I’m pleased to write that Story and chai, a creative space for readers and writers of non-majority lit, with a primary focus on Muslim narratives, has just posted my article, “Feel Your Heart and Find Your Words

In the article, I detail the emotional journey of writing my story, “Echoes” for the anthology Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy, edited by Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi of the award winning blog LoveInshallah.com.

Jennifer Zobair On Twitter: @jazobair), author of Painted Hands, is the editorial genius behind the site.

Thank you Jennifer!

Feel Your Heart and Find Your Words


Beacon Press released my book trailer for their upcoming book, Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy

A million thanks to the editors of LoveInshallah.com (Nura Maznavi, Ayesha Mattu) who gave me the opportunity to produce this!

Salaam, Love Book Trailer


Perhaps it was always there – written in the stars

Creative Commons License
Flight of Horace by Mohammed Shamma is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at flightofhorace.com.

An excerpt from the first page of “Flight of Horace” – the Orion constellation embedded into the commonly found star pattern on the ceilings of Egyptian tombs.

Fransicsco deSena

Fransicsco deSena

 Fransicsco deSena was born in Praia, Cabo Verde, a set of ten small Islands off the western coast of Africa. He moved to Portugal as a young boy and attended school there until moving to the east coast of the United States. He has recently moved to California and divides his time between his work and fatherhood.

[ArtSHIFTING] How do you work?

[Francisco] There are always one hundred steps before I can really sit down to create. When I do start the creative process all of the initial steps to a single piece are worked out inside my head to the greatest accuracy possible. The execution of the work is where the Art is actually made… in the unpredictability of material and the license of artistic freedom. My art revolves around the idea that art is never lost but instead transformed constantly in the process of creating it.

[ArtSHIFTING] What’s integral to the work of an artist?

[Francisco] The most integral part of the any artists work is time itself. An artist can only create his or her art inside that allotted time span between life and death. This is the reason why art continues to stay vital whit-in the human experience. It (art) is an act that cant be duplicated. All experience of life becomes the subconscious motivation for the artists creation. All this visual information becomes transposed into an expression of that experience. A waste of labor would be to create in the vacuum of someone else’s experience. Creativity is therefore explored with all the senses during this time, leaving behind the Art for others to see.

[ArtSHIFTING]What role does the artist have in society?

Francisco deSena - "Endscape", Arm Factory (Portland Maine), Medium density fibreboard, 2007

Francisco deSena – “Endscape”, Arm Factory (Portland Maine), Medium density fibreboard, 2007

[Francisco] The artist role in society is to educate the public on new ways of looking at Art. With new technologies constantly changing our lives and effecting the way we see ourselves, Art itself, as we know it and how we experience it, is in constant need of affirmation. So, the Artists role is to make it easier for others to recognize  the inherit beauty in the new visual experience that technology can make possible, by making it more accessible to others. Because of this I think most Art today is mixed media by definition.

[ArtSHIFTING] What has been a seminal experience for you?

[Francisco] When I left the small Island I was born in I had an unforgettable experience. I was young but I can still remember today having the overwhelming feeling of longing for that place before I had even left. The experience was compounded by the events that took place while all of this was orchestrated. We were Island hopping at night  in the middle of the Atlantic, about 480 miles off the coast of west Africa when it happened. The reflection of the moon on the darkened, heavy and agitated water will never leave my mind. I began to feel the power of nature at that time, the beauty and the weight of my existence. I was finally awake! Conscious! I felt I had just come into the world. As my mind filled with preoccupation about who I was, where I was going, and if I would ever get there. Every time I reflect on this memory I think of it as the point in my life when I started to see in the artistic sense. The themes in my art are nestled somehow in this one single experience.

Francisco deSena - "Endscape", Arm Factory (Portland Maine), Medium density fibreboard, 2007

Francisco deSena – “Endscape”, Arm Factory (Portland Maine), Medium density fibreboard, 2007

 [ArtSHIFTING] What art do you most identify with?

[Francisco] I identify with most Art. To me Art is something that against all will can not be thrown away. This includes all of the mental process of letting go of something meaningful.It’s hard to do. Unlike some kind of rudimentary object, Art becomes powerful in our lives with the ability to resonate with our emotions.  It becomes powerful for different reasons but never looses that power if someone recognizes it and feeds in to its power. We build museums and house them because they are part of us and we part of them.

[ArtSHIFTING] What themes do you pursue?

 [Francisco]I usually persue themes of opposites… I guess. I have never given it much thought. Like I said before, there is a language in development, but I think it relies heavily on the juxtaposition of objects. Again, in part of educating others to see your work, its easier to tell a story of opposite attractions. To leave more questions than answers is somewhat more intriguing than telling the viewer exactly what he or she is looking at.

