By Shu-Ju Wang
Below, Sabina Haque with one of her lightbox pieces One Nation Under God.
Dominating, subversive, motherhood, submissive, breast—these were but a few of the words Sabina Haque received in response to her question “what comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘woman?’”
For the word American, the responses—superpower, righteous.
For Muslim—brown, religious, militant, and exotic.
Three words, three starkly different reactions.
These questions were a part of an installation/experiential exhibit Sabina produced in 2003 that also included portraits and interviews she created of 25 Pakistanis and 25 Americans. In the center of the installation were large posters of Muslim American women.
Sabina Haque is a Muslim American Woman.
Born in the US and moved to Pakistan with her family when she was 15 months old, Sabina grew up where people never questioned her identity–she was assumed to be Pakistani though she’s Scandinavian on her mother’s side.
After coming back to the US to go to school in Massachusetts for her BA and MFA, she found herself needing to define herself in a country obsessed with questions such as “where are you from?” and “what are you?”
And so Sabina found herself in the “category” of Muslim American Woman. Soon, she started to move away from her previous work of representational paintings and started to use mythology, politics, religion, social, and regional concerns to address the issue of identity, and creating work for exhibits titled “Who Are You?” and “Home? Crosscurrents in Contemporary South Asian/American Art.”
In these shows, Sabina engaged the public by finding the thread that binds us all, the thread that tells the story that we all share despite our seemingly disparate backgrounds. She created work based on 14th century Italian frescoes of Christ, and combined them with images of lotus blossom, the dagger of Kali, and verses from the Quran. Using the pages from a Bible and a Quran, she created a 12 foot woven tapestry. From this tapestry, she constructed a pillar, a pillar of the Bible and of the Quran. A pillar about the One Story, about commonality.
With her American citizenship, she’s able to delve into that space that’s in between two cultures, to cross borders, to define that space in between on her terms. She can see things from both sides. There are few people who have that biological and cultural advantage, to create work that sheds light on what it means to be American–and really, to be human–to close the gaps between us, to tell these personal psychological dramas that we can all understand.
Sabina continues to shed light on that commonality in her current work. She has started to talk about motherhood and family by exploring the myths around virginity and the cycle of birth and death—a topic without borders, if there ever was one.
Below, a self-portrait in Indian Madonna and Child.
Sabina Haque is artist number 58 in the 2009 Portland Open Studios tour. To see more of her work, visit her website at http://www.sabinahaque.com/.