In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, The Museum of the City of New York has curated a thought-provoking exhibition titled “City of Faith: Religion, Activism, and Urban Space.” The exhibition, primarily focusing on South Asian-American communities, showcases the rich art, vibrant activism, and undeniable joy that emanate from these diverse cultures. CBS2 was privileged to be given a gallery tour, guided by Dr. Azra Dawood, the curator of the exhibition, who highlighted the significance and stories behind each captivating piece.
Fragrant Odes to Muslim Heritage
One of the striking sculptures featured in the exhibition is “A Love Supreme” by the artist Tinais. This awe-inspiring creation resembles a large page of sheet music adorned with rope incense arranged as musical notes. Dr. Dawood explained that the sculpture’s purpose is to boldly celebrate fragrance and provoke critical thinking about the extensive history of Muslims in the United States. The mix of fragrances, including frankincense, musk, sandalwood, and rose, creates a sensory experience that pays homage to the diverse cultural traditions within Muslim communities.
Portraits of Resilience
The exhibition also includes a series of five portraits that specifically honour Sikh New Yorkers. Dr. Dawood emphasised the historical significance of the Sikh community, being among the first South Asians to arrive on American soil. Following the tragic events of 9/11, Sikhs have often been misidentified as Muslims due to their distinct turbans, causing them to face discrimination and misunderstanding. These poignant portraits serve as a tribute to their resilience, strength, and unique contributions to the multicultural fabric of America.
Unveiling Joyful Aesthetics and Unintentional Politics
The exhibition’s photographs capture the essence of South Asian-American communities in outdoor spaces. Dr. Dawood lauded the “joyful aesthetic” represented in these images, which are intentionally public and sometimes inadvertently political. These photographs not only document moments of celebration, but they also serve as a reminder of the diverse and inclusive nature of these communities. They defy stereotypes and challenge societal misconceptions, asserting their rightful place in American society.
An Intersectional Narrative
One captivating artwork that commands attention is “Jasmine Blooms At Night” by Jaishri Abichandani. This multi-portrait composition features a central image portraying a pair of best friends, symbolising the bonds that exist within South Asian-American communities. The artwork’s layered narrative delves into various aspects of identity, heritage, and the intersectionality of cultural experiences. Through the fusion of vibrant colours and intricate detailing, Abichandani’s piece captures the complexity and beauty of these multifaceted stories.
Exploring Violence and Police Surveillance
Among the thought-provoking exhibits in the exhibition are the pages from the book titled “Curb.” This powerful artwork delves into the harsh realities of violence against South Asian Americans in public spaces across the United States. It sheds light on the history of police surveillance within their neighbourhoods, an issue that remains relevant and requires continued dialogue and advocacy. The art and activism showcased in “Curb” aim to spark conversations and inspire collective action against injustice.
The “City of Faith: Religion, Activism, and Urban Space” exhibition at The Museum of the City of New York stands as a testament to the artistry, activism, and boundless joy found within South Asian-American communities. Curated by Dr. Azra Dawood, the exhibition highlights the cultural diversity, historical resilience, and contemporary struggles faced by these communities. Through sculptures, portraits, photographs, and thought-provoking installations, this exhibition invites viewers to celebrate, question, and engage with the multifaceted narratives of South Asian-Americans. By exploring the complexities of religion, identity, and social activism, “City of Faith” encourages a deeper understanding and appreciation of these vibrant communities’ contributions to the mosaic of American society.