Photo Credit Kayla Shults
By Kayla Shults
The Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University is currently hosting an exhibition entitled A is for Arab: Stereotypes in U.S. Popular Culture.
According to its description on the Wang Center’s website, the display aims to, “examine representations of Arabs and Muslims in U.S. popular culture from the early twentieth century to the present. Often featuring anti-Arab and anti-Muslim depictions, the exhibition provides editorial cartoons, advertisements, books, magazines, comic books, toys and games as well as moving images from motion pictures, cartoons, newsreels and television programs. Providing historical context about these images, the exhibition aims to educate and stimulate discussion about the impact of stereotypes on both individual perceptions and national policy.”
According to a spokesperson at the Wang Center, the display has been successful throughout its first month at Stony Brook.
“We have a consistent flow of audience to watch Dr. Shaheen’s interview clips on the room,” they said. “And the exhibition at the Theatre Gallery creates a great buzz and fruitful dialogue among students.”
The display comes from the Jack G. Shaheen Archive at New York University. Shaheen specializes in and has dedicated his career to identifying and oppose stereotypes faced by Arab and Muslims in American society through the media.
In three years the exhibition has travelled to almost thirty colleges, museums, institutions and conferences across the United States.
Laura Chen-Schultz, the deputy director for the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University says the exhibition aims to highlight instances of Arab stereotypes in U.S. popular culture in order to make people aware of the trend that has been damaging to the Arab population. The response to the display has been overwhelmingly positive, and was instrumental in creating dialogue on this sometimes controversial topic.
“Programs have been instrumental in bringing various communities together in dialogue to discuss the content that the exhibition presents and have included film screenings, panel discussions, and workshops,” Schultz said. “The sites that the exhibition has traveled to have also ranged — from rural towns to urban centers, from academic institutions to community centers — and the exhibition has been seen by very diverse audiences.”
According to a poll conducted by the Arab American Institute in July 2014, Americans’ opinions of Arabs and Muslims has been on the decline since 2010 going along with the rise of Muslim extremist groups like ISIS. Favorable attitudes towards Arabs went from 43 percent in 2010 to 32 percent in 2014, and 35 percent to 27 percent for Muslims.
Besides the video being looped in the Wang Center, there are posters hung throughout the Theatre Gallery with words like harem and sheikh explaining what the terms mean as well as how they have been misconstrued in U.S. popular culture, including movies and television.
Schultz hopes the display will leave a mark and change the perspective on those who view it.
“Our hopes are threefold — first and foremost that viewers make connections between the pervasive negative images of Arabs and Muslims in popular media and the Islamaphobia and anti-Arab racism that is enacted through overarching national policy and by individual citizens,” she said.
“Second, that the viewers are made aware that the Jack G. Shaheen Collection is a valuable resource for further scholarship and research; and third, that the exhibition highlights the importance of archives and collections in determining the stories we are ultimately able to tell.”
The traveling exhibition will be on display in the Charles B. Wang Center’s Theatre Gallery until July 5.