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Herbert Gentry: the man, the master, the magic

Smithsonian Institution

Collection Search Center

Herbert Gentry : the man, the master, the magic

Author: G.R. N'Namdi Gallery

Subject: Gentry, Herbert 1919-2003

Physical description: 157 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 29 cm

Type: Biography, Catalogs

Place: France-Paris, Sweden-Stockholm, United States

Date: 2008, 20th century

Topic:  African American painters, Painting, Modern, Expatriate artists, Artists, African American art

Call number: ND237.G34 H47 2008

Notes: Essays by Mary Anne Rose, Najjar Abdul-Musawwir, Brenda K. Delany, Wim Roefs, Lewis Tanner Moore

Data Source: Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Record ID: siris_sil_912608

Posted by Najjar Abdul-Musawwir on 2/14/13

Ziarah Najjar by Hasnul J. Saidon

Jiwa Halus (Fine Heart)

May peace prevails upon all beings on the earth and beyond


When I took a picture of Najjar praying in the serene and sublime prayer hall under the majestic dome of the iconic Ubuddiyah mosque of Kuala Kangsar, I had to hold by breath. I had to restrain my tears (or perhaps, macho'ness'). 

There he was, a man who used to shoot someone on the head and went to a prison for it, submitting to a faith that had saved him and allowed him to reclaim his life. 

That sad episode was more than 20 years ago. Najjar is now an Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, USA. He is also a respected and internationally-acclaimed visual artist who has exhibited his works in many countries, including recently in Malaysia. He has four daughters and a loving wife, and a life blessed with wonderful friends. In short, he has done good.

I recalled the time I spent with him in the USA about 20 years ago, when I used to tell him, "you should come to Malaysia brother. I'll bring you to some of the most beautiful mosques that you could be praying in".

To witness him bowing and 'sujud' in one of the most beautiful mosques here in Malaysia, is beyond words. 

Despite losing contact for almost 20 years, the friendship has been etched forever in my heart. 

Fate has brought us back together. Initially, circumstances that lead him back to me were never short of intrigues. I have to note Taufik Abdullah for this. He posted a picture of Najjar and I when we were in Carbondale on his blog. And Najjar, out of chance, stumbled upon it when he was google'ing'. Another friend, Ilias Yamani, also found out via the cyber world about Najjar looking for me. 

The fate was finally sealed when Najjar finally managed to call me (which many would know by now, most of the time is impossible). I almost jumped out of my chair (in joy) when I heard his voice (and his slang). It was like a long lost music to my ears.

Immediately we arranged for his travel to Malaysia for 3 weeks. But the whole thing alone took nearly a year to turn into a reality. 

Najjar is the better person to narrate on this, especially what he went through in order to be in Malaysia. On my side, I had to face my fair share of challenges as well, mostly financial aid. Instead of worrying too much, I persisted and then let-Go(d), or rather, dance with the Will of Allah.

When the time comes for Najjar to step onto Malaysian soil,  Allah provides. Everything went well. He spent his 3 weeks, but it was a time well-spent, especially when his 'residency' spilled into the holy month of Ramadhan as well. It was a blessing. Najjar's presence came at the right timing. He re-energized me (and others as well) with his loving, passionate, jovial and loud personality. I savor every moment as a precious gift from Allah. 

Certainly, I didn't want to wait for another 20 years to see him again. So, we made several plans to make sure that we stay connected.

Najjar would be the best person to narrate his 'ziarah' or visiting experience. For that, we have to wait for his report. Other than him, my close brother (in spirit), Shamsul Bahari (who became his companion throughout his residency) would also be the better person to write about it. Another person would be Aizuan Azmi, who provided his house in the rustic Pulau Betong for Najjar to use as his 'personal resident'. 

My story of Najjar would be through pictures in these following links at 




Media coverage :

Najjar's journey has brought him to Malaysia, allowing him to connect with several blessed souls who are vibrating the Malaysian visual art scene. 

