New York City, famously a melting pot of people of various nationalities, ethnicities, and religions, is coming out strong in opposition to our president’s recent mandates targeting Muslims. Shortly after the executive order banning immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio blasted Trump on CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying the the move “sent out a horrible message to people around the world.” The mayor also spoke this month at a rally in Times Square, commenting, “It’s important to look beyond stereotypes and stand in solidarity with Muslims, who are a part of our country’s fabric.”
It’s not surprising, then, that in response to a wave of Islamophobia and discrimination, the Museum of the City of New York has just unveiled a new exhibit titled “Muslim in New York,” a selection of photographs documenting the city’s Muslim presence.
According to the museum’s website, “The Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity.”
Ed Grazda of New York and Chilmark is among the four photographers whose images are included in the exhibit. His eight photos are included in a book published in 2002 titled “New York Masjid: The Mosques of New York.” The book was written by Jerrilynn Dodds, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College whose work centers primarily on transculturation (a term coined by Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz to describe the phenomenon of merging and converging cultures), in particular among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and on how groups form identities through art and architecture. A number of examples of Mr. Grazda’s work are in the museum’s permanent collection.
“I started taking the photos in 1993 after the first World
Trade Center bombing,” says the photographer. “I went around photographing as many mosques in the city as possible. I just read that the number has increased in the past five or 10 years.”
Signage posted at the museum offers some statistics on the growing Muslim population of New York City: “Today New York’s Muslim community — immigrants and American-born from multiple ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds — constitutes an estimated 3 percent of the city’s population — some 270,000 people living in all five boroughs. They represent an important part of the diversity of the museum’s rich photography collection chronicles.”
The exhibit features images by four photographers spanning the 20th and 21st centuries, from the 1930s through the current decade.
Mr. Grazda’s photos capture the Muslim people as well as their places of worship — from a large mosque to tiny storefront sanctuaries. “There are lots and lots in places you would not really expect,” says Mr. Grazda of mosques in New York. “There was one I shot in Midtown in the basement of a residence.”
One particularly striking photo captures a crowd of Muslims bent in prayer in the middle of the street in midtown Manhattan prior to the Muslim Day Parade in 1995. Others show interior and exterior mosque scenes in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Mr. Grazda has had a long and successful career. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, DoubleTake, and Granta, and is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, among others.
The photographer has spent many years shooting in the Middle East. He is the author of two books of photos from Afghanistan. Images from his most recent book, shot in the American West, “A Last Glance: Trading Posts of the Four Corners” were featured at A Gallery in Oak Bluffs last summer.
The other photographers whose work is featured in the show are Alexander Alland, Mel Rosenthal, and Robert Gerhardt. According to the museum’s posted text, “Together these images paint a group portrait of New Yorkers who have greatly enriched the life of the city.”
“Muslim in New York” will be up through July 30 at the Museum of the City of New York. For more information, visit mcny.org/exhibition/muslim-new-york..