Arab Muslim women from Minnesota portrayed in exhibition inspired by Islamic art

DEARBORN — Within an approximately 8-foot-by-10-foot prayer niche lies a directional compass guiding spoken prayers for any Muslim who retreats into it. In Arabic, this personal niche is called a mihrab, and like mosque architecture, no two mihrabs are alike. Many are lavishly decorated and some are not; but all are personal.

Here, Saudi American cardiologist-turned-artist Hend Al-Mansour recasts the mihrab as a framework. “Mihrab: Portraits of Arab Muslim Women” by Hend Al-Mansour is a temporary exhibition featuring installation portraits of three Arab Muslim women from Minnesota and their relationship with Islam.

This exhibition opened in the Main Floor Gallery of the Arab American National Museum on May 12; it runs through Sept. 30. The exhibition is free with museum admission.

Like traditional portraiture, each structure was carefully crafted to reflect the subject. Favorite clothes, colors and objects from the subject may be incorporated in subtle or amusing ways. These elements bring shape to the personalities of the women represented. Only the personalized rugs are oriented toward Mecca. Visitors are encouraged to remove their shoes and enter the installations to fully experience the work and the women’s stories.

“Al-Mansour is creating not only a portrait, but an environment for the viewer to appreciate,” AANM Curator of Exhibits Elizbeth Barret Sullivan said. “This is one of the few times where the subject of the art is specifically related to Islam. Al-Mansour’s story and those of her portrait subjects are part of the Arab American story.”

Hend Al-Mansour was born in Saudi Arabia and as a child she carved large female figures into sand. She studied and practiced medicine in Cairo where she gained a reputation among her colleagues for the images she drew in the doctor’s rooms. She made her way to the United States where she completed a master’s degree in art.

In the “Mihrab” exhibition, Al-Mansour’s art reflects the female culture of her hometown.

“Islamic art usually carries the mark of being historical. Gorgeous but bygone,” Al-Mansour said.

“It is important to me as an Arab American to believe that my ancestor artists have left me a precious heritage to build on and grow and show as a valid, meaningful art that descends through time.”

Al-Mansour was awarded the Jerome Fellowship of Printmaking and the Juror’s Award of the Contemporary Islamic Art Exhibition (Saudi Arabia.) She was listed among the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women for three years in the online magazine Arabian Business. She is a co-founder of the group Arab Artists in the Twin Cities and has shown her work in regional, national and international exhibitions.
Al-Mansour was a member of the Arab American Cultural Institute in Minnesota where she worked to promote the understanding and expression of Arab culture in the West.

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