Beyond that, his journey has brought me back to the meaning of friendship beyond form, beyond time and space. In a quantum sense, distant is a mere illusion. We are all connected. 

Home is where the heart is. Unconditional love, through prayer and doa, connect people, regardless of what kind of superficial tagging one may label oneself (or 'others') with. 

May the spirit of Ramadhan bless us all and return us back to our true nature (fitrah), the 'nature of unconditional love' (Kasih tak bersyarat). 

People who are close to us, that we love so dearly, are the epitomes or manifestations or shadows or signs of the Ultimate Origin or Giver of Love (Yang Maha Pengasih, Yang Maha Penyayang), where all belong to. We breath that love in and out as we exhale and inhale, or experience life. 

No matter what our actions (they are mere shadows anyway) are, such love is what matters most.

I am blessed to experience even a glimpse of such love through my parents, my wife Rozana, my kids Adeela, Amira and Ainina, my family, friends, students....and of course, recently, my old lost friend, Najjar Abdul-Musawwir.

Salam Ramadhan.
Posted by Najjar Abdul-Musawwir on 2/11/13 | tags: sculpture traditional mixed-media installation conceptual pop realism photography landscape digital abstract surrealism graffiti/street-art figurative modern

Najjar Abdul- Musawwir works to illustrate faith, culture, history through his art


Artist Najaar Abdul- Musawwir said a woman once inquired about his work during a showing at a New York gallery. He said the question related not to the ideas present in the work or even what moved him to create it, but instead to the origin behind it.

After mentioning his work relied somewhat on ideas pertaining to the Islamic faith, she had only one question for him.

"Why don't you do more work about us? The African American experience is enough to deal with, why do you have to deal with Islam too?"

Abdul- Musawwir, who is an assistant professor in the School of Art and Design, is currently showing his work at the Art Lover's Gallery in Carterville.

He said issues such as faith play a major role in his art, providing a base for images much broader than a canvas. He has been working, in the area and across the country to spread these ideas through both art and discussions where he provides the perspective of an artist.

"Part of it is Najjar's spirit," said fellow artist Jumaane N'Namdi. "It comes through in his work in a way that I cannot compare to any other artist. And at the same time, the issues of faith and culture are ones any human can relate to."

Abdul-Musawwir is working to present his art locally as well as throughout the region. In addition to his display at the Art Lover's Gallery, he has shown his works at the Breast Cancer Series in Southwest Tennessee Community College and Governor State University in University Park, Ill,.

This past weekend, he traveled to a conference sponsored by the mid- American Alliance of African Student Council sponsored by Northwestern and Chicago Universities.

He has taken part in similar discussions in the past including a guest lecture on the late artist jean Michel- Basquiat. The "Brown v. Board of Education, An Artist's Experience," where the famous case was discussed at two Kentucky universities.

While he provides a valued perspective on the subject of art, Abdul-Musawwir said his work is much deeper than paint and a palette.

"You don't lose the alphabet because you make a word," Abdul- Musawwir said. "You don't lose a sentence because it's in a sentence and you don't lose a sentence because it is in a paragraph."

If you look through the paint or material itself that I use, there is a common thread, and I want them [observers] to experience my inner feelings."

As a believer in the Islamic faith and an African American, faith and race play an important part in the development. He said this factor often restricts his audience as much as it does attracts them, because of the lack of knowledge about the culture.

He said there are some individuals who view the Muslim faith as an attempt to become Arab. This is a weak argument he said because only 5 percent of Arabs are of the Muslim faith. He also said that, when thinking of the religion, individuals tends to visualize the more radical persona illustrated by individuals such as Malcolm X.

Although Abdul-Musawwir said that his faith plays a large role in his work, it is not the only character involved. He said he takes the visibility of his faith as a compliment. He also aspires for individuals to realize the common thread that exists behind his art.

Abdul-Musawwir, who has been at SIUC since 1997, participated in the Mid America Alliance of the African American Student Council. The conference travels from state to state and recently made an appearance at SIU-Edwardsville.

