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A mural to celebrate Muslim culture

An image of an early design for the mural by winning artist Lachlan Chambliss. Photo by Mallory Rockwell.
By Mallery Rockwell and Arlana Shikongo

Nagiane Arriaza believes in Ithaca’s qualities of progressiveness, liberalism and artistry as much as the next Ithaca resident, however, she lives with a fear familiar to many other Muslim immigrants.

Arriaza is a member of the local Muslim community and recent attitudes towards Muslims nationally have been violent. This has left many members of the community afraid for their safety. However, a new mural painting project in downtown Ithaca hopes to celebrate the diverse Muslim culture that exists locally and remind them that they are at home here, too.

Arriaza is the Project Coordinator from the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) and explained that the project was inspired by the political tensions currently surrounding Islam and the Muslim community.

“People in the community thought, well, we just need something, some sort of encouragement,” she said.

The Al-Huda Islamic Center of the Finger Lakes, GIAC, and Multicultural Resource Center recently commissioned for artists to paint the mural celebrating Muslim culture. The mural will be painted on the wall to the right as you enter the Green Street Parking Garage located next to Cinemapolis on 120 E. Green Street in downtown Ithaca.

Arriaza explained that although Ithaca and Tompkins county offer very progressive communities, support for the community is not shown, even amidst the religious and racial tensions surrounding Muslims globally. She said that the aim is to create something that makes people feel welcome and accepted in the local community.

“If we’re not having conversations necessarily, what’s a real quick way to just say ‘hey, this is okay, you’re safe here’ and I thought that art and public art really does that,” she said.

According to Caleb Thomas, a member of the Public Arts Commission, the project will cost $2,000, which the organizations have fundraised.

“It’s for the artist’s time and also for the materials and we’re halfway to our fundraising goal,” he said.

Thomas said that he hopes to see the community rally and raise the remaining money to show their support for the Muslim community.

Thomas explained that the community’s backing is important as it will determine whether the project gets its final approval from Ithaca City Hall.

“It’s not a done deal,” he said. “I hope it can get support from city hall, the Public Arts Commission, the planning department and from common council to have this mural because it’s still a process.”

Thomas said that the project offers members of the community the opportunity to feel like they are a part of something.

“The thing that’s also beautiful is that when people contribute they feel like a part of it,” he said.

Thomas said that he wanted the project to make the Muslim community feel proud.
Try to make all of these disparate, short paragraphs more cohesive.

“I want people from the Muslim community to feel a sense that Ithaca is a place that honors them and that welcomes them,” he said.

Arriaza emphasized that the aim of the project is not to solicit political or monetary support, but rather to offer comfort that reassures Muslims that this is their home too.

Lachlan Chambliss is the artist that was selected from a pool of entries with submissions of sketches opened in January and closed on Feb. 9. The winning proposal was announced on March 9. The GIAC worked through the local Public Arts Commision and with the Community Arts Partnership to get the word out to all artists.

Chambliss said he did a significant amount of Peace Corps work in Africa for four years, which inspired him to create African murals. He said he hopes the public will gain a better notion of Islam because he has noticed a lot of illiteracy.

Chambliss has spent time working on sketches for the mural. Some of the pictures in the design display charity, with grain and food being given to people, and knowledge of Islam that he said has been translated into western societies.

Some of the rules for the mural prohibit the use of letters or drawing pictures of people or animals Chambliss disclosed. He said the rules made the design slightly challenging, but helped clarify what he could create.

“I wanted to include different architectural styles and different parts of the world,” he said.

Chambliss said he spent time looking closely at the wall and described his vision for the mural after observing the entrance.

“I wanted to find a way to transition from that sort of space into something that is more, that I liked as my own creation, but also that wasn’t terribly jarring in terms of transition,” he said.

Arriaza explained that the focus for the project was not on finding a muslim artist, but rather one that would depict the community positively and empower them.

“We weren’t interested specifically in Muslim artists per say,” she said. “It was just anyone who thinks they have a great idea; we’re ready to listen.”

According to Arriaza the judging committee was made up of three members from the Public Arts Commission, a member of the Multicultural Resource Center, herself and another member of the Muslim community.

Arriaza said she hopes the project will make Muslims in Ithaca feel loved, and that the mural will allow the greater community to recognize and acknowledge the local Muslim community.

“There have been Muslims living in this area for so many years,” she said. “Someone gave me the number of 150 years, and yet there’s no evidence of that.”

She explained that Muslims have been present in Ithaca for a relatively long period of time, yet there is no proof of that presence in the community. This mural will provide that validation.

She said that the mural will be a physical establishment of who Muslims are in the community.

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