2016-2017 Kenan Institute for Ethics Graduate Arts Fellow Salima Al-Ismaili (MFA|EDA ’17) is an Omani documentary artist working primarily in film and photography. Her previous documentaries explored issues of migration and displacement in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Jordan. Al-Ismaili’s current focus explores the constructed and blurred assigned gender roles of women within religion, and the role of women’s leadership in Islam over time. She received her BSc in Journalism from Northwestern University in Qatar in 2013 and is pursuing an M.F.A. through the Duke University program in Experimental and Documentary Arts.
Her exhibition in the Keohane-Kenan Gallery, Nests of the Nu Ahong, visits nusi — women’s mosques — in China’s Henan province and the community of Hui Muslim minorities it serves. Under the echoes of the call to prayer, whispering women gather under the leadership of the nu ahong, women serving the role of teachers, social engagers and leaders of the mosque. The nu ahong carry-on the 300-year-old tradition of educating Muslim women in their communities, teaching Islamic jurisprudence, reading and interpreting the Quran, performing the Friday sermons and initiating the five daily prayers.
This series documents the predominantly aging community of women that congregate, questions the future of the nu ahong as they struggle to attract a younger generation and explores how women’s mosques in China not only serve as a religious space of worship and social engagement, but also how they have been turned into a domesticated space for women through the nu ahong’s role as mothers, wives and ultimately nurturers in their community.
The exhibition opens with a reception, from 5:30-8:30pm on Friday, October 21, 2016 and will be on-display through January 12, 2017.