While this experience gave him the opportunity to verbally present his beliefs on certain aspects of culture, Abdul-Musawwir just as often presents his thoughts through his art.

He said he enjoyed spending time in the area heavily populated by art and artists, a strong contrast between the art scenes in Southern Illinois. Abdul- Musawwir said experiences in New York provided him with a very high energy that comes from being surrounded by others with a passion for art.

"Being an artist in Carbondale has its pluses and minuses," Abdul- Musawwir said. "There are disadvantages to having to travel to a community where they are less concerned with locals more concerned with the locally well-established artists."

He said there are certain restraints that come with being an artist in small town, but also benefits. Abdul- Musawwir said the environment and temptation from the money involved, could easily encourage a small-town artist to want to head to the city.

"It's a nice atmosphere in terms of being able to grow with you as an artist. And fortunately, we live in a community where I have a lot of support," he said.

While he is proud of his accomplishments, Abdul-Musawwir also emphasized the importance of the work of other artists.

He said Robert Ferris Thompson, who will be appearing at the University this month, is an important artist because of his knowledge of black history and his dedication to learning another culture.

"One thing that separates him is his focus on faith and his common connection between the creator, himself and his canvas," said Ann Sanders, an artist and educator in Washington, D.C. "There's a reference to this connection in regards to color and some symbols that every individual can make a connection with."

Examples such as this illustrate another point of the artist. While, culture, religion and other factors play an important role in a person's self-expression, they do not limit a person to teaching in the area. Abdul-Musawwir said he instructed many students on the basic ideas and knowledge behind art.

"We're trying to get students more interested in coming here to an environment that has their best interest in mind," he said. "No matter what type of artist you are, you need to be committed to the process, exploration and experimentation"

Just as he does not limit himself to the matter of faith in his teaching others, his message does not limit itself to those who are involved in art.

Mujhid Dajeh, whose wife is an artist, said even though he is not involved with art, he has gotten emotional after viewing Abdul-Musawwir's work.

""The art I've seen has been very sensitive," Mujhid Dajeh said. "It definitely touched me."

As Abdul- Musawwir continues to instruct his students, he said he is following his own advice and continuing to evolve in the process of art.

"In terms of being an artist, there is a spiritual as well as cultural connection that gives people a glance into a world they may not have seen," he said. "I really like the African proverb that says, when you exhibit your art, you're also exhibiting yourself."
Posted by Najjar Abdul-Musawwir on 2/11/13

10 Squared Exhibition At The LeRoy Neiman Art Center

Posted on November 26, 2012 by Harlem World Magazine 

100 ways of looking at the world opens at the LeRoy Neiman Art Center in Harlem on November 30th, extending through the end of January, 2013. The exhibition – featuring 100 small, affordable works of art – kicks off the LeRoy Neiman Art Center’s festive holiday season with an opening reception on Friday, November 30th; works are for sale and will remain on display during the 2nd Annual Gift of Art Holiday Marketplace and other special events happening at the Neiman Center throughout December, and; 102 artists will wind down the exhibition with a series of youth and family workshops in the new year.

102 brings together a diverse group of artists from the immediate and global creative communities. Each, in his/her own imitable style, has been asked to interpret 10”x10” blank surfaces. This uniformity represents collective cooperation, yet the panoramic view of the entire exhibition is evidence of our incredible individuality and celebrates our broadly varied incarnations of space, objects, and life in general. Participating New York artists are presenting work infused with the spirits of city living, the Caribbean, Canada, Serbia, Puerto Rico and Japan. Other participating artists are sending their creativity from the Midwest, Texas, Africa and Austria, providing us with a rare glimpse of their art on the East Coast. Bringing all of these artworks together, from artists from all over the world, is a testimony of both the unity and universality of artistic vision.

