Archive for the Art Category

Pakistani Cargo Truck Art….in Kansas City?!?

Posted in Art with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2012 by irydhan

Asheer Akram, an artist and sculptor of Pakistani descent, was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1984. He and a group of artists and artisans from Kansas City, Missouri have started the “Pakistani Cargo Truck Initiative” – which is formatted around the visual aesthetic of the cargo trucks of Pakistan and the ideas that surround their intended purposes.

“We are building a cargo truck in the traditional Pakistani-style with a Midwest twist and a new function.” Says Akram. “For this project we have selected a 1952 Chevrolet grain truck as a shell. This style of truck is distinctly American and has been a long-standing staple in the farming industry of the Midwest. We will be tasking Midwest fine artists and artisans with taking the basic format of the traditional Pakistani cargo truck and breeding it with an American aesthetic to create a completely original, functional and culturally mixed final product. The truck will be displayed as a piece of fine art and used as a tool for social and cultural enrichment. We intend to travel this truck from one coast to the other bringing a visual aesthetic not seen by the majority of the population, to teach sculptural workshops and bring awareness to people of the importance of cultural enrichment and understanding.” Akram said.

Asheer’s team is made up of local Kansas City artists as well as others from around the country. Some of his team members include local ceramicists (Kansas City is considered to be the “Mecca” of ceramic tile and paneling in the United States), Brock Deboer & Linda Lighton. The Truck will be painted by locals Chris Foxworth and Lauren Travers.

Bill Heineken will be making the truck bling, with custom spinners for the wheels. “You heard right, it wouldn’t be Midwest meets Mideast without SPINNERS. Heineken is a genius with laser production metal fabrication and has worked with architects and artists alike.” Says Akram.

The truck’s exterior woodwork will be created by Jorge Calvo. Local Kansas City glass artist Kathy Bernard will create stained-glass like elements for the top of the cab and cargo bed. The Truck will be carrying some cargo of a compact printing press which will be built by local artist and printmaker, Jesse McAfee.

“The visual component of these vehicles [Pakistani Cargo Trucks] create a hierarchical system of value and class; the more ornate and beautiful the truck is, the more valuable the goods they will be carrying.” Says Akram.

They have started a “Kickstarter” campaign to help raise the $30,000 needed to make this project a reality. The Deadline for fund raising is May 5th.  Check out the link here for more information:


FBI Love (Sung to Tune of Drake’s “Crew Love”)

Posted in Activism, Art, Islam, Media with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 26, 2012 by irydhan

FBI Love (Sung to the tune of Drake’s “Crew Love”)

[Verse 1]
Get your nose out of our masjid board
What you bothering us for?
There’s a room full of Pakis
What you following me for?
This aint no damn terror plot
So what you trying to entrap us for?
Cause you think we gonna blow like a C4?
Nah, sorry we cant afford to blow like a C4
Undercover agents keep the case going
with their Fake ID’s – throw em in the trash
we going straight to the top
and complaining to the President
With a hand full of dead presidents
nah we all not born foreign
Law enforcement’s been poisoned, from media flowing
so-called Terrorist experts pushing out excrement
they need to clean out their colon
Yea i said, clean out your colon, why?

They Hatin the Truth

[Verse 2]
Smoking Hookah under star projectors
I guess we’ll never know what FBI friends gets us
But seeing our people get spied on
Took the place of that desire to have police certificates on the wall
And really, I think I like who I’m becoming
There’s times where I might talk like it’s nothing
There’s times when I might blow up
For all my soldiers just to see the looks on all they faces
all it took was patience
I got a lotta friends to come up off the block for me
The same ones that’ll come up off the hip for me
The realest pakis say I’m an ABCD
I told my story, and made history
Tell them I’mma need reservations for 70
I’ve never really been one for the preservation of ego, nah
Much rather be humble and speak the truth while i’m breathing
That FBI and PoPo is everything you believe in, I know


We aint blowing like a C4
Sorry we too poor to blow like a C4
(If you broadcast your concerns, Paki, then your phones gonna be tapped)

Copyright 2012, Irfan Rydhan


Posted in Activism, Art, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2011 by irydhan

Originally Posted on ILLUME magazine.

