Converts (five part drawings), 2010<

Converts (five part drawings), 2010
Ink, Pencil and Adhesive foil on Paperboard, 38,5 x 125 cm.

"Everlast," "Lupe Fiasco," "Vinnie Paz," "Busta Rhymes," and "Ice Cube" all converted to Islam. Shahram Entekhabi calls them his 'superheroes.' The men are depicted in typical 'rapper poses,' each of them occupying their own separate 'stage' (i.e., canvas), yet all five are linked to each other by means of a broad yellow streak on which one finds the inscription CONVERTS. The figures are pieced together by a collage of differently sized refined ink drawings of various objects and persons.

From afar, they are recognizable as rappers, wearing sunglasses or a cap, majestically posing. A closer look, however, reveals much more 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 notorious for their rough, sexist, and violent lyrics, on one hand, and celebrated as individuals who fight against racism and represent the poorer social classes and their everyday hardships, on the other. 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 color yellow is often described as the "color of jealousy." Does this refer to the notion that these rappers were actually able to choose their religion, whereas many others are born into a religion without having the choice to become "converts"? The mixture of yellow and black also reminds one of crime scene tape, a barrier between the spectator and the perceived heroes.

The concept of converting seems to be a dynamic one and leads to the question of how flexibly 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 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 (art critic, art historian, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)