Featured artists: Abdul Ahmad, Al Johnson, Allicette Torres, Anton, Barbara Russell, Beth Barry, Capucine Bourcart, Chinwe Uwatse, Christina Stahr, Corinne Innis, Danielle Siegelbaum, Dawn Okoro, Deranie Henderson, Dindga McCannon, Donovan Nelson, Doris Neidl, Dubaka Leigh, Ernani Silva, Esé McGlown, Evan Bishop, Ezra Cohen, Grace Ali, Ibou Ndoye, Joshua Mark Phillippe, Klode, Layla Sola, Llanor Alleyne, Marline A. Martin, Najjar Abdul-Musawwir, Noté, Omo Misha, Paul DEO, Paul Hunter, Roberta Fineberg, Robin Rule, Ruth Llanillo Leal, Sabrina Nelson, Shimoda, Shuri Jackson, Sonia Barnett, Tanya Torres, Tijana Bjelajac, Tomo Mori, Walter Lobyn Hamilton, Wilda Gonzalez, Yukako and LeRoy Neiman Art Center participants: Shernita Barker, Richard G. Brooks, Ujijji Davis, Valerie Deas, Genevieve Outlaw, Ihsan Samuel & Michele Thomas.

Reception: Friday, November 30, 2012 from 6:00-9:00pm at the LeRoy Neiman Art Center, 2785 Frederick Douglass Blvd (near 148th Street). Join us also for the 2nd Annual Gift of Art Holiday Marketplace on December 15-16 and 102 Artist Workshops on Saturdays throughout January. Please contact the Neiman Art Center for more details.

The LeRoy Neiman Art Center offers high quality visual and creative arts experiences for all ages. The Center is a subsidiary of Arts Horizons, Inc. and is funded through a generous gift and on-going support from renowned artist, LeRoy Neiman. Ph: 212/862-2787 | E:;


Posted by Najjar Abdul-Musawwir on 2/11/13

The Power of Good Art

Posted on December 15, 2011by carlosbarberena

Written by Terrell Carter.

Art can be a beautiful thing. It has the potential to be transformative, both aesthetically and practically. This is possible because certain art has certain power. It has the power to change. It has the power to change someone’s mood on a cloudy day. It has the power to amuse someone when they are not feeling lighthearted. But, it also has the power to educate. It can be used to expose things that have long been hidden.

“Amigos de lo Ajeno” (Corrupt) Linocut by Carlos Barberena.

Good art has the ability to change the generations. It has the power to change minds, hearts, and communities. In the hands of the right person, or right people, art can do all of these things and more. In the hands of politically conscious artists like Carlos Barberena and Seitu James Smith, art reaches its full potential to make a difference.

In the hands of artists who are more concerned about their communities than capitalism, viewers are introduced to works and ideas that can help understand the moral and ethical values of diverse societies, and how these values contribute to the creation, change, and destruction of social structures.

Carlos, who was born in Granada, Nicaragua, say of his work, “Since 1990, art has given me the freedom to travel over the ocean of my memories, permitting me to express my sentiments and through this, dig deeply into the vastness of human knowledge, knowledge which has helped me to better understand the world that surrounds us.”

“The Refugees” after Larraz. Woodcut by Carlos Barberena.

Through his work, viewers are encouraged to make informed life decisions by being challenged to identify their own personal values and how they are developed. Are they developed in response to commercials and neatly packaged advertisements? Or are they formed by a conscious desire to contribute to something bigger than themselves. Viewers are then challenged to analyze the moral implications of choices they make based on the basis of these values.

“El Niño y la Nube” after Amighetti. Woodcut by Carlos Barberena.

Carlos says of his work, “With my work, I seek to be a vector of change, collecting images that pertain to our collective memory and that in certain form, make reference to painful events in the history of my country and of the world.” A world which, in spite of regular advances in technology and medicine, still reels from the affects of wars, as well as political and social disparities.

When exposed to the works of Carlos, viewers are presented with a visual language that helps them understand key issues and concepts that are relevant to various marginalized groups (economic, racial, and social) which aim to empower the viewer to better understand, and eventually appreciate, those groups. Viewers are inherently challenged to compare and contrast their own economic, racial, social, and cultural practices and consider how these practices have historically affected these previously identified groups.

“Monk” Painting by Seitu Smith.

