"My soul is from elsewhere, I am sure of that, and I intend to end up there."
I pray you are well.
Have you been keeping up with the World Cup? To tell you the truth, I haven't watch a single game in it's entirety, but I have been intrigued by the discourse that emerged when the Moroccan team made it to the finals and became the first team to represent Africa and the Arab world in the last stages of the World Cup - Congrats to them! - and I would like to share my thoughts on what is currently being discussed online and why it matters to my work as an artist and how we as a collective understand the diverse nature of who we are.
Nsenga Knight and Tasneem Muhammad at her Queens Museum studio where she is an artist in residence and 2022-2024 In Situ Artist Fellow. Knight hosts an art salon.
One question that came up during the matches was, "Are Moroccans African?". This issue only emerged because of their Arab-ness. Moroccans are both African and Arab - one can be more than one thing at the same time! It makes sense for them to be proud and eager to represent Africa in the World Cup, and to share that excitement with everyone else. The resistance to accepting their form of representation in my opinion, comes from people not understanding enough about Africa, Arabs or Islam. The embrace of Islam in it's earliest years is what brought Arabs to most countries in northern Africa, as well as the Arabic language, which created diverse identities within a unifying identity, and an appreciation for the Arabic language.
Did you know that Arabic is the most widely spoken language in Africa? Africa is home to 62% of all Arabic speakers, which means that most Arabs are actually African. Both. And.
One of the aims of my studio practice is to connect people globally, create a to bridge our understanding of one another, thereby helping us see our place in the world. I want us to remove all of the barriers! I view my Studio Visits and Art Salons at the Queens Museum as ways to connect, share experiences, and be open to the fullness of human experience. In the second Art Salon in the series I'm hosting we will be touching on my research based projects, such as my research into the life and writings of Omar Ibn Said, that are concerned with dismantling ideas about who we are and who we have been as people of African descent, and as Black Muslims in particular.
Nsenga Knight 2010, This is the Lord’s Prayer – Take My Word For It, 2 30 x 20 inch Screenprints on Paper (Installed at Project Rowhouses)
Resistance to understanding who Africans are, and what Black history and Islamic culture are, from a Black and African lens rather than a Eurocentric colonial lens bars us from understanding ourselves. For example, the long held belief that Black Africans had no reading or writing traditions, only oral ones, has held us back from connecting to our collective history. As you know, I've lived in Egypt - an African, Arab and majority Muslim country for over 6-years. My commitment to learning the Arabic language (I still take Arabic lessons with Amal, my Egyptian teacher every morning at 7am) has been even more deeply motivated by the access that this language has given me to traditional African scholarship.
The Tarikh al-fattash West African manuscript by Mahmoud Kati is a 17th-century copy of a historical reference work. It retraces the entire history of the Songhai Empire until its demise at the hands of the army of the Sultan of Morocco (the Almoravids) in the 16th century.
I encourage us all to open our eyes to the diversity and reality of Africa. For a continent that has the most ancient libraries and intellectual traditions, the extremity of our ignorance about it has to be countered with a deeper commitment and openness to understanding and acceptance of all parts of African identity. I look forward to sharing more with you about what I'm creating and learning inshaAllah.
P.S. Have you seen my Fitra: Amber series yet? The Fitra series is about the most essential aspect of who we are - our nature than is enhance by, yet transcends geography, language and color!
P.P.S. If you have been wondering about ways to support my practice, you can also join my Patreon.