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The Scarlet & Black

American Qur’an

American Qur’an is an English translation of the Qur’an set to scenes of modern-day American life—the pieces on display feature themes of farming and Hurricane Katrina. The six illustrations on exhibition at Grinnell make up only two suras, or chapters, of the Qur’an, out of a total of 114. Birk has not yet completed the series, but other sections are on display in the P.P.O.W. Gallery in New York City.

American Qur'an
Jerl Fields ’11 examines one of the pieces in Smith Gallery’s new exhibit, which features work from California artist Sandow Birk’s most recent project, American Qur’an - Marfa Prokhorova

“I began to take notice of the growing American preoccupation with Islam. Since the second invasion of Iraq in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks the discussions of Islam and the Middle East are pervasive in our daily news media,” reads Birk’s said in his artist’s statement.

Despite Islam’s presence in the news, the Qur’an is not popular everyday reading material among Americans. By illustrating a translation of the text, Birk attempts to make it more accessible to Americans and relate it to American life.

“Can Islamic beliefs really be so different, so impenetrable to Westerners?” he asks.

Daniel Strong, the curator of the exhibit, chose to display Birk’s work for several reasons. Not only is it well-suited to the Grinnell College art collection’s focus on different cultures, but the timing is particularly appropriate, as the New York Times published an op-ed piece on Birk on Sept. 8th.

“I thought it was a good time to put this up for the curious to walk in and get a sense of what it reads like,” Strong said. “The fact that you’re seeing here what people are also seeing in New York City at this exact same time is important for students.”

American Qur’an will be displayed in the Smith Gallery in the JRC through Sunday, Sept. 19.

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