Francisco deSena - "Endscape", Arm Factory (Portland Maine), Medium density fibreboard, 2007

Francisco deSena – “Endscape”, Arm Factory (Portland Maine), Medium density fibreboard, 2007

[ArtSHIFTING] Enscape is a really fascinating project.  Can you tell us more about it?

[Francisco] Endscape was an Installation created for show in conjunction with a group in Portland, Maine called Evolve2advance. I worked extensively with E2A in the years I lived in Portland. The Ideas of the group reflected some of my own ideals on politics, social justice and above all, art as a learning tool to better the community. Ensdcape was created in one of our country’s most politically tumultuous times: the Bush years. The period that followed the re-election of Bush was a particularly dark period for many of us. Financially corrupted and  over-zealous, our government became a source of disappointment and shame to us, and to the rest of the globe. This was a view that I shared emphatically with my peers at the time. The atrocities of Abu Ghraib left me utterly stunned at the willful capacity of human beings to inflict true pain and horror on others in the name of Democracy. What I once thought of as an unthinkable evil I had only seen in historic pictures of the two World Wars, became real to me in the images and footage from the “War on Terror”, and held a sense of gravity I had not perviously felt.  I remember a friend saying to me at the time, “All things will be different after this”.

Francisco deSena - "Endscape", Arm Factory (Portland Maine), Medium density fibreboard, 2007

Francisco deSena – “Endscape”, Arm Factory (Portland Maine), Medium density fibreboard, 2007

 In these years I saw some dramatic changes in my artwork. In particular, the subject matter became more figurative and more charged with emotion. The antagonists came to posses a lot of political undertone and dark humor, showing a preoccupation with a sense of the grotesque. All of these aspects came to lie dead center in my work. This was, at the time, a problem I faced, because it exposed what I was feeling inside. I felt vulnerable and often wondered what other people thought about the vision I was expressing. It was a feeling I had not often dealt with in the past.  The images seemed more inappropriate, too, because I had always tried to convey, either through technique or subject matter, a sense of order and beauty in my art. I had previously thought that through line work and harmony of color alone, anything can be made to look artistic. So, it was a particularly hard time for me, in terms of wondering whether others perceived my depictions in relation to the atrocities being committed or simply as aberrations of my mind. I had a sense of shame for what was happening, and it showed in my artwork. Yet I felt compelled to create these sometimes unsettling images and characters, and that they had a kind of beauty in their willingness to embody despised forces that attracted me to give these manifestations life. So, despite my skepticism, I continued to move forward with the project. I knew, at the very least, that Endscape would be received well in the context of where and when it was being made, by the small number of people who would see it, but I was apprehensive about how it would be perceived by others outside my small circle of peers.

Francisco deSena - "Endscape", Arm Factory (Portland Maine), Medium density fibreboard, 2007

Francisco deSena – “Endscape”, Arm Factory (Portland Maine), Medium density fibreboard, 2007

Endscape was a culmination of these viewpoints. I wanted to create a scene that was aesthetically pleasing, having a pastel-like color pallet, all the while the message being hidden inside its mediums. Endscape was to occupy the front end of the gallery at the Arm Factory print shop, housed inside a massive old mill. In hindsight, the size of the mill versus the size of the gallery space was really influential, in a way. Endscap

Francisco deSena – An Artist Born from a Homeland


Emily Prince is an artist who explores how we as humans represent and

Emily Prince and Marge

Emily Prince and Marge

remember the passage of time.  Her process oriented nature is elegantly present throughout her work.  An good example of this is Around and Around Everyday, a piece in which she demonstrated the passage of time by drawing lines around the architectural planes of a room for six weeks.  Her processes are also accompanied by an emphasis on spatial distribution and/or maps whenever possible.  In 2007 her geospatial distribution of portraits ofAmerican servicemen who died in Iraq and Afghanistan was selected for the Venice Biennale.  Her most recent exhibit, Romancing the Stone, was held at the Jack Hanley Gallery in New York City.  We recently had the chance to chat about her career so far and get the scoop on future her work.

[ArtSHIFTING] Your work attempts to demonstrate how we record and/or stop the passage of time.  What role has technology played in the process, delivery and development of your work?

