BY GEOFF PURSINGER
The Times, Nov 12, 2009, Updated Nov 12, 2009 (2 Reader comments)
L.E. BASKOW / PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP
ART WITH A MESSAGE – Portland artist Kanaan Kanaan puts the finishing touches on his newest art project, “The Graceful names of Allah,” by dipping the edges of the artwork in black wax.
When it comes to his art, Portland artist Kanaan Kanaan is focusing on his faith and his community.
“This is how I see myself contributing to the community,” said Kanaan. “I feel an obligation as an American to contribute whatever I can.”
Kanaan, a Muslim, is working on a project centered around the several names his religion has for God, which will serve as part of the Muslim Educational Trust’s annual fundraiser.
The fundraiser will raise money for the foundation’s two schools, both located in Tigard, the Islamic School of MET, a pre-kindergarten through fifth grade school, and the Islamic Academy of Oregon, which serves grades six through 12.
Kanaan will be showcasing a selection from his most recent project titled, “The Graceful Names of Allah” at the Muslim Educational Trust in Tigard on Nov. 13.
The Quaran, Islam’s holy book, has 99 different names for God, which are used in various places throughout the scripture, including Ar-Rahmân (The Compassionate), and Al-Qawwiyy (The Strong).
The art is part of a two-day event, which includes the gallery, as well as a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization, which works to educate the Portland area about Islam and the area’s growing Muslim community. According to the organization the greater Portland area has more the 25,000 Muslims.
Kanaan draws his inspiration from his faith, as well as the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “That’s why I do my art, because it’s so depressing out there. For me it’s good to understand what is happening (in the Middle East) — people retaliate differently,” he said. “This is my retaliation.” Born and raised in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, Kanaan has strong feelings about the ongoing issue in the Middle East, but in the end, he said, it all comes down to love and peace.
In the past, Kanaan’s art has focused on more abstract themes. In his Portland studio a three-dimensional piece depicting a pair of cut off denim jeans and shoes are attached to a Martian landscape, the figure’s legs are made out of nails embedded into the wood.
“But after Sept. 11, it was Islamic art that came to dominate my artwork,” he said. “It didn’t happen all at once, it was a gradual thing, but eventually it really became my focus.”
Kanaan’s art became his way of communicating his ideas of faith and Islam to the community.
“You can stand on the corner and talk to people, but when they realize what you’re doing they’re just gonna say ‘oh, there’s that guy on his soapbox,’ and tune you out,” he said. “But people come to an art gallery and you’re not forcing them to accept any ideas. The moment they put their eyes on a piece of artwork you open that conversation. You don’t have to say anything and they don’t have to say anything, but the conversation is there.”
Kanaan hopes that his artwork will help influence people about their thoughts on Islam and Muslims.
“A lot of things in Islam have become misunderstandings,” he said. “Even the word ‘Islam’ is a misunderstanding to people when they hear it. The word comes from Arabic and means ‘to be submissive to God and peace.’ Just on its own that says something about what Islam is about. It’s about peace and taking care of each other.”
Kanaan’s artwork is only a piece of the larger fundraiser, which will also feature a silent auction, and award ceremony for active volunteers. The proceeds from the fundraiser will go to upgrading the science lab for the schools, and purchasing new P.E. equipment.
The gallery will take place Friday, at Muslim Educational Trust, 10330 S.W. Scholls Ferry Road, in Tigard, at 6 p.m. The fundraiser will take place at Portland State University’s Smith Center, in the first floor cafeteria, at 1825 S.W. Broadway on Nov. 14.