Seitu’s work is a reflection of his faith, knowledge, and life experience, both positive and negative. His work shows a personal commitment to engaging and challenging the world to be honest in how it sees itself. Seitu, a highly regarded painter who resides in St. Louis, presents works that address ideas and issues of inequality between communities; privilege versus poverty; natural versus unnatural; and spiritual versus physical.

“The Magic City” Painting by Seitu Smith.

This is evident in his images like the powerful painting concerning the past political controversies surrounding the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor to President Obama. Smith created a mixed media portrait of embattled minister Rev. Jeremiah Wright that can take up an entire wall of any gallery. In the image Rev. Wright stand in his pulpit, microphone in hand, preaching. But at the same time, his arms are extended as he is nailed to a cross and blood drips from his hands to the ground, reminiscent of classical portrayals of Christ. “This man, Rev. Wright, is a man who has done so much for so many people,” Smith says. “He doesn’t have a blemish anywhere to be cited as someone of ill repute. I want people to look at this piece and to think in terms of who this man is and not how he was once portrayed by the media during the presidential campaign.”

Painting by Seitu Smith.

In the hands of capable artists like Carlos and Seitu, there is not question as to whether art can be used as a valid tool for political, racial, and social expression. In the world created by Carlos and Seitu, viewers are challenged to address their own assumptions about class and race. Viewers are challenged to acknowledge and address the impact that their assumptions and decisions relating to class and race have on them and those around them. They are challenged to identify and acknowledge conflicts between their value systems and their surrounding community.

“Self-Portrait after Van Gogh”. Woodcut by Carlos Barberena.

Najjar Abdul-Musawwir, Associate Professor of Art at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, once said, “I am not interested in telling a story of oppression, but a story of being, contributing, and building with…powerful wisdom…” In their own ways Carlos and Seitu both hold to the same sentiment. They create work that acknowledges the struggle of those who fight against oppression, through wisdom and inner strength, to build better lives for themselves and future generations, wherever they may be living. That is the power of good art.

“60 Minutes Man” Painting by Seitu Smith.

