Editor's Note: We've been featuring dynamic Muslim women on the blog for awhile, and we are stepping it up with our summer series dedicated to ChangeMakers, women who are living boldly and working to affect change in a myriad of ways – big and small – through their work as community organizers, artists, scientists, activists, educators, health professionals, care givers and more. We hope you are inspired by them to be the change you are searching for in your community!
By Layla Abdullah-Poulos
Every morning, I wake and rise to a powerful image hanging on a wall across from my bed. It is a painting by the talented multimedia artist, Kelly Izdihar Crosby depicting a group of Muslim women draped in black and gold. It reminds me of the strength in sisterhood and my identity as a Muslim woman.
While researching native-born American Muslim creatives during my graduate studies, a friend recommended that I check out Kelly Crosby. I became a fan of her work and use of media to create vivid, textured visual abstracts, landscapes, floral patterns and still life. I soon discovered that her work was in demand at several festivals, galleries and shows.
Between 2008 and 2011, Crosby lived in Dubai, where she displayed her art at DUCTAC (Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre) and the Bastakiya Arts Festival. Her bold use of colors caught the art world’s attention. She has also displayed her work across the United States and internationally in Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia at conferences, art shows and festivals. Her work is also in various private collections.
An Artist’s Journey and Inspiration
Crosby’s artist’s journey began in junior high school. “Alhamdulillah, I’ve always been a creative person. From junior high to high school, I had teachers and peers encouraging me to develop my talents, she says. “My teacher encouraged me to take an aptitude test in grade school, and that led to me being accepted into the Talented in Visual Arts program. Having teachers that recognized and affirmed my talent really helped me to see myself as an artist.”
Like many Muslim artists, Crosby draws from her faith for inspiration. She cites her travels to regions like the Middle East as sources for her conversion to Islam and influences on her creativity. “I became a Muslim in 2004, and that had a huge impact on my creative vision. A part of what led me to Islam was my willingness to explore different cultures and [reflect that] in my work. I always like to include different artistic influences from West Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
“I had always created art about African American culture, but then I started including Arabic calligraphy paintings and other Islamic-themed pieces into my work. My work [grew] to include Muslim women.”
Art and Activism
Crosby explains to Haute Hijab the ways in which she uses her artist’s voice to show the beauty in Islam, Muslim women and diversity. “The world, despite all the chaos and tragedies wrought by human hands, is still a beautiful place. Humanity, in all our colors, is beautiful. Islam is beautiful. Most importantly, Allah is beautiful, and we are merely a reflection of that beauty.
“Muslims, especially Muslim women, are diverse, intelligent and beautiful – inside and out. Years ago when I would visit a museum and see artwork about Muslim women, it was stereotypical at best, degrading at worst. A lot of it was Neo-Orientalist ideas projected onto us. I wanted to challenge that.”
The reception to her work has been extremely positive because of her personal connection that comes through in her art. “I’ve [received] great responses from women of different racial and religious backgrounds. Who better to tell our stories and depict our lives than us?”
Although Crosby’s primary message may be one elevating positive images of Islam and Muslim women, she acknowledges underlying political implications conveyed through her imagery. “The artistic depiction of Muslims and people of color in art spaces is political, as white males dominate these spaces. Having a presence in these spaces is inherently political, whether or not I intended it to be. “My art is political but in subtle ways. My work boldly depicts the issues I am passionate about, and my palette is very colorful.”
She adds, “In my series of paintings about Muslim women, I included a painting about Palestinian women. While the art focuses on traditional Palestinian dress; because it is about Palestinians, it already makes a political statement.”
Some of Kelly Crosby's art.
The Challenged Muslim Artist
Many Muslim creatives find themselves squeezed between the jaws of a cultural vice, applying often unbearable pressure on their identities and talent. Members of their Muslim communities often arbitrarily deride their work as “un-Islamic,” not Muslims enough or as showing them in an “unpleasant light.”
Outside of Muslim culture, these artists must contend with allergies to Islam in the broader society, leaving them struggling to decide how much of their Muslimness they will portray in their art. Crosby describes her internal conflict as a Muslim artist as thus: “I’ll always battle with my inner critic. ‘Will people like it? Is it too Islamic for mainstream America? Will Muslims like it? Is it good enough?’
“My challenge is to push through the fear and misgivings and create. Or as my old art teacher would say when I would complain about my insecurity, ‘Just shut up and paint!’”
Crosby encourages Muslim artists to be fearless and unapologetic. “Don’t be afraid of your artistic voice. You can create what you think will please the masses (which often backfires because people seek realness and authenticity), or you can stick to your own unique creative vision and produce what you love and feels authentic to you.
“Know that if you share your work with the world, you will find your ‘tribe,’ a strong, supportive group of patrons who will love and support your work.”
Crosby is an editorial assistant for Azizah Magazine and has contributed articles to multiple publications. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she continues to create art that reflects her dynamic Muslim identity and talent. Find Kelly Crosby and her work here: Website