Michelle Ko's Creative Portfolio

Muslim Voices in Contemporary World Literature

Month: October 2014

The Suns of Independence

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Ahmadou Kourouma’s The Suns of Independence provides a window into which viewers can peer into to better elucidate the relationship between religion and culture. In The Suns of Independence, culture and religion often intertwine, sometimes clashing. For example, at one point in the story, the narrator of the novel asks, “Are they [the Malinke] fetish-worshippers or Muslims?” (72). The narrator proceeds, answer his own question by pointing out the paradox that “A Muslim heeds the Koran, a fetish-worshipper follows the Koma; but in Togobala, everyone publicly proclaims himself a devout Muslim, but everyone privately fears the fetish” (72). The Suns of Independence really allowed me to see how different cultures can affect the interpretation of what Islam truly is and, more importantly, that many different cultures can house Islam within their societies. For example, an interesting point brought up during class discussion was the simple fact that Islam is a widespread, global culture. Although China, for instance, is usually considered to be a Buddhist/ Confucian/ Daoist/etc. country, Islam is actually also incredibly present in China. For example, the pegoda-like mosques, and the Han Kitab ( 漢克塔布), are manifestations of how culture can change the interpretation of a religion. My art piece primarily focuses on three cultures, each represented by a tree. The cherry blossom tree, a traditional Chinese art symbol, represents China, the tree in the center represents Africa, and the tree on the right, apparently a famous tree in Yemen, represents the Middle East. There are obviously many more countries that house Islam (the US being a major one) but I have not included them simply for aesthetic artistic purposes and a lack of space. I chose to work with trees because I understand the importance of the idea of the “garden” and of “nature” in Islamic works. The red line connecting all of the trees together represents Islam and its ability to connect different cultures together by uniting people under one faith. The red lines, or Islam, actually pierce through the different trees because Islam, too, pierces and intersects with each culture and interacts with each culture dynamically. I chose the color red because it represents the impactful and bold effect of Islam and the red line on these different cultures. Moreover, there is an old Chinese folklore about the idea of the red line or the “red string of fate” that supposedly binds lovers together. I know from previous readings about Islam (primarily the first readings from session one) (Esack, Farid. The Qur’an: A Short Introduction) that there is a great deal of love (almost bordering on romantic/ amorous) that goes into a Muslim’s attitude and feeling towards Islam

Complaint and Answer

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In Iqbal’s Complaint and Answer, the symbol of the “garden” is brought up multiple times, mainly to mirror the Islamic world, which is interesting because gardens in the Islamic world usually are symbols of “rest and reflection, and a reminder of paradise.” Therefore in Complaint and Answer, where the speakers speak about times of full bloom flowers versus times of a burning garden, you can evidently tell that the speaker believes either that Islam was at its height or at its low, degenerative form, all by just looking at how the garden is described. In my piece, I emphasize the complexity behind the symbol and the current state of this metaphoric “garden” by taking a basic image of a tree and overlaying them, having them intersect, and shading them in differently. My art piece is also a general response to the overarching theme that we’ve been able to learn from reading all of the texts and background readings and from lectures in class: there is no single Islam! In fact, there are many different versions of Islam that all depend upon who is interpreting it and where it is interpreted. My art piece tries to demonstrate this. In my piece, I take the general outline of the tree and overlay it and shade it in differently. Similarly, “Islam” can be seen as a general outline and backbone to follow, but when put into different contexts (geographical and situational), we see that Islam looks different. We begin to fill in this rough outline sketch of what exactly Islam is in a specific and particular context. The piece is done in black and white not to state that there are only black areas and there are white areas (although there are extremists). Rather, the piece is meant to emphasize the grey areas and to state that there is a complexity to the Islamic narrative that we need to consider when learning more about Islam. It is interesting because when you repurpose the outline of this tree shape, you can see that it creates new figures and new shapes. At many times, the tree is unidentifiable. Similarly, so many cultures have Islam and have repurposed it to fit and make sense within their own cultures (a lesson also vaguely deduced from reading The Suns of Independence. Islam is not simply one tree, (as seen with the tree outline) but the “Islam” name provides an outline for which other cultures and times can fill with to shape their definition of “Islam.” Islam, therefore, is the conglomeration of the mesh of trees represented by the whole of the art piece itself.

We Sinful Women

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We Sinful Women by Kishwar Naheed excellent portrays the conflict that many women feel in the current Islamic (and actually also in the entire) world. For example, Kishwar Naheed uses irony, contrast, and juxtaposition to point out the hypocritical and absurd way in which women who are called “sinful” are actually the most pious and most devout. After all, these supposedly “sinful women” in fact are those who “come out raising the banner of truth / up against barricades of lies on the highways” and those “who don’t sell our lives.” In a surprising turn, Kishwar Naheed explains how “those who sell the harvests of our bodies / become exalted / become distinguished” and how this is a weird contrast from how logic works. Logic and religion would point to the fact that the pious should be exalted and the less pious should not. In the reality of Naheed’s time (and arguably still our time), this is not always the case. The poem ends with a strong, reassuring, empowerment line that states, “The sun has chosen me for company.” My photographs of the girl in isolation are meant to describe women’s feelings of abandonment and righteous indignation in certain parts of the Muslim (and general) world. In both the first two photographs, the woman standing alone can be seen as deep in contemplation or as having a heightened emotional state (in terms of her body language–with her arms clasped together looking down and with her hands and head raised to the sky). The final, third, photo is meant to represent a couple of things. First, the yellow lighting is meant to represent the “sun” that has chosen women for company. The women are reaching into the sun. Moreover, the fact that there are many more girls on stage (as opposed to the single woman on stage) is meant to represent the fact that the woman’s experience in Naheed’s poem is most likely not a singular event. Many women are experiencing the same thing in the Islamic and in the general world around us.