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LaGuardia Performing Arts Center

Beyond Sacred: An Insightful Look into Muslim Culture & America

lpac laguardia performing arts center beyond sacredLong Island City Neighborhood / Dance & Theater in Queens / Queens Buzz. The LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center [LPAC] produced a year long look into the Muslim culture vis a vis America. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend all of the events they hosted, but I did attend several of them, and each time I was moved by the art, dance, music and theatrical productions created and shown by LPAC.

The intent was to expand American's view of the Muslim culture. Since 911 Muslims have been almost exclusively characterized by the America media and Hollywood as terrorists. The American media obsession with Muslim terrorists fails to put Muslims and Islamic culture in context, by only showing one small part of it. Islam is a millenium and centuries old culture that spans the globe and comprises 1.6 billion people - some of which live in most nations around the world. The American media portrayal of Islamic culture and Muslims has prior parallels in American history, as a half century ago the American media (including Hollywood) depicted African Americans as lazy, pregnant food stampers, drug dealers and hoodlums, and in the thirty years preceding that period, depicted Italians as evil mobsters and Irishmen as alcoholics.

Hence the following are the reports we posted while covering this extraordinary, ground-breaking production by the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center LPAC Beyond Sacred.


Rough Draft Festival LPAC:  Beyond Sacred: Unthinking Muslim Identity | rough draft festival nyc rough draft festival queens lic beyond sacred unthinking muslim identity queens nyc
Rough Draft Festival LPAC: Beyond Sacred: Unthinking Muslim Identity

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LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center Takes Center Stage With Rough Draft Festival

April 13, 2015 / Long Island City LIC / Queens Theater / Queens Buzz.

A bit more than a week ago I headed down to the LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center to watch / participate in one of the performances of the week-long Rough Draft Festival.

The Rough Draft Festival is the creation of Managing Director Steven Hitt and Assistant Director Handan Ozbilgin of LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center. The festival was the evolution of experimental dance and theatrical work the two had been collaborating on with Queens and New York City performing artists over a number of years. In 2013 they launched the first Rough Draft Festival to attract, audition, present and refine original choreographed and theatrical works probing themes relevant to the Queens community.

The work I would view today was entitled The Art of Hijab. Kohl Black and the Right Way to Pray. This production dovetailed with another project undertaken by the LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center dubbed Beyond Sacred, which is a grant-sponsored exploration of Islamic cultural identity.

Click here to read our report about the Rough Draft Festival at the LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center. Report.



In Search Of A Civilization Lost By Mass Media

LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center Uses Theater & Art To Stimulate Cross Cultural Community Conversation

queens theaterFebruary 9, 2015 / Long Island City / Queens Theater / Queens Buzz. It was nearing sunset on Saturday evening as I made my way through a beautifully quiet Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The clean white snow glistened gently in the fading light, and the leafless trees along the road provided what felt like an ancient natural cathedral.

I checked in at the admissions desk and made my way to the second floor of the Queens Museum. The Queens Museum was once the home to the United Nations and hence provided the perfect context for this community conversational performance. The floor to ceiling windows looked out onto the landmarked Unisphere which emanated a universal vibe. In the long wide hallway a crowd was engaged in clustered conversations following the conclusion of four performances shown that afternoon. I had seen the performances at an event earlier in the season.

I began talking to Tasneem, a member of the audience who is shown in the photo at right standing alongside a photo taken by a friend of hers who is shown in the photo. Tasneem came from beyond sacred laguardia performing arts centerJordan twelve years ago, only two years after 911. She said that it's important for the general populace of Muslims to stop being afraid of showing they're Muslim, because otherwise New Yorkers and the rest of America will be left with the picture of Islam as depicted by a few extremists which is amplified and continually repeated by the American mass media.

I couldn't deny it. It seems American television stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines are obsessed with providing the Islamic terrorists all the publicity they want.

But here, tonight, in the Queens Museum; I would not see any of the faces shown by our mass media. I would see only the faces of everyday Islamic New Yorkers who generally receive no publicity at all. Muslims who hail from dozens of cultures around the world. And there wasn't a single terrorist among them. Hence - and likely not coincidentally - there also wasn't a single mass medium reporter covering this event.

