“Small Identities” is an art installation project which takes on the “faces, fears, and faith of America’s Muslim immigrants” (according to NBC News). Artist Sobia Ahmad began collecting copies of passports, drivers’ licenses, and green cards from immigrant friends and family when the #MuslimBan first started. She used the images for her project which features white arabesque tiles stamped with these tiny, black-and-white faces from the government documents. But what is most curious is that the majority of the project is blank – many immigrants were worried about their personal safety or the risk of being deported, and declined Ms. Ahmad’s request. So in place of each missing person is a blank tile. And that blankness is meaningful.
“There were very real fears of hatred and violence,” says the 25 year old artist who lives in the Washington DC area. “But this is a reflection of the times we’re in, and I had to report that.” Thus far, Ms. Ahmad has collected 25 ID photos, and more than 80 of the tiles are empty. The artist says that each one represents “the fear, the psychological toll” of the travel ban and the political climate at large.
The project is a personal one for Ms. Ahmad. Born in Pakistan, she left the U.S. with her mother and younger brother as a child, but had to leave behind her father and older brother. They had to wait years before they received their visas due to higher security restrictions on men. Her father was a minority Ahmadi Muslim, and often targeted for his beliefs. “It still gives me chills when I think about what my father escaped,” she said. “And then I think of what others escape when they come here as refugees and asylees… That’s why I’m doing this – to explore the human toll of politics.”
Ms. Ahmad’s installation was the centerpiece of her solo show at the VisArts gallery in Rockville, Maryland which finished its run this month.