One Man Started A Nonprofit For Muslim Artists To Tackle A Big Issue In The Community

Eight months ago, Abbas Mohamed knew nothing about the art world.

Mohamed had received his master's in pharmacology and toxicology, and gotten married in Pakistan, so it wasn't until his long distance marriage with his wife, a painter, that he began to question if there was an exclusive space for Muslim artists.

With no answer to this, Mohamed started the Gathering All Muslim Artists collective, also known as GAMA. The nonprofit's goal is to uplift and empower Muslim artists with spaces of their own: a closed Facebook group to network, and exhibits where they can sell and showcase their work.

Before fully establishing these spaces, Mohamed and his team had to fill them with interested artists. They used mosques and halal restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area as a site for exhibitions, and a way to get an artist's work on the wall since both are places where people in the Muslim community congregate the most.

Given that this was unfamiliar territory for the organization, Mohamed started to think about what it meant to be classified as a Muslim artist. He said that when most people think of Islamic art, they think about calligraphy and geometry, but GAMA's mission goes beyond two types of artistic styles.

"Anything created by a Muslim that is considered art, that they would consider art, we want to spotlight that," he said to A Plus.

As GAMA began to gain traction in California, their Facebook group emerged and has allowed Muslims of all artistic backgrounds and levels to connect for encouragement and feedback.

Mohamed began to learn the ins and outs of the art world and realized that taking care of the people behind the art was his priority.  

"Are [they] being nurtured?" he said. "Do they feel like they have what it takes to go to their next level in their own career?"

GAMA will celebrate its one-year anniversary in September, but the work is far from over. It's just beginning to expand with an art exhibition at the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson, N.J., at the end of July and still raising funds for the organization. Along with that, the current political climate and a recent trip to an entrepreneurial conference in Malaysia has amplified Mohamed's interest in giving Muslim artists a voice.

"This organization has the mass potential for healing and uniting in the political times we live in," he said. "I think art has the capacity to heal, not only for the artist who creates it, but for the community at large as well."

Looking ahead to what's in store for GAMA, Mohamed said he has a number of goals in mind. He'd like the organization to expand its definition of what an artist is in order to include Muslim videographers and filmmakers, and develop a mentoring program where new artists can learn from seasoned ones. Eventually, he hopes GAMA will become a go-to resource for people to find Muslim artists.   

"The way forward for the Muslim community to continue to evolve and figure out its narrative in today's world is by working together," he said. "My No. 1 takeaway from my interactions with other people in the space is that there's plenty of room on the table for everyone and we're going to succeed by working together."

From a broader perspective, Mohamed thinks GAMA's continued mission to elevate creative Muslim voices will help start a new wave of battling misconceptions about Islam in the way famous faces such as Aziz Ansari, Riz Ahmed, and Hasan Minhaj have done in their own work.

"I think the Muslim narrative can be redefined and be reclaimed and be rebuilt by the creatives," he said. "It's the next generation of creatives who with the excellence of their own work are going to be spotlighted. This is how the Muslim narrative is going to be retaken."