At SFSU, Looking and Truly Seeing the Middle East Through Art

Thursday, March 09, 2017

KQED (SAN FRANCISCO) -- What does it mean to look? And what does it mean to be seen?

These are two of the critical questions raised in “Mashrabiya: The Art of Looking Back,” an intimate, six-person exhibition now on view in the San Francisco State University Fine Arts Gallery.

The title “Mashrabiya” refers to the projecting latticed windows that are a familiar feature of domestic architecture throughout the Middle East and wider Islamic world. The windows function to protect inhabitants — primarily women — from public gaze while simultaneously providing a safe vantage point from which to view the public realm. Co-curators Santhi Kavuri-Bauer, Kathy Zazur, Sharon E. Bliss and Mark Johnson adapted the mashrabiya as a visual metaphor through which to think about social and political relations between East and West, and how much the West in particular has yet to learn.

“Mashrabiya: The Art of Looking Back” also celebrates the establishment of a center for Iranian diasporic studies at SFSU in the coming year. This news and the group exhibition on view offer a tentative path toward understanding, toward seeing civilizations other than our own for the depth, beauty and complexity that define them.