The Nation of Islam (NOI) was founded in 1930 as a politico-religious movement for Black empowerment in the United States. From 1960 onward, it intersected with other American liberation movements under the auspices of Elijah Muhammad, NOI leader from 1934 until his death in 1975. During those two decades, the NOI’s official newspaper, Muhammad Speaks (1960-75), became a leader in the Black Press, exposing the horrors of the Vietnam War, genocide in Africa, and the lynching and mass incarceration of African-Americans on the domestic front. Muhammad Speaks also included numerous essays, op-eds, and illustrations—including by the talented artist Eugene Majied (aka Eugene XXX)—promoting the moral and salvific value of the Islamic faith, especially in contradistinction to Christianity, rendered in the newspaper’s line-up of contents as the embodiment of white supremacy, colonialism, enslavement, darkness, violence, and death. Many of Majied’s depictions provide pictorial arguments for conversion to the faith, itself imagined in the 1960s-70s American geo-political arena as a rich repository for personal empowerment and freedom—the latter two concepts often referred to in NOI rhetoric as “Do-For-Self.” This talk explores the type of Islamic visual culture crafted in Muhammad Speaks in order to expand both Islamic Art History and Critical Race Art History, above all to take into account the influence of a modern American racialized landscape on locutionary and pictorial expressions that are couched as emphatically “Islamic.”
Christiane Gruber is Professor of Islamic Art and Former Chair in the History of Art Department at the University of Michigan as well as Founding Director of Khamseen: Islamic Art History Online. Her scholarly work (available here) explores medieval to contemporary Islamic art, especially figural representation, depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, manuscripts and book arts, architecture, and modern visual and material cultures. Her two most recent publications include The Praiseworthy One: The Prophet Muhammad in Islamic Texts and Images and The Image Debate: Figural Representation in Islam and Across the World, and her public-facing essays have appeared in Newsweek, The Conversation, New Lines, Jadaliyya, and Prospect Magazine, among others. Her current research projects include eco-Islamic art and architecture as well as the visual culture of the Nation of Islam.