Students from the Peace Begins with Me class take in the exhibition

“I am large, I contain multitudes”


Poonam Sidhu ’18

Saima Akhtar prefaced her Oct. 23rd lecture on “Multitudes: An Art Exhibition in the Age of the #muslimban” with the following statement: “The whole idea is to deconstruct the images that we see around us and critically digest them.” 

“I am large, I contain multitudes,” is a quote from Walt Whitman and was the inspiration for the title of the exhibition, according to Akhtar, who co-curated the show at the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery with Mona Damluji. Akhtar told the audience at the curator’s talk that identity is a multidimensional and layered concept that is complicated. She explained the purpose of the title “Multitudes” is to challenge the notion that identity is something that can be understood through a single picture or narrative. 

Akhtar’s presentation highlighted the negative consequences associated with Orientalism, a termed coined by the late Palestinian-American academic, political activist, and literary critic, Edward Said. She also focused on the media’s problematic representations of the Middle East and Islam and what’s at stake now. Akhtar presented art as a way to counter the predominantly negative stereotypes about Muslims in the U.S., and when asked what she wanted St. Lawrence students to take away from the exhibition, Akhtar responded that she wanted people to realize how “we are all connected through the human experience.” She wants students to know that there are more similarities than differences between people who may not all necessarily come from the same walks of life.

The exhibition brings together seven artists and an artists’ collaborative from diverse Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds, whose work challenges and transcends narrow representations of people from Muslim-majority countries. 

“I hope students from other backgrounds see that Muslim-Americans have the same aspirations as any other Americans,” commented Sahar Delawar ’19, from Scranton, Pennsylvania, after viewing the different works of art that speckled the gallery. “The definition of ‘American’ is constantly changing. We have to be willing to adapt to it.”

Other students mentioned how art can be employed to send a certain message to the people. “I didn’t think art could be used for resistance,” says Losångela Batista ’18 from Dorchester, Massachusetts. “I’m more interested to look at art now as a political statement.”

According to the exhibition organizers, “Multitudes” seeks to draw attention to the complex nature of ethnic, religious, and racial identities and introduce themes of solidarity and intersection within Muslim, black, brown, gender-based, refugee and immigrant communities as well as highlight the impossibility of defining any region, culture, or identity through a singular understanding. Visit the gallery archives to learn more about the artists in this exhibit at www.stlawu.edu/gallery.

Students from the Peace Begins with Me class take in the exhibition
Students from the Peace Begins with Me class take in the exhibition
Students from the Peace Begins with Me class take in the exhibition