Young Girl at Prayers with her Father, Muslim American Society, Brooklyn, NY (2010). Photo Credit: Robert Gerhardt
By Jenny Hopkins
Pocatello, Idaho – The term “Muslim” is not synonymous with “terrorist.” That is one of the messages photographer Robert Gerhardt of New York City wants to convey with his exhibit, “Muslim/American, American/Muslim.”
The exhibition will be on display in the John B. Davis Gallery, located on the lower level of the Fine Arts Building (No. 11) on the Pocatello Idaho State University campus. The exhibit will be open from Monday, Jan. 12 through Friday, Jan. 30. Gallery hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m.
There will be an opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 20 from 6 to 8 p.m. in Goranson Hall, which is also located in the lower level of the Fine Arts Building. Gerhardt will give a lecture during the reception at 7 p.m. The introduction will be given by Dr. Daniel Hummel.
Gerhardt’s love of photography began with an interest in another field — sociology.
He has earned bachelors degrees in both arts degree in anthropology/sociology and art history from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He also later received his masters in fine arts degree in Photography from the Lesley University College of Art and Design in Cambridge.
“My junior year in college, my anthropology professor suggested I take a photography class,” Gerhardt said.
During the class he was introduced to the works of New York City Street photographer Harold Feinstein and he’s been taking photos ever since.
“I was hooked,” he recalls.
“Muslim/American, American/Muslim” was inspired in 2010 by the controversy that surrounded converting an unused building into a mosque in Brooklyn.
“I have always been interested in doing a photo essay on Muslim-American life, but I never really had a contact. I contacted them (the people creating the mosque) and that was sort of my interview. I told them I would love to do this piece. They were very nice and kind,” he said.
Gerhardt starting taking photos at the mosque on the first day of Ramadan and continued to take photos one to two nights a week for a year. He said that he became friends with many of the subjects in those photos and keeps in touch with them to this day.
The Brooklyn mosque photos were only the beginning in a photographic journey that continues for Gerhardt. He has since taken photographs at mosques and of Muslim Americans in everyday life across the United States and continues to do so.
The opening of a mosque in Pocatello in October 2014 is what started Gerhardt’s interest in bringing the photo essay to the Gate City. Gebhardt saw that while most people in the community were approving of the new place of worship, the plan was also met with opposition.
Gerhardt’s says he seeks to increase respect and tolerance with his art in a post 9/11 world in which many Muslim-Americans have been met with protests and violence while simply trying to express their religious beliefs.
“One of the goals of this project is to create a dialect between Muslims and non-Muslims. I want people to see what is going on, to look into something they have not had a chance to look at,” he says.
His artist’s statement on the essay reads in part: “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 full statement as well as additional photos from the exhibit can be found at www.robertgerhardt.com
The exhibit and lecture are being funded by the I.S.U. International Programs Office, the Pocatello Arts Council and the College of Arts and Letters.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Idaho State Journal and is reprinted here with permission.