Everyone has been talking about the controversy surrounding Lowe’s Hardware stores pulling their advertising from TLC’s “All American Muslim” reality TV show, because of the email campaign from Conservative Christian “Florida Family Association.”

But besides the few email complaints to Lowe’s or signing of petitions online, there hasn’t been much creative response from the Muslim-American community.

That’s when the comedic duo, Rizwan Manji and Parvesh Cheena (of “Outsourced”), along with writer/director Gregoy Bonsignore decided to take matters in their own hands and create the fake ad, “The Un-Aired Lowe’s Commercial.”

We got to talk to the three about why they made the video and what they thought of the controversy about the show.

Why did you guys produce this video?

Rizwan: Myself, Greg and Parvesh were sitting around Parvesh’s place talking about this whole Lowe’s situation and I kept seeing all the reaction all over Facebook and Twitter.  So we thought, as artists we can use our creativity, to make a funny video which makes a point about a greater issue. So within an hour of coming up with the idea, we went down to Lowe’s and started filming it!

Gregory (Director of the video): We wanted to do a satirical piece to show the type of “stereotypical scary” Muslims which the Florida Family Association are so concerned are not being shown on the TV program.  The video was shot on multiple iphones, in case we got kicked out of the store quickly.

Have you guys watched “All American Muslim” and what do you think about it?

Rizwan: Yes, I have seen it and like it.  It’s a typical reality show which shows the daily lives of people and I have been to Michigan before to shoot a film.  It’s an accurate portrayal of the people there, who are very friendly and I enjoy the show.

Gregory: I have watched it and although its format is not very unique, it’s subject – Muslim-Americans is what makes it interesting. It shows that Muslims now have their own reality show like other groups about suburban life in America.

Parvesh: ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM seems harmless. Please. Everyone is the same. We are all Americans. Sheesh.

What do you guys think of the reaction from groups such as the Florida Family Association and Corporations such as Lowe’s who have pulled their advertising from “All American Muslim”?

Gregory: I’m not really surprised with the reactions and totally bigoted response from some of the public, because there is not enough education about Islam in America.  But for a corporation like Lowe’s to react in the way they did, is totally unacceptable.

Rizwan: The biggest shock for me was that Lowe’s sent a letter to the Florida Family Association thanking them for pointing out the concerns of the show and asking them to pull their advertising.  It’s not okay that they caved in this way.

Parvesh: Lowe’s pulling their spots is silly and just so dumb and really foolish for a major company. I liked Lowe’s. I used to love their ads that added the letter T to the end which became Lowe’sT. Ha. Bad Lowe’s. They should apologize!

Do you think there is any correlation with how “Outsourced” was cancelled and the reaction that “All American Muslim” is getting, that the American public is not ready to see different ethnic and religious groups on TV?

Rizwan: There was also a loud and vocal minority who expressed some hatred about Indians and having a show like “Outsourced” on mainstream TV.  There were also some facebook hate groups and websites which made threats against us, but I don’t want to be pessimistic about it.  It was only a small, yet vocal, minority. We did not get any advertisers pulling ads from “Outsourced” and there was a good amount of viewers, but we just ran out of time to increase our viewership.

Parvesh: OUTSOURCED getting pulled doesn’t really have any racial correlation, In my opinion. We just got bad ratings when they moved us to 10:30pm for a show that became popular with families. Bad scheduling killed the show but we gotta move on.

Gregory: As a writer and director myself (Greg was a writer for the show “Lie to Me”), I feel that TV tends to normalize things.  From past shows which had African-Americans and women early on, it helps the viewers to get to know these different types of people which they may not normally get to interact with. I believe it’s important for more shows about Indians, Arab-Americans and Muslims to be on mainstream TV.  We are currently working on a TV pilot about a Muslim American family which we are pitching to producers and hoping to get into development soon.

