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The Center for Civil and Human Rights: Art as Social Activism

The Center for Civil and Human Rights: Art as Social Activism

Author Kelly Crosby by

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The Center for Civil and Human Rights recently celebrated their third year anniversary. The young institution is dedicated to teaching visitors about civil and human rights and also empowering visitors to challenge injustice and oppression within their communities.

I had the pleasure of being one of the three artists chosen for their celebratory anniversary exhibit. As a Muslim artist, I felt that it was important to show artwork about Muslims. Art is a catalyst for social change. It is a creative way to dispel negative stereotypes of marginalized communities. Art gives us the opportunity to address uncomfortable issues in a way that appeals to our need for beauty and meaning.

It’s also absolutely fun!

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Unapologetically Muslim

I was inspired by activist Linda Sarsour for this work. “Unapologetically Muslim” is a bold statement; a call to action! This work is a reaction to the 2016 election and how it is more important for us to hold fast to faith and live our lives as proud Muslims; unwilling to apologize for who we are and what we believe. I chose the image of a Muslim woman in hijab, because in order to challenge stereotypes, you must confront them and proceed to dismantle them. In this painting is the hijab-clad woman but she decked out in American patriotic colors. My choice for using these colors declares that, “We are here. We’ve been here. And we’re not going anywhere.” Islam is a global faith and America is just one of the many countries it calls home.

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Americana Islamica

This painting is another reaction to the 2016 election. I love taking images that seem diametrically opposed to one another and then smashing them together to make a statement. Americana is a type of artwork that focus on American folklore, geography and culture. Naturally, the stars and stripes are a dominant theme. I decided to take the dome, which is common to mosque architecture, and I painted them various of the American flag. Like “Unapologetically Muslim,” this work challenges what we consider to be authentically Muslim and authentically American.

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African Muslima Queens

This last work is one of my favorites and I had a lot of fun creating it. This paintings celebrates the various fashions and headwraps found in African-American and West African Muslim culture. I chose to focus on West African and African American Muslim cultures for two reasons. First, I’m in love the colors and vibrancy of the patterns and designs of these cultures. I love bold, geometric colorful shapes. Second, I feel that the overall contributions of Black Muslims tend to be overlooked within the Muslim community and in mainstream American society. The racial demographic estimates on our community varies according to different organizations. However, most studies claim that Muslims of African descent make up 25% to 33% of the American Muslim community. Islam’s roots in America began not with the recent immigrations of the 20th century, but with the importation and exploitation of Africans brought to the Americas for slavery. As estimates show that at least a third of the Africans brought to the Americas were Muslim, this is further proof of Islam’s presence in America--not as a recent phenomenon but as a part of America’s beginnings. However, African American Muslim contributions to American culture are often overlooked in the media due to their hyperfocus on events in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. With this painting, I hope to show the beauty of colorfully draped Muslim women, all decked out in fine garments, looking like esteemed royalty.

Kelly Izdihar Crosby is an artist and freelance writer based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her work can be found at For more information about the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, please visit

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