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“Halal Metropolis” exhibit showcases Muslim contributions to art, music, and culture in Michigan

By: | posted on: Jun 21, 2019

Date(s) - 06/21/2019
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Halal Metropolis is a series of exhibitions that explores the facts, fictions and the imaginaries of the Muslim population(s) in Detroit and South-east Michigan as viewed through historical and archival research, documentation of current conditions, and explorations of future desires. The Halal Metropolis alludes to the established and growing Muslim population in Detroit and its metro area, one of the largest and most diverse Muslim populations in the U.S., whose visibility is both pronounced and extremely present in the city, yet whose narrative seems unusually silent in the larger Detroit story. The exhibition moves beyond wanting to simply illustrate or document the current state of this Halal Metropolis into exploring the congruent and contradicting ideas, aesthetics and cultures working to make the halal metropolis both a real and imaginary entity.

According to Razi Jafri, it’s “a region in which Muslims can live freely, practice their faith, contribute to society, with all of their creative and entrepreneurial and all kinds of skills that they have.” And he says that Detroit, and Southeast Michigan more broadly, fall squarely into that category.

Jafri is one of three co-creators of a new exhibit called “Halal Metropolis” that explores Muslim contributions to art, music, and culture in Southeast Michigan. Musician Tazeen Ayub is one of the artists featured in the exhibit. She is also the founder of the Detroit chapter of the Gathering All Muslim Artists (GAMA) collective.

“Halal Metropolis” features a range of different works created by Muslim artists in Southeast Michigan. The multi-part exhibit will be updated over time to showcase new submissions as they are acquired and curated.

“It’s great to be able to have a hub where people can come together and appreciate all of the creative expression that all these Muslims have from different backgrounds,” said Ayub.

What makes Southeast Michigan a “halal metropolis,” Jafri says, is the public signaling — think a sign in a local grocery store wishing customers a “Happy Eid” — that Muslims are part of the broader community. That could also include architecture, food, and other cultural markers that help give visibility to the Muslim community in the area.

The project’s first show will feature archival material that showcases how the Muslim community “started blossoming” in southeast Michigan from the 1920s through the 1940s. It will also feature news articles going back to the early 1900s that Jafri says will give viewers an idea of how Muslims were portrayed by the media during that time.

“Our hope is that the people that come and visit these exhibits will learn something new and go away with this idea of learning about who Muslims are, how diverse the community is,” Jafri said. “Then, in addition to that — one step above that — is the cultural contribution that Muslims have made and are currently making.”

The exhibit will travel to different communities across Michigan, including those with less exposure to Muslim-American culture. In the face of Islamophobia, anti-immigration sentiment, and other issues that impact Muslims, Jafri hopes that the exhibit will “build bridges” between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

Connection is at the heart of Ayub’s musical collaboration with her husband Lu Fuki, which she describes as “Afro-spirit jazz.”

“At its heart, it is spirit music. It is music that is inspired divinely, that is inspired through the soul, and that is — its entire purpose is to just connect hearts,” Ayub said.

You can find out more about Halal Metropolis, which will be opening Friday, June 21 at Indus Detroit, on the project’s website.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Isabella Isaacs-Thomas.

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