Posted by Najjar Abdul-Musawwir on 2/11/13

Najjar Abdul-Musawwir: The BlackArtistNews Interview 2011


Najjar Abdul-Musawwir. Courtesy of the artist.
When internationally acclaimed artist, teacher and self-described “community cultural worker” Najjar Abdul-Musawwir speaks, he does so with jazzed dexterity. He rhythmically riffs off a question with perfect pitch and studied precision;  his tone gracefully responds to the moment by either accelerating in excitement or softening in seriousness. And even though his words, at times, expanded the perimeters of a question – not in a bad or confusing way – what the listener ultimately realizes is the artist’s unflinching devotion to his creative and spiritual practices.
BlackArtistNews: I recently came across a book by Debra N. Mancoff titled 50 American Artists You Should KnowFive of the artists listed in this book are African American. Would you like to take a stab at naming who they are?
Abdul-Musawwir: Are they contemporary or historical?
I would say Romy Bearden. Jacob Lawrence. They probably even have Aaron Douglas. Augusta Savage. Probably Jean-Michel Basquiat. I don’t know how many contemporaries they would have. They probably have Carrie Mae Weems or Howardina Pindell in there. Maybe even Kerry James Marshall.
I'll tell you who they are. Let me know if you agree with the choices.
Henry Ossawa Tanner.
Okay. Definitely. Tanner.Yeah.
Romy Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kara Walker.
Ah, Kara Walker. I wrote an essay on Kara Walker.
Yes, I know. And there’s a YouTube clip of you reading an excerpt from that essay and you eloquently discuss why you find her work problematic.
Yeah. I appreciate her technique and approach. I love her father and his work. But in all due respects  the work she was creating at that time and the people who were celebrating it—those individuals – if you look at their background – always reported [on] our work that empowered them and their agenda and their interpretation of history. Those are the ones who are putting the money behind it and showing it and so forth. I know saying that will prevent me from having opportunities with these individuals but that’s not my concern. My concern is as an artist and in our world we’re supposed to have this freedom to critique and assess each another. If the real world says those who are backing it up have a financial investment and you tamper with that financial investment [then] don’t get involved. So it’s very much problematic. Henry Ossawa Tanner is my favorite – in terms of the historical. Of contemporary artists – he just passed – was Al Loving. He was my favorite.
When did he die?
Al Loving passed away in 2005.
It seems like I should know that. But I didn’t.
They had a nice write up – a small write up in the New York Times. But not a lot of people are aware that he passed.
I just recently discovered that Ernie Barnes died [in 2009.]
Yeah, Ernie Barnes passed. In fact I was on the highway travelling and my wife called me and said “Listen, Ernie Barnes, passed today.” And I said, “What?” Ernie Barnes was definitely one of my favorites as well.
I’m sure there is a generation of artists that – whether they realize it or not – were influenced by the work of Ernie Barnes. Most people know his work indirectly as he was the true creator of the paintings attributed to the J.J. Evans character on the TV show Good Times. Did that show have any influence on your interest in art?  
Ah, well see, I liked J.J. – he was a kid who was tapped into his passion – but  actually my interest in art happened as a result of watching my father and cousin sit at the table drawing all the time. My father used to draw these cowboys and horses and I thought that was the coolest thing since Kool-Aid. And then my cousin would create grid drawings from photographs. When he was finished, I would go “How you do that?” That kind of stirred my energy and I found myself trying to imitate [their work]. Also, like most kids I [loved] to draw cartoon characters. I was so engaged in art as a child [it would] get me in trouble. I would be in the library reading art books instead of going to class. It’s just something that’s been stirred within me since I was a child.
I know you teach but have you mentored any artists?
Yeah, I’ve mentored a few artists. Actually I was thinking about one the other day by the name of Esteban. Matter of fact his father just ran for mayor of the city of Chicago. I’ve been very impressed with the things he’s involved in.
