The Moss Arts Center celebrates the voices and creative work of Virginia Tech students and community members with a free performance showcasing their year-long collaborative work with visiting artists Omar Offendum, Saba Taj, and Karim Nagi on Saturday, March 17, at 8 p.m.
Exploring Muslim cultures through dance, music-making, visual art, hip-hop, spoken word, and poetry, the performance will be held in the center’s Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall. The event is free and no ticket is required.
Syrian-American hip-hop artist Offendum, Egyptian musician and DJ Nagi, and mixed-media visual artist Taj have worked with Virginia Tech students from a range of disciplines throughout the academic year during a series of residency activities, including class visits and workshops, to create the original production.
The performance is a culmination of this work and is a component of the Moss Arts Center’s project, Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures. The center was awarded a grant by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters to strengthen cross-cultural understanding by engaging Virginia Tech students and other communities in Southwest Virginia with the diversity of Muslim cultures through an exploration of stories, images, sounds, and perspectives.
The Moss Arts Center was one of only five grantees (four universities and one consortium) in the nation to receive funding to build knowledge and appreciation for arts and culture with roots in Muslim-majority societies.
“This project has been in process since 2013, when I first convened an interested group of faculty to consider how we as a community at Virginia Tech might take part in this national cultural conversation,” explains Ruth Waalkes, Virginia Tech’s associate provost for the arts and executive director of the Moss Arts Center. “Those discussions lead to the Moss Arts Center’s April 2015 Islamic Worlds Festival, and ultimately to this year’s multi-faceted grant-funded project, Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures. Several faculty and students have been involved from that early start. Collaboration traversing disciplines, beliefs, and perspectives has made Salaam a powerful, engaging set of experiences for all involved.”
The event will feature solo performances by Omar Offendum and Karim Nagi, as well as an original duet performed by the artists. Offendum started his musical career as one-half of Arab-American hip-hop group The N.O.M.A.D.S. As a solo artist, he has toured the world performing his groundbreaking music, including his solo album “SyrianamericanA.” Offendum will be accompanied by DJ Craig Arthur, teaching and learning engagement librarian at Virginia Tech and one of the creators of the on-campus “Diggin’ in the Crates” series.
A native Egyptian drummer, DJ, composer, and folk dancer, Nagi is the creator of the innovative music performance Turbo Tabla and has released four CDs of his unique blend of Arab house and electronica music, which he creates using acoustic instruments. Nagi will also join a group of Virginia Tech music students to perform percussion pieces created for the project.
Virginia Tech students will perform original spoken word and hip-hop compositions, which will include a group piece performed by student group VT Expressions, while Arabic studies students will perform classical and contemporary poetry in translation.
Itraab, the Moss Arts Center’s Arabic music community ensemble, will perform musical pieces from various parts of the Arab world. Featuring percussion, voice, and Arabic instruments, Itraab has been rehearsing and performing together since 2014. Another ensemble of campus and community members will perform two traditional Arab dances.
The performance will conclude with a finale collaborative piece performed by the full ensemble of guest and local artists.
“Since September I’ve had the opportunity to connect with various student groups and community members through classroom visits and open workshops, discussing a wide array of topics from poetry and translation to social justice and immigration,” said hip-hop artist Offendum. “We ultimately settled on ‘home’ as a theme for this program, as it felt both broad enough for everyone to relate to, yet specific enough for everyone to have a deeply personal understanding of. Whether you are a local Virginian, an international student, or a recently resettled refugee, we welcome you. May this performance spark nostalgia, encourage curiosity, and bring us all closer to the home in our hearts.”
For the evening of the performance, the Moss Arts Center will feature an exhibition of visual arts pieces created by campus and community members. The exhibition will feature tapestries, painted and adorned with fabric, that are inspired by the intersection between community artists’ experiences and iconic stories from the Quran. The pieces were created in collaboration with visiting artist Saba Taj. A Pakistani-American artist and activist from North Carolina who identifies as a queer Muslim, Taj’s work challenges racism and xenophobia through empowered representations of people of color.
Beyond the stage, Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures is providing other meaningful opportunities for Virginia Tech students to engage and learn more about Muslim identities and cultures, including story circles, work with the Blacksburg Refugee Partnership, and training in intercultural and interreligious dialogue facilitation.
The Moss Arts Center project Salaam: Exploring Muslim Cultures is made possible by a grant from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals; Building Bridges: Arts Culture and Identity, a component of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.
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