By Sandra C. Davis, Chicago Contributor
Internationally renowned mixed-media artist, professor and social activist Najjar Abdul-Musawwir’s life is centered around art and community giving. Abdul-Musawwir leads the undergraduate studies program for the School of Art and Design at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, where he teaches fine art and art history. His abstract artistry focuses on the use of different materials that serve as a metaphor of the black and human experience and have been featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout the world, but especially by distinguished black institutions including the Museum of Science and Industry's Black Creativity Exhibition, N'Namdi Galleries, African Festival of the Arts and the Charles H. Wright Museum.
Abdul-Musawwir’s prolific work has received numerous accolades, including the Rickert Ziebold Trust Award, an Illinois Consortium Educational Opportunity Program Fellowship and an Illinois artist consultancy with the MacArthur Foundation. His latest commissions celebrate black culture, honor our ancestors and raise much needed funds for community organizations that promote the arts.
Najjar has partnered with Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) to fundraise and support IMAN’s arts programming by contributing art work to an exhibition and online auction through April 2014. Read on to learn more about how Najjar incorporates giving into his profession.
Why is giving and service a part of your artistic practice?
I believe that people are increased by giving, especially when creative activities are their gifts of service. Early in my career, I was intimidated and flattered into donating my time and my very limited art resources to help children’s programs, art organizations and businesses. It is my personal practice to give back, especially to our communities. I have never met an artist who was selfish with their resources: art supplies, knowledge and/or artistic practice. When I seriously think about the contributions that visual artists have made on behalf of the community, it is amazing.
Please share about your experiences working with African and African-American institutions and what influences your work.
Engaging each institution is a unique experience and I bring several hats. When I was in Washington, D.C., I conducted some creative field research at the Howard University art department and the Smithsonian Museum’s library. This greatly fueled my creative energy. One of my biggest sources of creativity was my trip to Ghana and how I was inspired by the Door of No Return and the African Muslim village I lived in for six weeks. I created a whole series of work from this experience.
The “What Lies Beneath: Breast Cancer Series” you created was inspired by the alarming death rate of African-American women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. Are there any other disparities within the black community that you plan to explore in your work?
Yes! I am an artist of the people. Meaning, my art has a language that allows me, an artist, to communicate messages to members of my community. It is like the symbols in the slave quilts communicating messages to each other. Art should be used to service the people, and not in a one dimensional way. Some other disparities are prostate cancer, diabetes, HIV, hypertension/high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity that I’ve found to be of interest to me.
The works have to be real and meaningful. The works have to be the voice of what I’ve learned through research. My Breast Cancer series has done what I wanted it to do, save lives, or at least let our women know how much the community cares for them. The John A. Logan College in Carterville, Illinois exhibited some of my paintings from the Breast Cancer series and a student saw the works, read the artist’s statement and decided to get an exam. To her surprise, the doctor found a small lump in her breast tissue and removed it. The young lady was so happy that she told her art teacher what the paintings had done for her. The teacher wrote me a letter and this is how I found out about this young woman. Early detection is very important. I would assume that early detection for most, if not all diseases is important. Giving is a lifestyle for me; I am looking forward to doing more.
To learn more about Najjar Abdul-Musawwir and his work, please contact Lavon Pettis, Creative Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submitted by Sandra C. Davis
Sandra is a Purpose-Driven Marketing Communications/Branding Strategist and Writer, who connects people, events, nonprofits, and companies with complementary brands and social causes that share their missions and target markets in order to amplify social impact. Ms. Davis is the Creative Director of Lioness Communications and a member of the Chicago Ideas Week Cooperative. Follow Sandra on Twitter at @Sandraloves.