ARKANSAS – An Arkansas high school project has succeeded to connect its students with the Muslim community, assigning them to interview Muslims and tell their stories through art, Arkansas Online reported.
“It’s really great to be able to understand a person from a different culture because you might see stuff on the news and read about stuff, but there’s like, a person right there,” said Peter Herman, a Fayetteville High School junior.
Herman is a student in Ashley Grisso’s advanced placement world history classes who worked on the project in groups of two or three.
This is the third year Grisso has done the project as part of the ARTeacher Fellowship program. The program is organized by the university’s Center for Children and Youth in collaboration with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the Walton Arts Center.
Herman worked with classmates Robert Benafield and Grady Cape and interviewed a Muslim who identified himself as Amel, who pursues a master’s degree in public health at the university.
The boys’ piece of art is a collage on paper, divided into halves. The left half, with a purple background, depicts some of the negativity Muslims feel from America. A quote from Amel — “I was so scared to show my religion to America” — is at the center of that half.
The other half, with a white background, was meant to showcase Amel’s jolly personality. It includes a picture of him with a broad smile standing on the university campus.
“It’s a very challenging thing for a 16-year-old to look at a piece of pottery and tell you the historical context and all that stuff,” Grisso said.
“But when they make the art piece themselves, it’s like, light bulbs go off.”
The students visited local mosques as well as the Northwest Arkansas Islamic Center and artistically presented what they had experienced during their visits.
“The group’s artist statement summed up what they’d learned. They were able to see through the children’s eyes how Muslim principles are applied in their everyday life and how they handle judgments from people that are not familiar with Islam,” she concluded.
Arkansas State is home to over three million people as of 2017. Its name is of Siouan derivation from the language of the Osage denoting their related kin, the native Quapaw Amerindians.
According to Pew 2014 records, the number of Muslims in the state sums as low as 2%. Arkansas, like most other Southern states, is part of the Bible Belt and is predominantly Protestant.