Visual Arts

This section features a selection of the most celebrated contemporary American Muslim visual artists. Skilled in a wide variety of media, these painters, sculptors, architects, graphic designers, calligraphers, and artists of mixed media, add both depth and breadth to the American artistic scene. Immigrant Muslim Americans bring from their countries of origin rich traditional artistic methods as well as valuable perspectives on identity and geo-political issues. Artists who were born in America, including African American Muslims, add their own unique cultural aspect to the montage of American art. Internationally recognized, these artists also serve as ambassadors of American art using their work as vehicles to bridge cultural divides. Unlike the routine biographical details of media, gender, and nationality, religious affiliation is not an expected entry in an artist’s professional information. Understandably, some artists, intending to produce nothing particularly “Islamic,” prefer to keep their faith private so that religion does not become a part of the filter through which their work is received. Yet other contemporary Muslim artists, including those listed below, are quite open about their religion, seeing their faith as a vital component of their creative process. For example, for some artists Islam is an intentional, integral part of their work and even choice of medium. This is true for calligraphers whose detailed work is a continuation of the most revered traditional practice. Artists working with geometric tiles also fall into the traditional Islamic category. Other contemporary artists, including award-winning photographers and graphic designers, find their work gives visual expression to important global socio-political issues, sometimes offering emotionally charged, provocative points of view. Still other artists attribute to their personal religious commitment the inspiration for their otherwise secular themed work. Art produced by non-Muslim Americans depicting the American Muslim experience would be another interesting category, but it is not within the scope of this website.

The following list of distinguished American Muslim artists, arranged alphabetically, includes brief biographical notes and links to easily accessed websites where their work, and an occasional YouTube interview, may be found. Where applicable, links to other sections of this website are also included.

Another unmistakable addition to the American visual landscape is the eclectic mix of mosques across the country. While some of these Muslim places of worship include traditionally Islamic components, such as domes and minarets, mosques many vary widely in their size and architectural design. The interiors may also be uniquely contemporary, or as rich with traditional artistry as may be found in the Middle East. A list of websites for a few of the most noteworthy examples of American mosques follows the list of visual artists, as does a list of recommended sources for further study.

Ghada Amer (b. 1963)
Born in Cairo, Amer employs multiple media in her work depicting themes of women and love, female sexuality suppression in both the Muslim and western world, war and peace, and post 9/11 issues. Often sexually explicit and provocative, Amer’s work in paint, textiles, needlework, sculpture, and public art installations are globally acclaimed. Considered a giant of the New York art scene, Amer is represented by the Chem & Read Gallery.
#ImmigrantExp #Politics #WarOnTerror #Global

Wafaa Bilal (b. 1966)
Born in Iraq, internationally recognized New Media artist Wafaa Bilal and his family fled Saddam Hussein’s regime to live for a time in refugee camps before coming to American. This life in two worlds – conflict versus comfort – informs much of his video and electronic art, body art, and provocative performance pieces on international politics. In 2010 Bilal had a camera surgically implanted in the back of his head to take photographs representing “the things we leave behind” and the problem of surveillance. His sharp political commentary includes a map of Iraq tattooed on his back with “invisible ink” dots representing Iraqi casualties of war (seen only under black light). Bilal is Associate Arts Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Bilal, Wafaa, and Karl Lydersen. Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 2008.
#ImmigrantExp #Politics #WarOnTerror #Global

Sandow Birk (b. 1962)
Award winning southern California multi-media artist, illustrator, and printmaker, Sandow Birk, draws subject matter from all perspectives of contemporary life: from socio-political issues including inner city violence, war, and prisons to skateboarding and surfing. His most ambitious work, inspired by travel throughout the Muslim world, is his nine year long “American Qur’an” project: a 427 page hand-inscribed Qur’an illuminated with relevant scenes from modern American life. Birk is represented by the Koplin del Rio Gallery in Los Angeles, the Catharine Clark Gallery in San Fransisco, and the P.P.O.W. Gallery in New York.
#Politics #WarOnTerror #Global

Maryam Eskanderi
Internationally acclaimed and award-winning architect and artist, Maryam Eskanderi, is committed to creating Islamically inspired mosques and community buildings that resonate with the divine creation. The MIT and Harvard trained Eskanderi draws her inspiration from the kaaba in Mecca. She has been recognized as a “Notable American” by the Obama Administration U.S. State Department and was included in the “Ten American Muslim Women You Should Know” in the Huffington Post.

