I was hit by a case of déjà vu when reading two recent articles discussing the work of Makan Emadi, which MMW has discussed before. In a piece posted at the Daily Beast, Betwa Sharma boldly claims that Makan’s work is part of a rise in “Islamic Erotica.” Sharma says that Muslim artists are depicting Muslim women as pin-ups. The mainly discusses an ongoing debate about Islamic rulings on the depiction of human beings.
Rather than being indicative of a rise in the fetishization of Muslim women, the term “Islamic Erotica” seems to be a sensationalized label for a debate no different than the other intersections between culture and religion. It feels as though the discussion of nude bodies in veil-swathed Muslim communities is automatically a form of erotic work. Furthermore, it’s like a pathetic attempt to inspire controversy.
What is most frustrating is that, while artists may come from Muslim backgrounds, they should not only be engaged on the basis of their religious identities. The way in which certain rulings play out into one’s life are only indicative of their own lives, rather than a global trend or problem. Thus, I do not connect Emadi’s work with a “rise” in “Islamic Erotica,” nor do I see the existence of Muslim artists creating work that involve themes of nudity as indicative of such.
Both The Daily Beast and a piece from Houston Belief applaud Emadi’s work as controversial and perhaps even as a sign of progress. This is disappointing for several reasons. First, his is work is hardly indicative of the discussion of art within the Islamic community. More importantly, he simply portrays all Muslim cultures through one lens, not because that is the way that the media may depict women, but because of his own personal feelings about the treatment of Muslim women in Iran.