GAMA – “Gathering All Muslim Artists”
“Today, we ask ourselves, what is the narrative of the American Muslim? My answer? It lies deep in the artistic response and cultural history.”
Abbas Mohamed – A Pakistani American, co-founder of “Gathering All Muslim Artists”, or GAMA, explores the philosophy of expression by bringing American Muslim artists together to revive the relation that Art and Islam has always had. Working in the biotech industry in San Francisco, he aims at uniting the diverse Muslim expressions through visual art, writing and poetry.
Abbas been writing poetry for more than a decade now and performs spoken works at various events as well as the local Masajid. He has also participated in national competitions and is an active member of the Muslim Writing Community in America called the Muslim Writer’s Collective.
“I got married to an artist in Pakistan, and the first thing I wondered after marriage was, “what is she going to do here?” One of the reasons why I initiated GAMA was because I realized there was absolutely no space for Muslim Artists to express, revive and share their work in the community.”
GAMA not only birthed out of a need of a platform for expression but also due to a lack of an organized support group for Muslim artists as a whole. Abbas Mohamed, the co-founder of GAMA together with Mohammed Abbas realized that very talented young men and women were discouraged from pursuing arts as a full-time career because of the conventionality attached to “Art” as a subject of leisure.
“Most Muslim artists either pursue art as a hobby or completely abolish the idea. What we don’t realize is that Art and Islam have lived together since the beginning of times. No matter where Islam spread, there has been an artistic response which captured and preserved the culture’s relationship with Islam- with the Deen.”
Looking at the current socio-political situation, both Abbas and Mohammed, leaned towards creating a platform where Muslim artists could individually respond to the current narrative and counter it by what’s never really seen by the society at large. The idea was simple: to highlight the voices invisible in today’s times.
“If we don’t encourage or allow Muslim’s to express their feelings as individuals living in America right now through their art, we leave the Muslim American narrative lacking a more humane soul.”
GAMA was created to give a home to Muslim artists, to create support, to give empowerment, to have art events at the Masajid, to have art events at halal restaurants, where the Muslims are and where the Muslim community is. To really build visibility for the Muslim artists in the community and start that conversation about what does it mean to be Muslim in America and how can we express that.
The response to GAMA from the community far surpassed what Abbas and Mohammed had imagined. People they knew were artists, people they didn’t know were artists, people they didn’t know at all, signed up with GAMA.
Eight months after the launch, GAMA has 200+ artists and, along with their original chapter in San Francisco, GAMA has a chapter in Los Angeles and a third chapter in New York. Abbas wants to make sure GAMA has a solid foundation first and emphasizes focus on the artist. That is why GAMA supports and empowers the artist from day one, from the artist discovering their own distinct voice and mode of expression to becoming a full-fledged professional. GAMA then uses art exhibitions to showcase the artist’s work and help them sell their art pieces.
The artist community at GAMA is rich in diversity from a woodworker that designs her pieces on the computer to an artist who works with extremely hot glass. The exhibitions too have been a success where thousands of people have seen art work by GAMA artists.
Even though the sudden success of GAMA’s idea does provide some challenges both on the logistical and financial front. An online store is in the pipeline where artists can submit their designs and the revenue generated can help move GAMA towards self-sustainability. launching their first ever crowdfunding campaign they have a goal to raise $10K to fund projects such as Curriculum development, Art galleries as well as support new projects such as beautifying local places of worship, launching new chapters and marketing their custom art merchandise store.
Abbas also eventually wants to expand their platform to include Muslim filmmakers but is right now working hard to keep the focus on fine arts. What is important to Abbas and GAMA’s team is to take care of the artist community and work towards taking back the Muslim American narrative from the mainstream voices, allowing for valuable Muslim contribution to the large body of contemporary art.
“More often than not we don’t really look good on the media because they choose to spin us a certain way. The narrative of the American Muslim is being written. What we need to do is as Muslims is to take that narrative into our own hands. This is the culture, this is the expression of an American Muslim, this is who we are.”
Interview by Anum Nawaz | Written by Sameen Mohsin