Lalla Essaydi (b. 1956)
Shaped by her childhood in Morocco and years of living in Saudi Arabia, the now New York based artist employs photography and mixed media to portray the position of women in contemporary Islamic societies. Considering herself a “traditional Muslim,” her work includes direct response to the orientalist imagery of Delacroix, Ingres, and Gérôme. Essaydi is represented by the Edwynn Houk Gallery.
#ImmigrantExp #Global #Politics

Zarina Hashmi (b.1937)
Having lived in places around the globe gives Indian born Zarina Hashmi personal insight into the themes of home, borders, displacement, and marginalized groups. Her award-winning abstract compositions in intaglio, woodblock, lithography, and silkscreen feature a minimal approach. Hashni’s artistic interests include the technical qualities of paper and the use of Urdu calligraphy. She now lives in New York.
#ImmigrantExp #Global #Politics

Kinda Hibrawi
Born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Saudi and Syria, the award winning American artist, Kinda Hibrawi, uses vivid colors and abstract designs to contemporize the traditional art of calligraphy. A global art ambassador and passionate humanitarian, Hibrawi co-founded an organization that has provided creative therapy and wellness programs to over 2000 Syrian refugee children. Winner of the 2014 Williston Northampton Humanitarian Medal, Hibrawi was named a United Nations Global Thinker & Influencer in 2012.
#ImmigrantExp #Global

Rania Matar
Lebanese American Rania Matar began her artistic career as an architect, but quickly became an award winning, internationally recognized photographer after deciding to take pictures of her four children. Her work, focusing on the personal lives of girls and women, may be found in major museums across America and in book collections. Her 2009 release, Ordinary Lives, features text by Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid. Her forthcoming monograph, L’Enfant-Femme, will include an introduction by Her Majesty Queen Noor. Matar was included in the Top 100 Distinguished Women Photographers at Women in Photography International, 2008. Matar is represented by the Carroll & Sons Gallery in Boston, MA.
Matar, Rania. Ordinary Lives. New York: Quantuck Lane Press, 2009.
_________. A Girl and Her Room. New York: Umbrage Editions, 2012.
________. L’Enfant-Femme. Bologna: Damiani Editore, 2016. Forthcoming.
#ImmigrantExp #Global

Mohamud Mumin
Minnesota-based Somali photographer and visual storyteller Mohamud Mumin seeks to document the lives of young Somalis, offering a positive image in contrast to the impression made by the many young Somalis choosing to return to fight with al-Shabab. Mumin’s work visually documents cross cultural dialogue.
#ImmigrantExp #Politics #WarOnTerror #Global

Shirin Neshat (b. 1957)
Originally from Iran, Neshat is celebrated worldwide for her photography, film, and video installations featuring themes of gendered spaces, identity, and tradition versus modernity. She draws much of the inspiration for her powerful representations from pre- and post-revolutionary Iran and the strong women of those periods. Her iconic first series, Women of Allah, features large black and white photographs of female warriors inscribed with poetry of the role of women and martyrdom in Farsi calligraphy. Now living in New York, Neshat is represented by the Barbara Gladstone Gallery.
#ImmigrantExp #Global #Politics

Asma Ahmed Shihok (b. 1978)
Raised in Pakistan, Asma Ahmad Shihok “relocated” herself artistically by translating the indispensible New York subway map into her native Urdu. Her work in multi-media, paint, oil, and pen, incorporates a variety of cultural icons such as female superheroes, and documents the complicated nature of societal change, as in the “invasion” of fast food franchises on the Karachi cityscape. Her most recognized work, “Beehive,” features 100 hijabs sent to her by Muslim women from across the U.S. This large installation was inspired by the Sixteenth Chapter of the Qur’an, “The Bee,” and the artist’s view of women as culture’s “worker bees.”
#ImmigrantExp #Global

Shahzia Sikander (b. 1969)
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, this New York based artist of multiple media, including computer animation and large scale video installations, is best known for her award winning Indo-Persian miniatures. While renewing interest in this traditional form of painting, Sikander’s work also incorporates contemporary themes of national identity, gender, and Hindu-Muslim relations. She is represented by the Sikkema Jenkins & Company gallery in New York.
#ImmigrantExp #Global #Politics

Sadaf Syed
American born Pakistani American feminist photojournalist, Sadaf Syed, is considered a “visual storyteller.” Through her collection of images of women of diverse occupations, ethnicities, and backgrounds taken while pursuing normal day-to-day lives wearig hijab, she seeks to expose stereotypes of Muslim women as oppressed or uneducated. Syed, who wears the hijab herself, hopes her photography will inspire viewers to learn more about other faiths and cultures.
Syed, Sadaf. icover: A Day in the Life of an American Muslim COVERed Girl. iCreate Publishing, 2010.
#ImmigrantExp #Global

Koloud ‘Kay’ Tarapolsi
Libyan American Kay Tarapolsi’s artistic career began as she looked for engaging, creative resources to teach her own children the Arabic language. Through her business, “A Crafty Arab,” she seeks to foster a positive image of the Arab world to children. Her work includes fun, colorful educational materials such as the “Arabic Alphabet Animal Poster” and the “Islamic Daily Salat Chart Tutorial.” Tarapolsi’s current work may be found in the Smithsonian African Art Shop and is featured on the “Multicultural Kid Blog,” a site dedicated to raising children as “world citizens” through art, crafts, and language.

