HomeBad Ass AsiansArtist Showcases the Faces of Islam

Artist Showcases the Faces of Islam

Ramin Samandari
Ramin Samandari

By Ahmed H. Sharma

ArtistRamin Samandari is reaching out to San Antonio’s Muslim community to showcase the diversity of the town’s citizenry.

Samandari has lived in San Antonio for more than 30 years. Originally from Iran, he arrived in San Antonio in 1988 a little after the 1979 Revolution. Following the Solidarity Vigil held last month for the 49 slain Muslims in New Zealand, Samandari began a new project called Faces of Islam. With this project, Samandari hopes to photograph and interview local Muslims to demonstrate the complexity of the city’s Muslim population. In other words, he aims to showcase the lives of ordinary San Antonio citizens that just so happen to be Muslim.

Admittedly, this project is similar to works Samandari has done in the past.

“In a way it’s a continuation of what I did at the end of the Presidential election in 2016; a project called Huddled Masses: Who We Are and I photographed over 300 San Antonio residents. They would write on a placard whether they were first, second or third generation immigrants,” Samandari said.

At the moment, Faces of Islam is in its infancy, but since the Solidarity vigil, he has begun reaching out to other Muslims in San Antonio.

“I’ve been working on this project for about two or three weeks now, but I photographed Muslims during the vigil and slowly got to photograph and interview about 16 people so far individually,” he explained.

Moreover, Samandari believes this project is vital during this heightened epoch of Islamophobia.

“At the same time that xenophobia has existed, Islamophobia has been present too. Since the election of 2016, Islamophobia seems to be much more open,” he said.

Aside from the diversity of San Antonio’s population, mainly what Samandari wants to do is demonstrate that Islam and Muslims are not monolithic.

“In the 40 years that I’ve been in the United States, when it comes to understanding what it means to be a Muslim, it’s all askewed. Sometimes on purpose, sometimes on misinformation. So I feel like Islam is still shrouded in some sort of a mystery,” Samandari said.

He continued, “and we see this today in popular media with the portrayal of Muslims as one mind, one look, and in a visual way this art project can shed some light on correcting that misconception.”

That being said, Samandari explained he would like to transform this project into something big.

“I want Faces of Islam to get as much public attention as I can. A book would be great. I’m meeting with a university press later this week, so a book or even an art exhibition would be great,” he said.

However, this project is much more than simply getting recognition.

Samandari explained, “Personally, as a working artist, I can’t deny that this will get me notoriety, but I’m at a stage in my art career where I’m more interested in doing these documentary types of work where I’m not getting commercially funded. It’s important to me.”

Simultaneously, Samandari does not intend for Faces of Islam to be a propaganda piece.

“I intend to portray all facets of Islam. I’m not just taking photos of Muslims that don’t wear a hijab (headscarf),” he said.

Having struggled with his own religious identity and being a first generation immigrant from Iran, he empathizes with the Islamophobia many Muslims in America face.

“I’m not a good Muslim by any means,” Samandari said. “But because I’ve been on the front line of hearing and seeing the firsthand effect of people’s misunderstanding and misguided ideas of what it means to be from a particular country or faith. But I see it in broader society like when a Mosque gets shot up and if I see images having an effect from one side, surely it should have a counter-effect on the other side.”

Samandari concluded by saying due to to the complexity of this project, there is no timeline set for completing Faces of Islam.

“This kind of project is a little out of my hands. I have to reach out to Muslims, all the Islamic centers in town, so it could take months or a couple years,” he said.

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