Rizwan & Parvesh

Zaki Hasan: The Grandmaster of Geekdom

Posted in Activism, Art, Books/Magazines, Islam, Media, TV/Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2011 by irydhan

Originally Posted on ILLUME Magazine.

Zaki Hasan has been a geek all his life, though he’s never felt comfortable admitting it until now. From a childhood steeped in Superman comics and STAR TREK reruns to his current role as a professor of communication & media studies, Zaki has spent much of the last two decades analyzing and evaluating the role of popular culture in shaping and defining our cultural, societal, and spiritual discourse. It’s this realm of ideas that’s central to GEEK WISDOM, the new book he co-authored.

How did you get involved in this project for co-authoring the Geek Wisdom book?

I’ve had an online friendship with the editor, Stephen Segal, for several years through various message boards and common interests, and through that he became a reader of my blog, I think what Stephen glommed onto is that I give equal coverage to society, politics, and pop culture in my writing, and my interests tend to lie where all three intersect. As a matter of fact, two summers ago, at the height of the manufactured “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy that ate up so much media bandwidth and which I had been spending a great deal of time covering and refuting on my site, Stephen sent me a very nice note thanking me for my fortitude in dealing with this story — and the hate it was eliciting — day after day. It wasn’t too long afterwards that he contacted me about working on the book. I feel like, in some small way, it was my coverage of the Park51 story that, directly or indirectly, led to my being included in the lineup for GEEK WISDOM.

What are some of your favorite quotes featured in the book?

There are so many great quotes in this book that it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. You can literally just pick it up, flip through it, and find something interesting to ponder on whatever page you land on (which I’m doing right now, as a matter of fact).

Of the ones I didn’t work on, one of my favorites is probably an essay on the quote, “This is an imaginary story. Aren’t they all?” which is a line from a Superman comic from 1986 that wonderfully encompasses the textual and meta-textual knots we tend to tie ourselves in to make fictional stories “matter,” when we should really just appreciate them for the enjoyment they give us. In an age of Trekkies and Twi-hards and Potter-heads, that’s a lesson that could really stand to be learned.

Another essay I really enjoyed was a reflection on “Godwin’s Law,” which states that the longer an online conversation stretches, the greater the likelihood that someone will invoke Hitler — and thus all meaningful interaction has effectively ceased. One need only glance at the comments section under every news story to know how scarily true that is.

Which ones did you select and comment about in the book?

The way we parceled out the quotes was that we started with a pool of around fifty or so, and then the five co-authors (Stephen, myself, Eric San Juan, Genevieve Valentine, and Nora Jemisen) contributed more for the next week or so, which were then whittled down to the roughly-200 that made it in. We got to call “dibs” on whichever quotes we submitted, and the rest were assigned randomly, unless we REALLY wanted to do one.

What was both fun and challenging for me was taking lines from some of my favorite things like STAR WARS (which I did three entries on: “Do, or do not. There is no try.” “The Force will be with you.  Always.” “Fly casual!”), BACK TO THE FUTURE (“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”) and PLANET OF THE APES (“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn, dirty ape!”) and trying to find the philosophical wisdom underlying them. What is it saying? What is it trying to say? It was this ongoing process of peeling back the layers, and sometimes having to start over from scratch, that made this experience hugely frustrating and hugely rewarding all at the same time.

In a sense, each of the mini-essays presented different challenges, with the all-encompassing challenge being to say something meaningful about what we’d been given. As you can imagine, some quotes were easier than others to wax philosophic on. It wasn’t hard to find the “meat” (no pun intended) in Charlton Heston’s “Soylent Green is made out of people!” from 1973’s film SOYLENT GREEN, but figuring out what to say about “Oh, boy,” the trademark exclamation of the lead character in TV’s QUANTUM LEAP was a higher hurdle to overcome, as was divining wisdom from TRANSFORMERS’ Optimus Prime when he would say his trademark, “Transform and roll out!”

Another one of the quotes I wrote about is a line said by the character Sayid Jarrah on the TV show LOST, which I happened to have covered extensively in my Master’s Thesis for San Jose State University, which was about the portrayal of Muslims in media post-9/11. In that instance, the struggle was in figuring out how best to encompass the gist of my thesis while somehow boiling 80 pages down to 150 words.

