As a Muslim American, Aisha Amin has always been interested in mosques; in their structure and what they represent in the Muslim community. Besides being a place of worship, mosques have a large emphasis on bringing in the community.
Bed-Stuy’s historic Masjid At-Taqwa stands out for just that — sitting in a highly gentrified area, its Friday prayers seem to keep the neighborhood together.
“I was drawn to the mosque itself because the neighborhood has been gentrified and developed around this building that has been there for decades and decades,” filmmaker and native New Yorker Amin said.
“In the 80s it was transformed into a mosque and it was created on a bedrock, which I was interested in. But the thing that really drew me to the mosque was the fact that on Friday Prayer, so many people that attend end up spilling out onto the street and praying with each other.”
From construction workers to cashiers, everyone comes together for the communal experience rooted in togetherness and spirituality. For Muslims, the communal aspect of prayer is one that is sacred and of high importance. Amin, who has made a documentary on the mosque, said building on that relationship was extremely important when she went on-site to film.
As part of Manhattan cultural center The Shed’s inaugural fellowship program the center is holding Open Call, an exhibition for featured emerging artists, which includes a 360-degree installation adapted from Amin’s film on Masjid At-Taqwa.
While filming, Amin felt the short documentary should be expanded so it could “be lived through” and have a physical aspect. The Shed’s fellowship progam allowed her the perfect opportunity for this.
By transforming aspects of the documentary film into a physical and 360-degree experience, Amin has reconstructed a space that offers a haven, community and meditative retreat to her and many other Muslim Americans, The Shed says.
Born in Manhattan, Amin isn’t used to seeing prayers spill out in the streets the way they do in Brooklyn, and that discovery is what led her to look at mosques in a different light.
“Before I made the short, I was photographing something called storefront mosques in Manhattan, which are like bodegas or grocery stores that converted into religious spaces,” Amin said.
“This happens with small churches and it happened with mosques. It’s a really tight space, so it doesn’t fit that many people. But the crowd that comes to pray on Friday is still very much diverse.”
For a city full of immigrants, places of worship are a home away from home that provide a sense of community and welcoming, she said, adding she was interested in spiritual and religious sanctuaries, in general, and hoped to expand her work beyond mosques.
Amin hopes audiences engage with the exhibition and reflect on the whole experience, paying attention to the small details in the community.
You can view Amin’s work along with that of the other artists at the Open Call exhibition from June 4-August 1.
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