Feast

Oil on Canvas, 82" x 47", 2018

Feast is an oil painting I made during the fall semester of my fourth year, as an independent study project under professor Eric Telfort. Creating this work was a seminal moment in my artistic journey, as this painting is both the largest and longest-term piece that I've made, as well as the most personally meaningful.

The sheep at the center of the composition is surrounded by elements holding personal and symbolic meaning about memory and identity. At its core, this piece is about honoring family tradition and upturning commonly held notions of beauty.

This painting is about the Islamic holiday Eid al-Adha, which means "Feast of the Sacrifice." This sacred day commemorates the story of Prophet Ibrahim, who was asked by God to sacrifice his son as a testament of his faith. At the last moment, God replaced Ishaq with a ram, which Ibrahim sacrificed instead. In veneration of Prophet Ibrahim's ultimate act of faith, Muslims are encouraged on this day to sacrifice a sheep and share the meat with family, friends, and the poor.

This tradition is deeply meaningful to me because of my Muslim faith and because this holiday is the most important day of the year for my father, who instilled in his family deep respect and appreciation for this practice. I was moved to make a painting about it, and at such a large scale, because growing up as a Muslim American I have experienced firsthand what many Western Muslims struggle with: biased and disdainful reactions from others when they hear about the sacrifice. With this painting I confront the viewer with the sacrifice and show that, far from a violent or barbaric act, this tradition is beautiful and meaningful.

My painting draws from classical Western painting traditions in terms of style and technique, and compositionally calls to mind Christian religious works. In drawing from such traditions, I address the Western observer in familiar visual terms, appropriating Christian imagery with Islamic subject matter. The fruits beneath the sheep, all mentioned in the Quran, suggest a ritual offering. The Arabesque tiling in the background references traditional Orientalist paintings, and through it I reclaim this Islamic motif.