Dr. Huda Totonji
Being born in Saudi Arabia and living in America gives Totonji the “life in two worlds” perspective shared by many American Muslim artists. Her eclectic multi-media work includes paintings, calligraphy, collage, still life performance, and installations. Her scholarly research has led to an international teaching career from Australia to Georgetown University in the U.S. and work as a visual art consultant. Her particular interests include the integration of text and image and perspectives on issues of identity and ideology of the “two worlds” she has experienced: one “world” focused on “word”; the other, on pictorial representation, especially as reflected in portrayals of femininity.
#ImmigrantExp #Global #Politics

Nazar Yahya (b. 1963)
Nazar Yahya, awarding winning contemporary multi-media artist, has been hailed a visionary for his symbolic use of shapes and the rich language of Sufism to expose the devastation of war in his native Iraq. Through his own personal pain and sense of displacement, Yahya creates pieces for psychological impact, to “shock” the viewer into a new perspective of this ever changing world. Yahya and his family now live in Houston, Texas.
#ImmigrantExp #Politics #Global #WarOnTerror

Mohamed Zakariya (b.1942)
Born in California, this American convert to Islam has been hailed the preeminent ambassador of traditional Islamic calligraphy. The first westerner to be licensed in Islamic calligraphy at the preeminent Research Center for Islamic Art, History, and Culture in Istanbul, Zakariya is also an internationally recognized historian of the traditional forms. While working in the classical style, Zakariya includes intricate designs and colorful roundels. His most recognizable cultural contributions are the 2001 and 2011 “Eid Greetings” stamps created for the U.S. Postal Service. Zakariya is represented by Linearis Art.
Zakariya, Mohamed. The Calligraphy of Islam: Reflections on the State of the Art. Georgetown University: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 1979.

Niloofar Ziae (b. 1962)
Born and raised in Iran, now Boston based Niloofar Ziae finds navigating a hybrid identity inspires her innovative abstract expressionism. Working in mixed-media and collage, Ziae adds figurative elements to document the rapidly changing architectural landscape of her native Tehran. Connecting the architecture of Iranian and American cities, she communicates the complicated contradictory experience of loss and anticipation that come with inevitable change.
#ImmigrantExp #Global


Other Resources


  • Ali, Wijdan. Modern Islamic Art: Development and Continuity. Gainsville: University Press of Florida, 1997.
  • Amer, Ghada and Oguibe, Olu. Ghada Amer. Amsterdam: De Appel, 2003.
  • Arthurs, Alberta and Wallach, Glenn, eds. Crossroads: Art and Religion in American Life. New York: New Press, 2001.
  • Bailey, David and Tawadros, Gilane, eds. Veiling, Representation and Contemporary Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.
  • Bilal, Wafaa, and Lydersen, Karl. Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun. San Francisco, CA.: City Lights Books, 2008.
  • Syed, Sadaf. icover: A Day in the Life of an American Muslim COVERed Girl. iCreate Publishing, 2010.
  • Dabashi, Hamid. “Shrin Neshat: Transcending the Boundaries of an Imaginative Geography,” in The Last Word. San Sebastian, Spain: Museum of Modern Art, 2005.
  • Daftari, Fereshteh. “Islamic or Not?” in Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking. New York: Museum of Modern Art. 2006.
  • George, Kenneth. Picturing Islam: Art and Ethics in a Muslim Lifeworld. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  • Haddad, Yvonne Y., and Smith, Jane I., eds. The Oxford Handbook of American Islam. 2014.
  • Homes, A.M. Ghada Amer. New York: Gagosian Gallery, 2006.
  • Jensen, Mona. Shirin Neshat: Women Without Men. Denmark: Narayana Press and the ARoS Kunstmuseum, 2008.
  • Jiwa, Munir. “Aestheticizing Politics and Politicizing Aesthetics: Visual Artists and the Production and Representation of Muslim Identities in the United States,” Ph.D. dissertation. New York: Columbia University, 2004.
  • _______. Exhibiting Muslims: Art, Politics and Identity in NYC (forthcoming).
  • _______. 2010. “Imaging, Imagining and Representation: Muslim Visual Artists in NYC.” Contemporary Islam 4.1 (2010): 77-90.
  • _______. “Ghada Amer, Zarina Hashmi, Shirin Neshat, Shahzia Sikander,” in Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History. New York: Fact on File, 2010.
  • Metcalf, B. ed. Making Muslim Space in North America and Europe. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Zakariya, Mohamed. The Calligraphy of Islam: Reflections on the State of the Art. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 1979.