Was he a student of yours?
He was student of mine at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) and then they’re some others that I’ve mentored like Najee Dorsey, the founder of [web site] Black Art In America, who I’ve known a number of years. I met him like in the early ‘90’s and I’ve mentored him in terms of painting and drawing.
How long has Black Art in America been online?
Black Art in America – it’s been close to a year or so. And it has grown so fast that I don’t know exactly how to phrase it – they have articles on there for artists, curators, collectors, museum directors and commercial art galleries. It’s a who’s who of black [visual artists] and [it’s a] very active [site.] In fact one of their strong points is that they encourage and engage dialogue and group discussion. It’s really impressive.

So what can viewers expect to see in Chicago between April 15th and May 15th ?
Aw man. (laughs) They are going to see the “Muhammad Ali of the Art World.” The “Muhammad Ali of the Art World.” They gonna be [exposed to] what I call a “formal aesthetic” and [viewing it] from the black experience. And I say that because my work is abstract; not representational. I’m looking at African Art [which] and even though [I am] I’m still bringing me to the table. And so on the 15th there will be some paintings, mixed media art and two pieces that I’m hoping people will enjoy are African stools. Back in 1999 I went to Ghana and had an exhibition [in conjunction] with a conference. I submitted some paintings that I did using African stools as symbols. For instance you have one stool that only a chief can sit on, or only a woman can sit on or only just a grieving person can sit on and I [took] these three dimensional objects and used the idea of them symbolically as inspiration. I’ve always [felt] that abstract painting is the most profound way to approach painting because in the real world we live in the abstract – we don’t really know everything. We only know part of everything. A woman can lie next to a man for fifty years and still not know him. It’s all an abstract: she doesn’t know about him and he doesn’t know about her. That’s why I love Al Loving – God rest his soul – he said its right there in front of our face. [People are] gonna see it’s the idea of preserving a particular part of the black experience. I consider myself as much a part of the African American community in bringing progressive ideas and progressive activities to the black experience as many members of my community who businesses I support. I [also] support their political and social economic interests you know what I’m sayin’? As long as they’re supporting us as a whole as a community, you know? I want my artwork to have a voice [that] hopefully reflects that of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz better known as Malcolm X.  And I hope that it has the energy and the power and the craftsmanship that Muhammad Ali had. When I’m looking for African American Muslim artists there's not many of us in the art community. There are some out there but there aren’t many of us. There’s not a vertical movement. When I say vertical movement, I [mean] targeting universities, contemporary art galleries, museums, and more high-end institutions. Trying to extend [beyond] the commercial gallery and looking at a bigger audience. The show I’m having now at the African International House? That’s not a place you go shopping for art. (laughs) Okay?  You go there to be what? Informed.
Informed and enlightened.
You go there to  have an experience that you wouldn’t normally have anywhere else. It’s a place to be educated. It’s to be broadened. To enhance. Vertical artists who go after those particular venues wind up getting recognized or acknowledged by the historians, the critics and so forth and find themselves in museum collections and also in art history books. And so the reason I’m targeting this I know that’s the audience that’s going to be able to stand the test. Those individuals allow us [and] our artwork to stand the test of time. Meaning that other generations will be exposed to it.
Najjar Abdul-Musawwir, Door of Return Series, 2010. Acrylic, drawing ink and burlap.
Najjar Abdul-Musawwir, African Stool Symbol (Wisdom Knot), 2001. Acrylic and charcoal on linen. 

