Chi-Town politics. Bernie doesn’t want to look like a fool in these last days with the final day to cast votes approaching on April, 17. He can’t afford to give ammunition to Dolar’s side by showing that he doesn’t follow the ‘law.’ Or it could be that he doesn’t want to be seen as siding with ‘terrorists,’ because in learning more about this it seems the firemen were under the impression that the Arabic letters ‘laam’ and ‘alif’ were the twin towers collapsing! Why couldn’t they talk to us if they had a concern about the mural? Now, who can’t understand the Firemen’s (over)sensitivity, but when we went there to talk with them they immediately shut down their garage door and hid inside the fire house. We rang the bell numerous times and when they came out and we attempted to dialogue with them they completely avoided our pleas and attempts to bring some understanding to the situation. The Chief of the house said plainly when Mohammed told him of the work he will be doing in New York that, “The last time I was in New York was for the funeral of those who died on 9/11.” What is that supposed to mean? Bernie doesn’t want to get caught in any controversy but why didn’t he repudiate those comments, he remained silent about them, let them just slide. He seems afraid of any move that might be used by his rivals against him. What is even more compounding is that through later research we found that the Chicago City Ordinance states, “17-12-0500 The following are exempt from regulation under this Zoning Ordinance and do not require sign permits…17-12-0504 Works of art with no commercial message.” I guess the argument can be made about whether what was going on today was a ‘sign,’ but this seems like a complete contradiction to what Bernie was saying!
The real tragedy of this twisted Friday the13th is; what is the message to the youngsters working on this project. They just wanted to paint, for the first time they are doing something to feel good about, to feel connected with the community but they got slapped in the face. These kids are struggling with their identity, with who they are and what it means to be American and Muslim and work with others, what is the message to be learned from this for them. The issue is still in flux but Mohammed is only in Chicago until Sunday morning and then he flies out to New York. There has been talk of expediting the permit and possibly paying for Mohammed to come back and complete his work, but this day is a scary glimpse into what misunderstanding and ignorance can combine to produce.
Here are some of the pictures of the work that’s been completed thus far. As of now, the Mural is delayed until ICNA gets a permit…
You can see all the pictures here: http://picasaweb.google.com/ymchicago2/ICNAChicagoMuralPart2Day2
Its not raining today, thank God. So we are meeting at the wall at 9am… videos and images will be posted at the end of the day….to see all the pics go to http://picasaweb.google.com/ymchicago2/ICNAChicagoMuralPart2Day1