There were some references to religious scriptures such as the Bible, Quran and the Bhagda vita in Geek Wisdom – Does this mean that “Geekdom” is universal and open to people of all faiths and religions (and no religion) even though most of the movies/comics/books featured in the book come from a Judeo-Christian (i.e. Mainstream American) perspective ?

I absolutely believe Geekdom is universal. I’ve long subscribed to the idea that you take your wisdom wherever you find it, and I think we do ourselves a huge disservice by dismissing these cultural artifacts out of hand as inherently devoid of merit simply because they have the word “pop” affixed in front of them. The fact is that our responses to these artifacts — be they film, television books, what-have-you — the resonance we find in them bespeaks their potential worth as, if not sources of wisdom themselves, then certainly as signposts to something bigger and deeper than us.

What do you think of people who put down “Jedi” or “Matrixism”, etc. as their religion on Census forms (Australia, etc.) ?  Is that taking their love of movies/comics too far?  Is there a line one crosses when people are over-zealous fans, etc.?

Well, just on a personal level, stuff like that tends to strike me as a little nutty, and maybe taking things a bit far. On the other hand, the mere fact that people take these fictional worlds/realms/universes seriously enough to do stuff like that highlights not only the important role these fictions have come to play in our societal tapestry, but also the religious/spiritual void that exists in people’s lives, such that they’re seeking answers from a George Lucas or a JK Rowling or whoever.

Do you consider yourself a Geek or a Nerd?  And Why?

Well, as someone who wears an Indiana Jones fedora as a regular part of his ensemble, and who knows far more about the various intricacies of the PLANET OF THE APES film series than I feel comfortable admitting in a public forum, the reflexive answer is yes. As to the why, that’s a harder one to puzzle out. In his book SUPERGODS, author Grant Morrison makes the point that, given the human capacity to weave myths that continue to spin long after their creators have shuffled off this coil — highlighting the immortal nature of the stories and the temporal nature of their creators — one starts to wonder what is the real and what is the imaginary. To some extent, I think that explains why we’re ALL geeks of some stripe or another. Whether that geekery be in service of the many iterations of the STAR TREK franchise, or the latest technological wizardry from Apple — we all have an innate desire to be a part of something that’s bigger than us, something to let us put our own small stamp of ownership on the great, unending stream of human myth-making.

Islamic Science Rediscovered in San Jose, CA

Posted in Architecture, Art, Islam with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2011 by irydhan

Recently I went to the Tech Museum in San Jose, CA where one of the exhibits here on a limited engagement is “Islamic Science Rediscovered.”  I highly recommend everyone who is interested in Science to check it out.  But surprisingly it is not only about Islamic contributions to Astronomy (the astrolabe, development of star charts), Mathematics (algebra, arabic numerals and the number zero) and Medicine (development of optics, eye surgery), which most people may already be aware of – But it also has a lot of exhibits which show how Muslims have contributed to the fields of Architecture, Human Flight, Mechanical Engineering, World Travels via Sea and Land, and Inventions such as the pin hole camera which even a Muslim such as myself was unaware of.

Below are some pictures of the exhibit which I took with my phone, but I encourage everyone who hasnt yet seen the exhibit, to go check it out, as it is only in town for a limited time.  For more information check the San Jose Tech Museum’s website here:

The Oglee Arch - designed by Muslim ArchitectsThe pinhole camera invited by Ibn Al-HaythamThe first Human to fly - Abbas Bin Firnas in the 9th century in Spain

Masjid Makeover by Rahim’s Wood Gallery

Posted in Architecture, Art, Islam with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 22, 2011 by irydhan

My friend, Rahim Akbar is a Naval architect and engineer by day and an inspired artist by night. He hails from a well known Mughal family that is endowed with a rich and rare history in architectural design, woodworking, iron smith and masonry. His outstanding works which are carved in wood, may be seen gracing ceilings, walls, doors, or as stand alone pieces that invite the viewer to step into the world of the written word… or simply remind one of the beauty and serene complexity of Islamic design.  As such, Rahim is reviving in the west the long lost art form of Islamic wood carving, or Naqashkari. He proudly yet humbly follows in the tall footsteps of his grandfather, whose exquisite work in the field may still be seen adorning stately mosques from Sadiqabad in the Punjab, to Sukkar in Sind.

