Tuesday, September 27, 2016

9/11 Unleashed Ethical Questions

Like many current students, Rachel Winter (MA candidate, Religious Studies, CLAS) vividly remembers 9/11 as a pivotal moment of her early childhood. The day was already set to be a serious one, as her mother was scheduled to undergo a critical surgery at a hospital near downtown Chicago. As events unfolded on the east coast, it was unclear if other cities might be targeted, and the hospital was evacuated, delaying the surgery. Though her mom was okay, the attack rattled the family and unleashed anti-Muslim sentiment that was previously unknown to Winter.

“It was really confusing to hear my family, the people I loved, making these racist slurs. I didn’t understand if this was okay or not,” she says.

Childhood Memories Connect with Contemporary Art

Those events stayed with her. As an undergraduate art history major at the University of Iowa, she took a class on postcolonial art. When she saw the work of Palestinian artist and filmmaker Emily Jacir that paired images of Ramallah and New York City, Winter’s haunting childhood memories found an aesthetic landing point.

“You really can’t tell which place is which,” she says of Jacir’s series. “It got me very interested in what Middle Eastern artists have to say.”

Combining her training in art with her current work in religious studies, Winter has curated an exhibit that is on display at the Old Capitol Museum through January. Have No Fear—Islamaphobia in the 21st Century follows the arc of Orientalism in art through the events of 9/11 in which the “other” is reiterated. The exhibit then questions how an artist can construct an identity or make art as a refugee who is essentially homeless.

Exhibit Took Shape Through Two Degree Programs and Obermann Graduate Institute

The idea for the exhibit came to Rachel during her second year as a undergraduate. Based largely on copyright-free images she has collected over several years, the exhibit culminates with artwork by Syrian children that was created in a refugee camp.

A 2016 Obermann Graduate institute Fellow, Rachel is now looking ahead to PhD programs where she hopes to study the role of art in understanding terrorism. "Terrorism" is a complex term for her, and she hopes that visitors to her current exhibit will see that the Middle East is suffering from terrorism just as much as the Western world is.

November 3 Panel Focuses on Muslim American Identity

In conjunction with the exhibit and with sponsorship from the UI Center for Human Rights, Winter has organized a panel discussion, “Being Muslim in America: Islam, Identity, and Self-Expression After 9/11,” featuring College of Law Professor Adrien Wing, writer/activist Shams Ghoneim, and President of the Muslim Student Association, Mohammad Ismail. The discussion is from 6:30–7:30 p.m. in the Old Capitol Senate Chambers on Thursday, November 3.