Tasneem told me how she, like many other American Muslims, fears showing she's Muslim because of the stereotypes created by the terrorists and perpetuated and blown up by the American mass media. The notion of a silent majority came to mind.

It occurred to me that the gore of the Islamic extremists must be good for tabloids and TV ratings. And I pondered what it must feel like to be stereotyped by this relentless, distorted depiction of one's culture and people. Andy Warhol's characterization of the mass production of images came to mind.

beyond sacred queens theatreI thought about what it would be like if I lived somewhere else in the world where the nation's media mass produced stereotypes of Americans, depicting us as murderers, rapists and thieves. That could easily be done if a nation's media decided to portray Americans by solely covering the 5.6 million violent crimes and the 17.1 million property crimes that took place in this country in 2011 alone [source: Wikipedia / Bureau of Justice Statistics]. That just wouldn't be right ... would it?

And yet, it seems that this is exactly what's been happening to Muslims in America, because of the unbalanced coverage of Islam by the big American mass media companies. The TV and newspaper tabloids make a living by sensationalizing - spinning things out of context - but aren't the real journalists supposed to provide perspective by putting things back in context?

This seems generally not to have been done.

And so the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center applied for and received a grant to begin such an effort. An effort to provide exposure to the lives and contributions of the other billion Muslims who go peacefully and productively about their lives each day, just like most of the rest of us. An effort to create a community conversant with a deeper and broader understanding of a millenial and centuries old culture that is embedded in the lives of over a billion people on the planet. People who live in dozens of nations around the globe, and none of whom are terrorists - and hence generally not represented in the American mass media.

I met American born Charles Bernett of Rego Park who had traveled to Cairo in 1979. Thirty-five years ago he was about to embark on his second trip through Africa ... [see photo at right].

More to come later in the week. Click here to learn more about the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center exploratory, year-long, theater and arts, cultural endeavor.


Can One Connect Communities Through Culture?

Islam & America: LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center Artistically Explores Muslim Culture

beyond sacred lpacSeptember 29, 2014 / Long Island City Neighborhood / Queens Theater / Queens Buzz. On September 11th, 2001 the Muslim culture came front and center into America's consciousness. It was a disastrous day for Americans including Muslim Americans. But for Muslim Americans it also created, and left behind, a long lasting negative bias toward all Muslims - not just those associated with the 911 atrocities.

Most of what America hears and knows about Muslim culture comes through the war torn lens of the Middle East, even though more than 80% of Muslims in the world live outside of that region. The reason America pays so much attention to the Muslims of the Middle East is that they are inextricably tied up with the world's - and our own - oil energy needs. Hence many of the stories we see and hear are generally associated with either the terrorists involved in 911 or the multi-millenia old blood feuds of the Middle East. Yet examining Muslim culture using the battles of the Middle East as the peephole, is akin to learning about German or Japanese culture through the narrow lens of World War II.

swirling dervish lpacHistorically America has had a generous heart, even toward those with whom we've fought. Two centuries ago we fought the Revolutionary War For Independence against Great Britain. And it was less than 70 years ago that both Germany and Japan were our nation's greatest enemies. Germany attacked our Atlantic crossing ships and Japan dropped bombs on our Navy at Pearl Harbor. Yet today we now count all of these nations among our closest friends.

There are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, making it the second largest religious / cultural group in the world [there are 2.2 billion Christians]. And Muslim culture spans the globe, from the Middle East [317 million], to Europe [44 million], Africa [248 million], Asia [986 million] and the Americas [4 million]. But that said, only between four and five million of Muslims live in the Americas.

Hence, to broaden and deepen our understanding of Islamic culture beyond the Middle Eastern crises, the LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center applied for and won grants from the Association of Performing Artists, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art to widen our lens of Muslim culture. And they added more than a dash of NYC spice to it.

Thus on Friday evening, I attended a dance performance entitled Leap of Faith, the second event of the year long series entitled Beyond Sacred: unthinking Muslim identity. The performances included a belly dancer, a swirling dervish, and three modern interpretive dances - two of which explore personal journeys by Muslim Americans who are children of both cultures. We'll post more later today including a photo slide show of the performances.


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