Welcome to the AANM Artists + Residents Substack!
Read a welcome post written by Nov. 2020 Artist-in-Residence Zahir Janmohamed, the inaugural contributor of this Substack.
I’m Zahir Janmohamed, the artist-in-residence at the Arab American National Museum for the month of November 2020. I am a fiction writing fellow at the University of Michigan, as well as a journalist and a podcaster.
That building you see above—that’s the Museum. It was founded in 2005 and ever since I moved to Michigan in 2018, it’s been my sanctuary. I have gone there for concerts, plays, film screenings and literary events. But mostly, I have gone there to see old friends and to make new ones.
What I love about the Museum is how it has created a space for people to wrestle with their complicated feelings about identity, nation, and belonging—regardless of their own background.
I should say: I’m actually not Arab or Arab American. My parents are Indian Muslims from Tanzania who came to the US in the 1970s. I lived briefly in the Middle East, mostly in Cairo, and I have traveled extensively throughout the region. I picked up a bit of Arabic during my travels and I also developed a strong opinion on which city makes the best shawarma (Beirut, hands down).
I’ll never forget the Jeremy Dutcher concert that my wife and I attended last October at the Detroit Institute of Arts sponsored by the Arab American National Museum.
Dutcher is an indigenous Canadian musician whose prize winning album “Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa” is a collection of rearrangements of traditional First Nations music. That night, he sang about displacement, but also of belonging.
During his encore, he simply walked off the stage, into the audience, and through the Museum, singing the whole time. It was almost as if he were directing us, as listeners, to continue singing on our own, to find our own voices, our own tunes.
I am owe a ton to the Museum and this blog is my small way of giving back, not just to the Museum, but also to the Arab and Arab American community, and to this wonderful city of Dearborn.
During my residency, I will be blogging about the impact of Covid-19 on the community. I wish I could cross the street and enter the Museum. I wish I could hang out in the main room, drinking tea and eating sweets again. And inshallah, one day we will.
Until then, I hope this space can recreate even some of the magic of the Museum.