Art, comedy and a definite sense of community pride were in full supply at the Muslim Student Association’s (MSA) 11th Annual Art Gala this past Sunday. 

Held in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of MSA’s launch, the Art Gala offered dinner, performances and all forms of artwork.

MSA welcomed two guests of honor: visual artist Faraz Khan and comedian Dean Obeidallah. Each guest gave a presentation on their respective forms of art.

Both Khan and Obeidallah discussed how their art influences and has been influenced by Islamic culture.

The event also honored Susan Henry-Crowe, who served as Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life for 20 years before leaving her post in 2013.

She ultimately watched MSA begin, develop and find its role in today’s Emory community.

The gala took place downtown at The Biltmore Ballrooms, a swanky location perfect for this celebration of identity and culture.

The lobby held works by local artists, and the main ballroom hosted the program and boasted chandeliers, elaborate architecture and tables decorated to the nines with blue cloths and rose petals. By the time the evening’s program began, the room was nearly packed.

The president and vice president of MSA, College seniors Zeeshan Anwar and Maydda Qureshi, opened the program with a big “thank you” to the audience and a brief history of MSA.

They explained that the purpose of the Art Gala is to demonstrate the oft-overlooked connections between art and Islam.

Today, the Art Gala is MSA’s biggest event of the year, and Anwar noted that this event was among the biggest Art Galas he’d seen.

As Qureshi put it, “Tonight is a testament to how far we’ve come over the past 20 years.”

And after a video introduction to the MSA board members, the show was officially on.

The first presentation of the evening was from Khan, a New Jersey-based artist who serves on the Arts Council of Princeton and spent time studying in Damascus, Syria.

Khan recalled that in immigrant families like his, there was a strong “focus on engineering, medical senses, becoming a doctor, becoming a lawyer … but there was no emphasis on creative ideas.”

For the main part of his program, Khan showcased some of his favorite artistic creations.

He explained a work of art that was designed to look like lines from an electrocardiogram (EKG) scan but formed in the shape of the Arabic character for Allah.

“It’s the heart of a believer,” Khan said.

Next up was Obeidallah, a half-Italian, half-Palestinian stand-up comedian who has been featured on CNN and Comedy Central and recently released his docu-comedy “The Muslims Are Coming.”

“For the record, I’m originally from New Jersey,” Obeidallah said. “And let me tell you, dispelling myths about Muslims is easier than dispelling myths about New Jersey.”

Obeidallah’s routine went on to poke fun at the discrimination that Muslims face on a daily basis, including jokes about how he lays low at the airport and the “horrible possibility” that Obama might be a Muslim.

The room was filled with laughter for the entirety of his routine, as the hilarious but painfully striking jokes rang all too true.

At the end of the act, Obeidallah got to the crux of the theme he’d been hinting at for the past half hour: getting involved in art is how people can make their voices heard.

He called the room to action to “fight against Muslim being a pejorative word.”

Before the evening was over, guests enjoyed a buffet dinner and a cake dessert.

As they ate, students also got the chance to go up onstage and present their own works of art.

Only a couple took advantage of the opportunity, but those who did made the best of their time, offering their own forays into slam poetry and comedy.

In its entirety, the MSA Art Gala presented a way for the Muslim community of Emory to honor its culture. Religion is often kept under wraps, but cultural events like the MSA Gala can give individuals a chance to explore cultural identities.

“Bringing art and religion and culture together is such a strength of this group, in a way that I don’t think any other group does,” Henry-Crowe said. “It’s a claiming of their identities.”

– By Emelia Fredlick