POCATELLO — For the past four years, photographer Rob Gerhardt has looked through the lens of his camera and given the world an artistic glimpse of life as a Muslim-American.
On Jan. 12, his exhibit “Muslim/American, American/Muslim” comes to Idaho State University’s John B. Davis Gallery for a two-week appearance.
“I hope it creates a dialogue between the Muslim community and the non-Muslim community,” Gerhardt said of his work.
The exhibit features photos from more than 17 different congregations and communities across the United States. While in Pocatello, Gerhardt will be photographing the Muslim/American community here too, adding to his collection.
Some photos show children at play, others chronicle the struggle with seeing their religion splashed across the news at local diner. Yet another shows a New York City policeman at prayers.
“We connected with him (Gerhardt) after he saw a local news article about the contention over the new (Pocatello) mosque’s building permits,” said Ryan Babcock, director of the John B. Davis Gallery and an assistant lecturer at ISU.
The mosque opened in October, but community conversation on the topic is still vibrant.
“We think this can be a real benefit to the community,” Babcock said.
On Jan. 20, Gerhardt will give an artist’s lecture at ISU about the project.
According to Gerhardt, it began as people in his hometown of New York City began raising concerns over a proposed mosque close to Ground Zero in Manhattan. Park51 (originally named Cordoba House) was a planned 13-story Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. Today it is a community center with a Muslim prayer space included inside.
Amid the controversy, Gerhardt was the first to photograph Muslims in prayer inside.
“This backlash on Staten Island is only one example of this type of conduct,” Gerhardt says in his artist’s statement. “Muslim communities in California, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Florida and many other places have also experienced public outcry over attempts to build new mosques or to expand existing ones. As American citizens merely looking for space to observe their religious beliefs, they have often been greeted with protests, and in some extreme cases with violence.”
In Pocatello, some locals publicly objected to the new Mosque in city permit meetings.
“My goal for this project, then, is to try to understand and document the intersection between ‘Muslim’ and ‘American,’ since the latter part of this community’s identity is often forgotten,” Gerhardt said in the statement. “My hope is that this photo series can encourage a dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims in America that attempts to erase the boundaries that engender a sense of ‘them’ and begin to foster a sense of ‘us.’”
The photo project began on the first night of Ramadan in 2010 and has grown over the years to almost 1,000 photos. Gerhardt will show about 30 in the ISU gallery.
“We hope this will go a long way to building understanding in our community,” Babcock said.