In a culturally strenuous time, in which President Donald J. Trump’s travel ban threatens openness of borders and beliefs and stereotypes based on skin color leave people on edge every day, Emory’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) hosted an art gala that brought attention to cultural and racial issues, and opened attendees’ minds to the Muslim community’s beauty and beliefs.
The Art Gala, held at Westside Cultural Arts Center in Atlanta this past Saturday, is an annual event put on by Emory’s MSA that displays Muslim students’ art and performances. Hosted by Sindoos Awel (19C) and Samah Sadig (19C), attendees enjoyed art pieces, poetry, music and food.
Before the performances began attendees admired student-made art, including a mask with the Syrian and American flags on it, a piece of paper depicting three spray painted different-colored copies of rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard and curated white roses in a glass vase. Though some of the art seemed randomly put together, all of it fit in with the Art Gala’s theme: “borderless.” Popular cultural icons and hijabs painted with the colors of the American flag seemed to unite the world, highlighting the facts that everyone on Earth is equal and every culture has something to learn from others.
After a humorous opening speech from Awel and Sadig, the main event kicked off with a statement from MSA’s president, Sundus Tameez (18C), who spoke on the recent political and cultural unrest in the United States. She said that though times have been hard, exposing Muslims’ lives to the world will result in a better understanding of their mission to enjoy life and spread joy.
Matt De LeReaux (17C) followed with an emotional performance of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” which was fitting since the event fell on the anniversary of Gaye’s death. De LeReaux walked around the stage and reached out to the crowd, encouraging attendees to snap along and closing his eyes during the iconic saxophone solo, revealing the comfort and connection he felt with Gaye’s work.
Soon afterward, Emir “Emiricus” Brown (19C) performed two original poems: “Lone” and an untitled piece. Brown impressed the audience with his technical skill as his mouth blurred during “Lone” — he belted out alliterations and rhymes about his experiences with depression and loneliness, emphasizing that escaping his poor Harlem neighborhood to attend college only caused a different type of suffering: lack of motivation. In his untitled poem, he expanded on identity, stating, “I have always been a disappointment/Lacking in melanin,/blacker than my other kin,/But too light for my black friends.” Emiricus’ performance brought light to inescapable battles that many people have to deal with every day, which stunned the crowd into silence.
Nora Elmubarak (19C) then presented her poem, “Safar” (“سفر,” or “Travel”), which spoke of an incident in which an ignorant airport worker mistreated her family. The poem expertly interplayed English and Arabic, accentuating the “borderless” theme and raising the question, “why would someone treat others like this?” The pain in Elmubarak’s voice resonated with the crowd — and the emotion her work instigated was visible in the audience’s reaction. Listeners snapped in approval during the reading, and the performance was met with thunderous applause.
The performances were followed by a delectable Indian meal, catered by Tava Indian Bistro in Atlanta. Attendees chatted happily as they filled their stomachs with fried potatoes, light rice and naan bread dipped in creamy masala sauce. Dessert was cheesecake from Alon’s Bakery & Market in Atlanta and, more fittingly, baklava made by a local Syrian refugee family. The cake was soft and airy and the baklava rich and sweet, the nuts perfectly complementing the layers of filo and honey.
A representative, Jarred Schmitz, from Project Hope spoke about his organization’s desire to support and educate refugees in the Atlanta area by facilitating refugees’ assimilation processes into the U.S. Emory’s MSA also set up a donation box for the International Community School (ICS), an organization determined to educate thousands of refugees in DeKalb County. Both organizations provided attendees with the chance to help causes in a time when refugees need open-minded support more than ever.
If MSA’s Art Gala spoke to one thing, it is acceptance. Art that emphasized harmony between countries and cultures paired with unguarded performances broke any barriers between differing ideologies. In that sense, the Art Gala was indeed borderless.