[Emily] I’m glad you asked this because it brings up an important point.  Lately through my work I’ve been exploring nostalgia, this specific psychological phenomena that acts like a past-magnet, encouraging us to remember our own stories, flawed as they may be.  However, the work itself is not nostalgic.  There was a time when I was superficially drawn to the philosophy of Luddites but at present I’m appreciative of living in these very times with all the tools I get to utilize.  I like to use whatever works.  Such as my cheap and dying three-in-one HP scanner.  It’s provided much mileage for my purposes.  Also, PhotoShop comes in handy.  Incorporating these media in my process has developed, organically, a stratigraphy that I find slightly provocative and have therefore embraced.  In my last body of work, for instance, I made these super labor-intensive pencil drawings of rocks.  So far: old-fashioned medium paired with ancient subject matter.  At first I tried drawing the rocks from sight but it was almost prohibitively difficult to flatten out the three-dimensions on such a tiny scale.  In frustration I decided to make a bridge for myself: take a photograph of the rocks and then draw from the photo, which would have done the flattening for me.  And then, only because it was easier and I am at heart lazy, I put the rocks directly onto the scanner to get my images.  No set-up involved!  Then an unexpected and wonderful thing happened: because I used a scanner instead of a regular camera the images contained a combination of sharp areas where the rocks had been flush with the screen and blurred parts where the dimensions of the rocks went their separate ways and the scanner couldn’t pick up those details.  I ended up loving that kind of implicit, subtle artifact and I tried to draw those very details.  In the drawings then, you can see that there was a layer of mediation, that this image came from photography and thus there were multiple levels of distance from the subject.  Ultimately a pairing of the ancient and the technologically recent came together and this was more stimulating to me, more reflective of the world we live in, than if I was strictly committed to using, say, daguerreotype photography and nothing else.  I am more interested in where these different things pile on top of each other, like geology.

Emily Prince - Around Around Everyday Backroom Gallery, San Francisco, CA. 2004

Emily Prince – Around Around Everyday Backroom Gallery, San Francisco, CA. 2004

[ArtSHIFTING] Around around everydayThe Birthday Project,Familiar and It Will Live Foreverplaced emphasis on the surrounding physical environment in which you work.  How often does this play a role in pieces not intended as such?

[Emily] Yes, when I started out I was inclined to make my projects site-specific.  But as I continued to work my area of inquiry became more and more specific and I aspired to go deeper and sharper rather than spread out horizontally.  So some trimming naturally had to happen.  But the interest in the environment didn’t exactly go away… through working on it will live forever the study of space collapsed into the investigation of time in the following way:  While working on that project I was volunteering for a native plant nursery that rehabilitated local marshlands and coastal prairies. I was thinking about that as I made the work, asking questions like:

When we restore a natural environment, which is a dynamic and forever changing thing, how do we decide which state of that transformation to fix?  Can we consider that re-made landscape natural or is it simply man-made at that point?  How much subjectivity is involved?  How much is science and how much romance?  Is there an influence of nostalgia?
In this case the re-shaping of the environment was heavily influenced by history, or an attachment to the past.  At some point during the project I had a moment of clarity in which I realized that what I was puzzling over was not so much the surrounding physical environment but the relationship we have with time, which inextricably colors our connections and attitudes toward the landscape.  I understood then that the driving question for me was how we relate to time.
Emily Prince - American servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not including the wounded, nor the Iraqis, nor the Afghans. Venice Biennale, 2007

Emily Prince – American servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not including the wounded, nor the Iraqis, nor the Afghans. Venice Biennale, 2007

 The Egyptian Murals for Martyrs project is a street art project that  memorializes those who died in the revolution.  What parallels do you see between your American soldiers andBury my heart portraits.

[Emily] There is a parallel here for sure.  In common to them all is the labor of memory, the desire to feel a physicality for those memories, to replace what’s gone with a tangible remembrance.  To my mind they all speak to the way in which we deliberately live with ghosts, building ghost-houses, due to the terror of forgetting.  I’m glad you brought this project Murals for Martyrs to my attention!

[ArtSHIFTING] What role does the artist have in society?

[Emily] I guess there are as many different roles as there are artists.  I hope my own is something besides self-indulgence.

[ArtSHIFTING] What has been a seminal experience for you as an artist?

[Emily] I used to work in such a way that the process was everything, and as a consequence, every single part of that process ended up being the final “product.”  But while making the wall drawings of it will live forever, which took months, I realized the most practical thing: as much as I loved working site-specifically, it wasn’t totally realistic for every future project (imagine needing to spend months anywhere on an installation – it just isn’t really possible), and so I made a conscious decision to learn how to work on mobile objects, like on paper rather than directly on the wall.  Once I began to work like this it freed me up tremendously.  Suddenly I had this new capacity to edit.  And then I ended up editing A TON, like a writer who just chips and chips away until only the essentials are left (hopefully).  As well, and maybe more significantly, I was allowed the space for trial and error and this opened up countless cracks for accidents to occur.  My job has turned into being a sentinel, on watch – with my best peripheral vision – for good accidents.  Almost everything in my work now is the result of one.  It’s a looser way to work, inviting chance.  It’s like in science when a profound discovery is made by route of an experiment that was intended to study something else.

