Ghadeer Muhammed is from Cairo, Egypt and is a student at Davidson College, class of 2025. Among the many things that Ghadeer does as an active community member, she has served as a counselor for Davidson College’s 2022 Freedom School Program at the Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson, NC. Her work in the Davidson College archives culminated in this post on the college’s history of diplomas, published on “Around the D,” the Davidson College Archives & Special Collections Blog. Ghadeer was a student in Drs. Peña and Frazier-Rath’s 2022 GER231: Black German Art & Resistance class.
BGHRA 2023 Student Roundtable
Art as Education
Art is more than mere expression. Most of the time, art carries a deeper message that differs from one artist to another. Afro-European and Black German art collectives carry immense value and experience. Their art is worth more than commemoration; their art is a tool of education. Their art carries lessons about their emotions, their cultures, their history, and lived experience. The lessons are ripe for the taking, and I am famished.
My name is Ghadeer Muhammed, I am an Egyptian international student. I have been starved from learning about people from their own perspective. When you read what someone else has written about a piece of art or an artist, you are left with their perception of the art and the artist, you are left wondering about the different identity layers that were left out – or violently cut out – of the reading due to the author’s positionality.
This project is an exploration of the usage of art as an educational tool. To me, using someone’s art as a tool of education, studying the art, and trying to grasp the messages that dwell within it is the closest I can get to learning about the person in a non-epistemologically violent manner. However, setting an artist’s creative output as my compass and the way I perceive the artist can be tricky because this art has suddenly become a subject of my own positionality, academic training, and thought framework. While analysing pieces of art that black Europeans have created, I will attempt to decentre my own experience and view their art in context with their lived experiences, based on first-hand interviews with the artists. Afterward, I will re-insert myself into the narrative to assess what I have learned from analysing their art.
Etab Hreib is a brilliant Syrian painter and dreamer. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, life in Syria was dangerous. Etab went to the United States to visit relatives and wait out the chaos, but after she lost her son to the violence of terrorism, she decided to stay in the United States. Throughout the 1990s, before the painful events in Syria, Etab was travelling all over the world and showcasing her paintings. She painted her home and continues to do so. All her paintings depict the Syrian suburbs and countryside. Her paintings are beautiful, but beautiful does not cover the nostalgia and memories packed into each stroke of a brush. One of Etab’s paintings is titled Draweech, it depicts two male presenting bodies that appear to be dancing, and the background is that of a typical street outside Damascus. The Draweech are a typical, joyous part of traditional Middle Eastern celebrations and weddings. In Syria, they are thought to bring blessings to the event. Looking at Etab’s painting brings up memories for me, but it also makes me realize the differences in people’s perception of art based on their own positionality and background.
Zari Harat is an accomplished German visual artist and art educator with South Asian heritage. She paints every single day and advises her students to do so as well. Zari’s paintings are inspired by what she sees, and because she loves to travel, her paintings take on numerous different shapes, materials and forms. A prominent element in Zari’s paintings are faces and body parts especially hands and fingers. They look different in different paintings that were created in different locations. Zari asserts that art can tell us about ourselves, that it is a medium through which our true self can speak to us and if we shed our fear, we can listen to it. Zari give titles to her paintings, and she has the unique ability to speak with her art. For example, you can feel the mood by looking at the background colours or the faces’ expressions. Zari tells the stories of the people she meets in her art. In her paining Trends in Randomness, she depicts a woman that came from Turkey and gives her blue skin like that of Krishna’s to convey a velvety texture. Engaging with Zari’s art changed how I create my own art; it unlocked new possibilities by mixing materials, getting inspiration from the surroundings and weaving it with my identity and skills.
Maseho is a distinguished German artist and storyteller heavily inspired by Afrocentric and Germanic mythology. To Maseho, visual art is a method of not only expression or communication with others, but a way of survival. Her painting Belonging, carved space for her to answer the question of where you belong. Through her art, she posed questions about who becomes a German national and what is their identity. Maseho’s art asserted her existence as a black German woman; it exposes the lack of documentation of black Germans throughout German history and publicly contradicts the notion that black people are a “new occurrence” in Germany. Maseho’s art also frees Germanic mythology from Nazi appropriation by depicting elements from it in her paintings.
Black people with hyphenated identities in Europe are othered; their contributions to European culture and history are hidden and undocumented. Art is powerful tool, a window or rather a telescope through which you can peek into the artist’s history, culture, stories, and even into yourself. Art is a space onto which Afro-European artists carve out their identity. Although you may not capture or truly understand all the layers within the art, solely viewing it can change your mind, inspire you, or call your attention to the people or the culture that the art carved space out for.