You have some works overseas now. Where?
Not right now. I've been negotiating with a museum over in Malaysia which headed by Hasnul Jamal Saidon. He’s the director of the museum. 

What’s the name of the museum?
Muzium dan Galeri Tuanku Fauziah at the Universiti Sains Malaysia.
How did that come about?
It’s very interesting. I’ve been very active in terms of trying to have more international exhibitions. I had the one in 1999 in Ghana, one in 2008 in Turkey – at their fine art gallery in the capital. I was sending stuff out and Hasnul [saw it] and was like “Wow, it’d be great to have you come over and talk about the African American Muslim artist experience.” He noted that in Japan and Germany there’s an interest in this Muslim African American artist experience and he thought the timing was right and so I said I would love to have a show but he…we’ve been planning this show for two and half, three years because he wants me to do a residency.  So [the plan is] to do a residency at the museum, have an exhibition [of my work] and [present] a lecture. I’m also – and this hasn’t been confirmed to my knowledge – looking forward to doing a lecture at the National Art Gallery there which some say is the equivalent to the Smithsonian here in the States.
Right, right, wow. So you just mentioned being Muslim, were you born Muslim or did you convert?
Actually, I re-verted.
What does that mean?
Well simply said: a Muslim who submits to the creator. And that’s how I was when I was born into this world and other people’s ideas took me away from that. And I returned back to that from which I was created in. So it’s one of those things where [I’ve turned] back to the natural order of things.  The natural order of things in terms of who I am…I don’t submit to political leaders, I don’t submit to religious leaders, I don’t submit to anything, not even my parents, or anyone else and the only thing I submit to is the natural order of things. I adjust and [maintain] balance in my life in [hope] that it will benefit others.
Wow. So it's safe to assume that your spiritual practice definitely informs your art practice.
Without doubt or contradiction.
Do you listen to music while you work?
Man. You ain’t said nothin’ but a word. I dance while I work.
Okay (laughs) what do you dance to then?
Man, that’s a loaded question because it could be Wynton Marsalis or it could be Snoop Doggy Dog. It could be Jazmine Sullivan or Anita Baker; it [depends on] what mood I’m in. I’m a Jazz person, I’m a Blues person, I love music. It depends…if I’m thinking about a particular painting the ideas in my head about what colors I lay out on my palette and I look at those colors and I think about what I’m gonna do and I’m feeling like I need a lot of energy and a lot of marks and [fluency] then I’m gonna put on [some] hype music. I think it was Wynton Marsalis’s brother Branford. He did something that’s rarely seen and that’s a musical artist looking at the work of a visual artist and creating new music.
Oh, you’re talking about “Romare Bearden Revealed.”
Yeah. I play that in my class [and] in my studio.
Don Byron did a beautiful musical epitaph for Jean-Michel Basquiat and when you see it – when you hear it – you’re like…wow. (laughs)
And you know what? It’s funny that you said that because I was in my studio one day and we were talking about that Bearden project and [a] student asked me “If you had one musician to respond to your work and [set it to music] who would it be?” and the first person I thought of was Khari Lemuel in Chicago.
Khari Lemuel. Chicago. Okay.
Yeah, he sings and plays the cello like a bass. I had an opportunity to sit in on his music and his name just [flew] out my mouth.
I’m upset that I didn’t ask you that question! (laughs)
Right. (laughs)
What’s the most important lesson you want [to teach] your students even though they might not understand it now?
You know what? I’m going to have to tell you a story for people to get the meaning of what I’m trying to say.
Okay, the floor is yours.
[What] I want my students to get from me… is [to] have a better perspective [of] the visual world as it relates to people of color. When I say “people of color” I mean African American, Asian American, Native American and so forth and so on. I’ll give you an example: There was a student in my class who was white who cussed me out. He cussed me out in [my] class because he [felt what I was teaching was]”a bunch of bullshit.” He said, “I shouldn’t have to be made to feel guilty because I’m white and you dah, dah, dah-dah”…He’s going off…and so I told him to come back later and talk to me which he never did. Two years after he graduated he calls me from St. Louis and says “You know what? I want to apologize.” Now, I don’t even know who this guy is or was – at first. (laughs) ‘Cause I’ve had quite a few students go off on me like that so I wasn’t sure…so after he explained to me who he was I said “oh, I remember you” and then he said [again] “I want to apologize. Because I took your class and since I’ve been dealing with the art world and I started listening to the way white people talked around me ‘cause I’m white – everything you said [in class] was [actually] happening. [I’m] seeing that it’s true.”
He said, “I couldn’t believe that this has been going on.” I said, “don’t worry about it. I appreciate your call and hope you do well in your endeavors.” He called me a year later and told me he left St. Louis to move to Illinois to work at a museum.  And he [invited] me to come to that museum and give a talk on African American artists.
Now, check this out: when I got there he showed me a painting done by the [museum’s] founder, Eleanor Mitchell. And it was a painting of an Arab [person] I assume – he was pretty dark and he was holding the Koran – and on the back of the painting it had a first place award that she received from the Corn State Fair in 1963.
Shut up!
Okay? And so here it is this young man [who] cussed me out in my class. He called [again] invited me to be a part of the museum’s anniversary. He asked me to create a piece of art work inspired by something from their collection. Well, before the anniversary exhibit [got off the ground] he left and went to New York.  His replacement called and asked what painting I would like to do from their collection. I mentioned the piece by Eleanor Mitchell. He looked for it on his records and told me it didn’t exist. I said “yes, it exists. It’s in your vault behind some stuff.” He went back there and he found it. He said “wow.” He made the painting an [official] part of their collection.
So I created my own version of the painting and they took both paintings and put them on [display.]
How cool is that?
Now, the story’s about to end.
I get [contacted by] the same student to come to Niagara University in Buffalo, New York to give a talk, a lecture in [conjunction with] a [Basquiat exhibit].
So I told him “yes, I would do it” but my talk will be about Basquiat [being] lost in his own backyard.
Hello! (laughs)
(Laughs) So he said “cool” and so [this] young man put me up in a hotel suite with beautiful French doors on the bedroom – I wish my wife was with me. I wasn’t expecting – I was expecting something pretty humble. But mind you, this is the same young man who cussed me out in my class. I didn’t kick him out, didn’t write him up, you see what I’m saying?
Because my job – what I say to myself – is that I’m an educator. It’s my job to educate somebody and plant the right information within them like seeds and hopefully they will blossom during the course of their life, and he’s a perfect example of that. So that’s how I can answer that question. You feel me?

Posted by Najjar Abdul-Musawwir on 2/11/13

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