By Pearl Lee
“Something needs to change,” a speaker beckoned, “we are all very similar.” Last Wednesday, Associate Professor and Chair of Art History Rita Keane and Professor of French and Chair of the French and Italian Department Marie-Pascale Pieretti set off to view the opening of an artistic celebration of peace at the Riverside Church in Manhattan. The trip, which was a part of the Islam and New York City class, was open to all Drewids.
“THE KEY” is an art installation featuring 40 Egyptian, Middle Eastern and Western artists. They were given a 3D fiberglass portrayal of the “ankh,” the ancient Egyptian symbol of harmony, as a canvas. The ankh encapsulated the message of the night: to enhance harmony and peace among people of various backgrounds-whether it be race, ethnicity or faith.
Strategically, the opening ceremony was on the same day as the United Nation’s International Day of Peace. It was free of charge and the general public was welcome to attend.
Keane and Pieretti’s course focuses mostly on art and literature. They felt that “music, preferably a performance,” would be a great addition for the class to interact with. Through searching for a musical performance, the professors heard about Amir Vahab and reached out to him. He responded and invited them to attend the opening of the exhibit where he would be performing.
The date of the event offered the professors’ class the perfect transition “from historical to contemporary models of diversity of cultural and confessional expression.”
The goal of the trip was to give students an opportunity to “learn experientially… since the intersection between Islam and the city is the topic” for the course: Islam and NYC. Keane and Pieretti wanted their students to clearly see how people in the city of New York “experience and perceive the religion of Islam but also how it might be situated in an interfaith dialogue.”
Walking into the Riverside Church, people were greeted with ankhs hanging from the side pillars and the ceiling. Like the message of the night and the audience of the ceremony, all the ankhs were diverse in color, design and material. The ceremony opened with a song by Rumi, a 13th century poet, scholar, and theologian. There was a moment of silence as the Candle of Peace was lit. The senior minister, Dr. Amy Butler, embraced that it was “for hope to build a world of harmony [and] justice.”
Overall the students of the class displayed much content with the trip. Aiyanna Davis (’17) expressed appreciation when she said, “I thought it was cool to see people of all different backgrounds, religions gathering for means of promoting peace throughout the world – through art.”
Wala Ahmed (’17) thought it “was interesting to see how all different cultures come together to promote peace and promote tolerance of religions.” She also expressed a desire for more interfaith events like this.
Sena Kaplan (’19), an international student from Turkey had attended the trip not knowing what to expect. She had seen it was a free trip into Manhattan. “I only went to be in New York but I was so shocked Islamic music was playing in a church. I’m Turkish and they sang in Turkish and I thought it was beautiful seeing all these religions and cultures together, but there should have been more music.”
Keane and Pieretti spoke for the class and expressed that they regretted not being able to spend more time looking at the art and “having the opportunity to chat” with the founder of the exhibition, Paul-Gordon Chandler. Despite this minor shortcoming, the trip still managed to instill in students the theme of the night: harmony.
[Photos by Pearl Lee/Co-Editor-in-Chief]