[ArtSHIFTING] How has your practice changed over time?

Emily Prince - Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces, Embroidery, 2009

Emily Prince – Chief Joseph of the Nez Perces, Embroidery, 2009

[Emily] I used to be more diligent – I could work for eight hours straight, twelve hours of solid work in a day.  But when I went to grad school my schedule was fractured into all these hour or two-hour long time-slots and my attention span has never recovered.  Only recently, though, have I stopped whipping myself for this.  Like with Minister Dimmesdale of The Scarlet Letter, except with me it’s on the inside.  I’m trying to make peace with it, call it pacing.  Because perhaps it’s just my body talking to me and trying to prevent blindness, since my drawings of the last two years have required turning my eyes into microscopes.  I guess the answer to your question is that I’ve become all loosey-goosey.

[ArtSHIFTING] What’s your strongest memory of your childhood?

[Emily] Hmmm… Nothing in life for me really classifies as strongest or bests.  I’ve got endless strong memories of my childhood, but here’s the earliest one:

I’m baby enough to be in a playpen.  Somebody in the family picks me up and takes me into a room where the people are and glowing on a screen (I interpret it now as a slide-show) I recall only the colorful shapes.  Lots of tourquoisey-green and orange-ish red.
I’m pretty sure this memory is real because there are no photographs of this event from which I would have concocted a memory.  And nobody told me about it either – I once asked both my parents if they remembered the event and they were way more vague than me about it.  I surmise it must have occurred before I had language because it is a non-verbal recollection.  Mostly the memory of touch and color.

Emily Prince - the way it used to be Kent Gallery, New York, NY. 2009

Emily Prince – the way it used to be Kent Gallery, New York, NY. 2009

[ArtSHIFTING] Describe a real-life situation that inspired you?

[Emily] I was always interested in how we navigate the passage of time and relate to the past but when my Grandmother, to whom I was close as can be, died, the subject of memory and coping with loss all became totally real and personal rather than merely abstract.

[ArtSHIFTING] What memorable responses have you had to your work?

[Emily] I’m shy to the point of being handicapped and so I can’t go around announcing my work like I ought to.  (Almost everything’s happened in one long chain of good luck.)  However, over time my project American Servicemen and Women… has become known to a few people, having been shown in a few different cities, and I’ve now been approached by some family members and friends of people whose portraits I’ve drawn.  Those emails often make me cry.  They turn the abstract into the concrete and are immensely humbling.

[ArtSHIFTING] What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Emily Prince - "Romancing the Stone" Jack Hanley Gallery, New York, NY. 2011

Emily Prince – “Romancing the Stone” Jack Hanley Gallery, New York, NY. 2011

[Emily] In my MFA program I had an advisor (who happened to study martial arts on the side) who gave me a high-five so sharp it almost hurt, while saying, “Yeah – Nostalgia’s where your money’s at!”  It was he who crystallized this idea for me, calling out the heart of my inquiry, and for that I’m grateful.

[ArtSHIFTING] Professionally, what’s your goal?

[Emily] To make art like Randy Newman made music between 1970 and ’77.

[ArtSHIFTING] What are you working on now?

[Emily] Roses have been a draw lately.  It seems I’m interested in classic American luxury (living) objects, like horses and roses. These things seem to touch on our own special sense of roots, in that they’re a little English too.  The idea they both bring up for me is longing/desire.  Always entwined in my curiosities over time is a fascination with the longing that comes with having a memory, being tethered to a past that’s now gone.  Horses and roses share this poignancy of longing, to my mind.  I was never a “horse-girl” because we were on the poor side, but we lived in this rural area where our nearest neighbor was a ranch and the horses lived closer to us than the people.  Everyday my mom would indulge me by walking me to see the horses.  And sometimes they’d get loose and come straight to our house where they could eat the fresh grass in the lawn… once one reached its big horse mouth over my dad’s shoulder and took a bite out of his sandwich.  Anyway, for me it was never about riding horses but rather about longing to ride horses.  And I think that roses are similar.  I remember in To Kill a Mockingbirdthere’s a trope running through the book having to do with flowers.  The working-class lady has geraniums planted in old toilets or something, and the rich person down the street has roses.  Roses are another object of desire to which we might aspire, to long for.

I’ve been looking at old catalogs for roses and I’m planning to make drawings based on the black and white photos in them.  I’m thinking of the experience of just pouring over theses pictures of roses, imagining them, anticipating them, maybe never even being able to afford having them but longing after them through the pictures.  To me the mail-order catalog brings up a spatial separation that is akin to the divisions between the present and the past.  In both there is something on the other side that we desire.

Emily Prince – There is More than One Way to Remember the Past