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Nabil Mousa: Artist on Display

In Dearborn, Michigan, a new exhibit has recently opened in the Arab American National Museum. It features the work of Nabil Mousa, a Syrian-born, American-raised artist whose work explores his experience of living and creating as a gay man under multiple cultural influences.

 Photo: Mr. Mousa in his Atlanta studio. From The New York Times.

Photo: Mr. Mousa in his Atlanta studio. From The New York Times.

This is the first time the Museum has focused on a gay artist’s experience of discrimination. Mousa, who currently works from Atlanta, GA has run into difficulties finding museums to display his art. The Arab American National Museum wants to “shed light on the diversity of their community,” and show that there is space in the museum to challenge the sometimes small narrative of Arab-Americans by exhibiting Mousa’s work.

Exhibits like this one set the museum apart by offering individual, personal perspectives and not grouping multiple artists together by nationality and risking generalizations. The museum was founded in 2005 by the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, also located in Dearborn, which has one of the largest Arab-American communities in the U.S.

In his art, Mousa often uses common, general motifs like the American flag or restroom symbols, but he manages to give them a personal meaning. He layers many textures, colors, and symbols on top of one another in his paintings that perhaps reflect the struggles of his multiple identities to coexist. In one piece, he replaces the stars in the American flag with the “=” symbol of the Human Rights Campaign to address the inequality he sees in the U.S.

 Photo: Mousa’s “American Landscape #34” from Arab American National Museum

Photo: Mousa’s “American Landscape #34” from Arab American National Museum

This exhibit, American Landscapes: An Exploration of Art and Humanity, features one of several paintings in the series with an American flag with the color orange added as a metaphor for the “fear experienced by those marginalized because of their gender identity or sexual identity.” The series brings to light the LGBTQ rights movement in America, with his use of orange recalling the sense of alarm associated with the Code Orange (emergency code) used during security threats since the 9/11 events.

 Photo: Painting by Nabil Mousa, arabamericanmuseum.org

Photo: Painting by Nabil Mousa, arabamericanmuseum.org

Mousa carries influences from his Christian family, his Middle Eastern heritage, and his life in the United States. Almost all his paintings in the American Landscapes series include the flag or stars and stripes pattern, except for one, which includes a background of swirls and flowers that reflects his practice of including Middle Eastern or Mediterranean designs in his older work.

In his more recent work, he encourages and hopes for greater equality for LGBTQ artists and collaboration among people of different religions.