His work can be seen at

One of his recent projects is a brand new Mihrab (Wall with a prayer niche) and Mimbar (stepped seat for sermons) at a small neighborhood mosque in North Carolina.

Check out the video of the installation and final product here:

For more information email Rahim at: or search for “Rahim’s Wood Gallery” on Facebook

The Agha, The Architect and The Mosque

Posted in Architecture, Art, Islam with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 7, 2011 by irydhan

I originally wrote this interview for ILLUME magazine here.  Below is the full and un-edited version of my interview with Maryam.

Maryam Eskandari, an architect at the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard and MIT, currently has a traveling exhibit on American Mosques. Her exhibit, Sacred Space: (Re) Constructing the Place of Gender in the Space of Religion is touring the nation.  ILLUME recently conducted an exclusive interview with Maryam  to get her views on the design of American Mosques and why she believes Art and Architecture are important fields for the Muslim American Community to be involved with.

How did you become interested in Architecture and why is it important to you personally?

Maryam: I was introduced to architecture through my paternal grandfather. Each summer I would spend time with him in Iran, and got acquainted with the world of construction and architecture. I loved spending time on the construction site watching him actually build something that he had designed. However, I didn’t quite understand what all the thought processes that went into the design. One summer though, I sat down with him so he could teach me how to draw in perspective. He started off with a few lessons of drawing the living room, gradually we moved towards outdoors and by the end of the summer, when he was renovating his house, he had be designing and help him redo the interior. That summer I was 15 years old. That was when I knew I wanted to be an architect.

However, I didn’t realize how important architecture and the role of architects are until a decade later when I was practicing professionally. I started to realize that we respond to the cultural demands and the needs of today’s society. We create new spaces, yet we have to be so educated in order to be able to create those new spaces. But what do we educate ourselves in? One project after another, I often find myself in many roles, the educator, the mediator, the historian, the psychologist and then the architect. As architect we listen to the needs and demands of our clients, we have to be able to absorb them and then imagine there words and needs into a physical space. In the words of Le Corbusier “I felt quite strongly that the singular and noble task of the architect is to open the soul to poetic realms, by using materials, integrity so as to make them useful”. We start to create a new language through that space, and often times we start illustrating those spaces and through refinement and execution of design, we actually start to create a new culture. However, in my case, understanding the religion of Islam, I decided to bring in the theological aspect as well, and start to revaluate the notion of religion that is ingrained in our American culture and make sure that there is analogous with the needs and demands of the future generation. I personally believe that its architecture that leaves an everlasting impression on this earth.

You recently did a study on American Mosque architecture. In your professional opinion as an Architect, what do you see are the 3 major problems with mosques in America and do you have any suggestions on how to improve them architecturally?

