Asad Badat, the artist behind the cover of the Summer 2015 issue, says he’s always seen himself as “a passionate observer who has romantic eyes for beauty.” Recently, though, he’s departed from this observatory position, opting instead to use his art as a site of and mechanism for dialogue. Badat humbly identifies himself as a novice in the world of art and activism.
He’s new to this confluence, and still learning. Nonetheless, his increasingly keen awareness of the complex connections among communities across the globe compels him to act as a citizen of the world— “to join the conversation and actively become part of the solution.” Untitled Flag #2, which belongs to his 2014 Flags of Our Faiths series, is exemplary of his transition to making “conceptual art with a message.” In addition to a prominent portrait of Mary, Badat’s reimagined U.S. flag features patterns inspired by the Islamic headscarf known as the keffiyeh. The digital collage is comprised of scanned fabrics and imagery Badat found at a church, but just as integral to the fabric of the piece is the thorough research he undertook before creating it. In crafting this series, Badat sought to combat Islamophobia by “eradicating [the] irrational fear” that it represents, as well as underscoring the fundamental similarities between Islam and Christianity, both of which are Abrahamic faith traditions. This approach necessitated deep inquiry into both religions—an alchemic process he describes as “taking knowledge and information and turning it into art.” He adds, “It’s not just reactive, but it requires me to educate myself and take in new ideas in order to create something new.” And, because the subjects of his research were so vast, he notes that Flags of Our Faiths still feels unfinished—indeed, never-ending. Nonetheless, the project has borne fruit.
Badat articulates one of his goals as an artist-activist as entering into direct dialogue with people who occupy the realms in which he locates his subject matter, in addition to creating conversation with his viewers. The Flags of Our Faiths project afforded an opportunity for Badat to engage Christian peers in discussion about their beliefs, and he says that learning experience was the best part of the work. In the future, he hopes to continue such conversations with faith leaders. He also hopes that the art itself will stand in conversation with his audience. For instance, Badat acknowledges that the American flag imagery will resonate differently with each viewer, which is good—he wants each person to bring their unique associations and interpretations to the piece. As he writes on his website, “This is the spark in interaction between the work and viewer.” Badat speaks of such sparks with reverence: “If art can get you to change your mind about something or inspire you to have some sort of change in yourself or effect some sort of change in your community, that’s powerful.” These sparks can become the conflagrations of movements.