After putting a call out for artists earlier this year, the bilingual art anthology Ottawa Inshallah is now ready to be shared.
A collaboration between local artist Aquil Virani and the Silk Road Institute, the anthology features contributions from 19 artists and a total of 25 artworks. Included in the introduction of the book is Dara Wawatie-Chabot, an Algonquin-Anishinabe artist.
Asked about how it feels for the book to be ready to go out into the world, Virani says in an email, “We built something beautiful together. And now I want to share it with our communities.”
He adds, “I’ve been reminding myself recently that accomplishing anything during a pandemic is a triumph worth celebrating. As the months go by, it becomes easier to forget just how hard this period is – for artists, for workers, for families.”
Virani says that he holds many aspirations for what the anthology will accomplish. “I can be certain that the anthology will plant a flag in the soil as a document that speaks to the current creative work happening here in Ottawa,” he says.
“I can be certain that artists have been encouraged to be creative during a hard time. And I can hope that this anthology will raise the profile of Muslim artists in Ottawa while educating the broader public about who we are and what we believe in – all while asserting our right to be represented on our own terms.”
Discussing the title of the book, Virani says, “I wanted something short and snappy. ‘Inshallah’ is a wonderful word used by many Muslims meaning ‘God-willing.’ The influence of Islam and Muslim culture around the world means that ‘inshallah’ is also used by some to mean ‘hopefully’ in the same way some say ‘I will pray for you,’ whether religious or not. I see it as inclusive in that way.”
He references anthology contributor and writer Monia Mazigh’s observation that “it feels wonderful to use the word ‘Allah’ publicly.”
Virani adds, “‘Allah’ is simply the Arabic translation for God (used by Arab Christians, for example). Western culture and media has made Arabic phrases like ‘Allahu-akbar’ synonymous with terrorism, and I’m not here for that. We can do better.”
“I can hope that this anthology will raise the profile of Muslim artists in Ottawa while educating the broader public about who we are and what we believe in – all while asserting our right to be represented on our own terms.”
While he acknowledges that Ottawa has done good work supporting Muslim creatives in the city, Virani says there is more work to do. “We can always do better,” he says. “Change can’t happen fast enough. Muslim artists in Ottawa represent a whole array of diverse identities. My hope is that one day soon, we won’t feel the need to mount a ‘Muslim’ exhibition or a ‘Muslim’ initiative because there will be enough diverse Muslim artists included in mainstream opportunities.”
Virani says, “I wanted to create an opportunity for us to dream of a better future, to be positive, to help folks understand: We are more than our trauma. Muslims are more than resistors of prejudice. We are human beings with dreams and fears. With skills and imperfections. And we will be okay, inshallah.”
An online event promoting the launch of the anthology will take place on Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. EST via Zoom. The event welcomes the public during Ontario’s official Islamic Heritage Month.
Those interested in purchasing their own copy of the Ottawa Inshallah can do so here.