Arab and Coming Out in Art That Speaks Up

Michael Luongo in The New York Times:

FlagDEARBORN, Mich. — Nabil Mousa’s first solo art exhibition was a joyous occasion, but it still brought tears to his eyes when he introduced his husband to the audience. Mr. Mousa was born in Syria and immigrated to the United States with his conservative Christian parents. In 2000, when he came out, they soon cut off contact and disowned him. Now, he was melding his two identities — gay and Arab — in a show of paintings here. And what was more surprising was where his work was being displayed: the Arab American National Museum, which was focusing for the first time on a gay artist’s exploration of discrimination. Mr. Mousa, 51, is among a small but growing number of L.G.B.T. artists of Arab descent incorporating their sexual identity into their work. In doing so, they confront their own apprehensions, along with censorship and surveillance in the Arab world, and what educators and curators say is a reluctance by some institutions in the United States to exhibit their work on its artistic rather than political merit.

In “American Landscape: An Exploration of Art & Humanity,” on view through April 8, Mr. Mousa’s gay identity is clearly recognizable in a large work that replaces an American flag’s field of stars with the Human Rights Campaign’s bold “=” symbol. A montage about ending religious bigotry is embedded in another piece. Mr. Mousa said he manipulated the American flag to address “the hypocrisy in our constitution, where they talk about every man is created under God, equal to others. But when you really look at it, people like me who are gay or people of color, we are substandard.” Arab details seem more clandestine: Richly decorated arabesques peek though thick, muddy brown paint that veils their underlying beauty. A single color — orange — pervades the work as a visual metaphor for the fear experienced by Arab-Americans in a post-Sept. 11 world, used in the coded terror warning system introduced by the George W. Bush administration.

More here.