Click on images to enlarge
Everlast, Lupe Fiasco, Vinnie Paz, Busta Rhymes and Ice Cube all converted to Islam. Shahram Entekhabi calls them his ‘superheroes.’
From afar they are recognizable as rappers, wearing sun glasses or a cappy, majestically posing. A closer look however has much to offer, and shows how constructed their identity really is. Furthermore, it certainly comes as a surprise that American Hip Hop artists are the ones representing Islam. American foreign policy concerning the Islamic world is very ambivalent and so are rappers as public figures. They are on the one hand notorious for their rough, sexist and violent lyrics and on the other hand they are celebrated as individuals who fight against racism and represent the poorer social classes, as well as their everyday hardship. These artists rap about partying, alcohol and materialistic values; notions that are typically not supported by Islamic clerics and officials. It is obviously very provocative to call them ‘superheroes’ given all this. Is this a sign of admiration or a critique against converting to the Islamic faith? Or is it a critique of the majority of the fans of these artists who are oblivious to the meanings of Islam?
The concept of converting seems to be a dynamic one, and leads to the question of how flexible one can move between religions, convert and re-convert, possibly escape a given religion or discover a new one. How is identity understood in relation to different religions? What motivates a Hip Hop artist with a mainly American audience to convert to Islam?
Entekhabi’s work of art is a mixture of very fine and detailed ink drawings put into contrast with the bright color yellow and the very clear category in which they all fall – they are converts. The ‘superheroes’ are stretched out as if made to seem taller and to demonstrate power. The drawings that bind them often show images of religious figures intermingled with sexual imagery, naked women and objects like a pistol or a cowboy boot. What do these elements tell you about the motivations behind the will to convert, about the outcome, what do these individuals represent and what do they stand for? Is it the way these individuals are being looked at that defines them? Observed from afar they seem clearly defined and framed, looked upon in a more detailed manner they are complexly constructed ambivalent figures.
Text by Sophia Ayda Schultz, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London