Maryam: Well, currently we know that there are number of issues that reside with the whole American Mosque architecture. The first one is that, through the whole “Islamaphobia” thrive that is being ignited here in the US, everyone has become so anti-mosque. So the first problem is to resolve the issue of the mosque architecture. We need to ask ourselves, what are we investing in? Is it just the mosque as a building, the community or the next generation? If it is just the mosque, then we have to reflect back and remind ourselves that the Prophet Mohammad once said that the whole world is a mosque, hence meaning that we should take care of the earth, be responsible towards it, practice sustainability, and secondly that we are able to pray anywhere as long as we are facing towards Mecca. So I am still trying to understand what is our obsession with domes and minarets, when the even the Prophets first mosque didn’t have a dome or minaret and was made out of rammed earth. Clearly later it was added all the other elements, but why? We should start creating mosques and Islamic centers that are architecturally responsible and meeting the demands and the needs of the American community. We should invest the money in creating a space that is sustainable, using local materials, creating a place that reaches out to the whole community – perhaps there are gardens that help feed the needy families. Or a soup kitchen that reaches out to the less fortunate. We should invest in pushing the boundaries and using our advance technological abilities to create a place that gives back to the earth. I remember last year at a conference when presenting, someone asked me; in Islam is it best to practice modesty, why isn’t it practiced in the architecture then? It got me thinking, they are absolutely right. A mosque needs to simple, yet beautiful. Simplicity is beautiful And as architects we know that it is easy to have an eclectic design solution just to meet the needs, but simplicity comes with discipline and refinement, it is not easy, it is what all architects strive for, and it is something that we work towards mastering. Hence, the legendary architect Louis Kahn talked about this in his “sense and simplicity” exhibit: Design is not making beauty; beauty emerges from selection, affinities, integration, and love. So let’s start disciplining ourselves to some of these elements when it comes to building and designing our community mosques.

The other thing that we should start investing is creating flexible spaces that can be converted into multi-faceted “programmatically” functions as well as creating an equal space for the women who pray. Currently as we watch the interfaith dialogues happening, the Muslim communities needs to be able to create a space so that the next generation would be able to invite their friends of various faiths to come and have a place for dialogue. We have to start creating a pluralistic architecture and enriching that in our future generations. On the interfaith notion, well currently we see that there is a protest between the genders. Women are now demanding to have adequate space in the mosque, where they are on the same main prayers space as the men. We should start rethinking of creating spaces other than balconies, basements or separate rooms. We have to remind ourselves, that it is the women of the Muslim community who are raising the next generation. They need to have access to the Muslim community, mosque, and the imam and be involved in the Islamic education if the Muslim community plans on enriching and have future generations of Muslim.

Please tell us a little about the Agha Khan award you received and why do you think it is important for Muslims in America to be involved in the arts in general and architecture in specific.

Maryam: Established in 1979 through an endowment from His Highness the Aga Khan, The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture is dedicated to the study of Islamic architecture, urbanism, environmental and landscape design, and conservation. It prepares students for careers in research, design, and teaching and aims to enhance the understanding of Islamic architecture and urbanism in light of contemporary issues and to increase the visibility of Islamic cultural heritage in the modern world.

It is crucial for Muslims to get involved in the arts and architecture, because it is a medium that is common for all culture. Art has no political side, it isn’t determined by ethnicity, art itself is a religion on its own. And is common language that can be reached out to various people, and groups. Architecture is a type of art and just like art it is constantly changing with time. Architecture has the ability to be a symbol or an identity of our time. Just like art that is an expression, it is bounded by rules and theory that is modified and expressed to resonate in the landscape and accommodate the present and the future generation. Art becomes architecture, when a space is created in a void. Hence, in the current traveling exhibit, I took the art of photography, and laid it out through the space that was created. We took the notion of the Ka’aba, a place where the expression of equality is highlighted—deconstructed and shifted it off to create an exterior and interior space.

This generation of Muslims is at the fore front of the arts, however, we need to educate ourselves more in the humanities and understand the historical aspects of why and how certain influences happened. We need to be able to understand the notion of purity and the spirituality of the religion and start implementing them into our architecture. There is something so pure and holy with the notion of light and shadow, and often times in the Quran there are references to it, such as surah Noor, however, I believe as architects, we should be able to design is such a way that the building not only resonates in the landscape, but rather heightens our senses in order to allow and feel nature, and experience a Zen moment. Often times through the creation of THAT particular space is where we feel the connection with the Divine, where the architecture creates a space that is so sublime that we lose ourselves to the spirit.

Any final comments?

Maryam: The great Sufi Poet Hafiz, has a few verses which I try to live by.  They embody the notion that architecture and art can bring people of different faiths into one space and can help to start a dialogue of pluralism and tolerance.  He writes:

“I am in love with every church

And mosque and temple

And any kind of shrine

Because I know it is there

That people say the different names

Of the One Divine.” – 14th century Sufi Poet Hafiz Shirazi