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A Teen Muslim Artist Tells a Story About Religion

Razan Elbaba of Vienna, Virginia, created award winning artwork to express feelings about wearing hijab. Sometimes she used “googly eyes” to represent the stares that Muslim women and girls often receive from strangers. (Artwork by Razan Elbaba)
Razan Elbaba of Vienna, Virginia, created award winning artwork to express feelings about wearing hijab. Sometimes she used “googly eyes” to represent the stares that Muslim women and girls often receive from strangers. (Artwork by Razan Elbaba)

Summary: New York-Bound Artist Razan Elbaba Talks Inspiration, Interpretation and Moving on

Talented young artist Razan Elbaba seems to have found her stride. The Virginia native was recently awarded the prestigious Gold Medal Portfolio and a $10,000 scholarship in the 2016 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards presented by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers in New York.She’s in good company, too. Past winners of the Gold Medal Portfolio have included the likes of Andy Warhold, Lena Dunham and Stephen King.

Elbaba fought through a stutter at a young age and connected with art as a way to express her emotions and ideas. Her multimedia exhibits are particularly eye-catching. In a whimsical, poignant twist she’ll combines elements like stark sepia photographs with those plastic googly eyes, mirrors and glitter to illustrate serious topics of identity, perception and Islamophobia.

Her style manages to be classic but still contemporary. She lends a wholly unique (and wonderfully fun to look at) perspective to the conversation of today’s social issues.

This fall Elbaba will be jetting out to New York to tackle college and new creative endeavors, and in the space between master city life and, one hopes, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. We chatted with her about how she stays inspired…and what’s on the horizon.

Goltune: What, for you, is the best part about creating?

The best part of creating is the art of self-expression. Being a stutterer, I’ve always looked for a means of nonverbal expression and I’ve found it in art. It’s an incredible feeling to see that your work has great meaning behind it.

Anything can inspire me, really. I have multiple inspirations from artists like Shirin Neshat, and events like the tragedy of the Chapel Hill Shooting.

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Goltune: I liked your use of the “googly eyes” expression.   

I’m glad you caught that! I liked to keep my work lighthearted in the beginning because it is such a sensitive topic. I don’t fight fire with fire. I hope to keep my work pleasant and inviting. I do this to allow people to be comfortable to ask me questions and start a conversation.

Goltune: What are you most looking forward to as you head to New York?

New York City is a major venue change from Northern Virginia, so I’m excited to adapt to the city life. I look forward to becoming a “city gal” and learning how to transport via subway! However, I’m most excited to advance in my field as New York City has so much to offer.

Goltune: What kind of projects would you like to tackle in the future?

I hope to experiment more with sculpture pieces and images on a bigger scale. Bigger is better!

Goltune: What have you been listening to lately that you can’t live without?

My music taste ranges from Sam Smith if I’m “in my feels” to Drake if I’m in a car to crazy upbeat Arabic and Hindi music if I’m in a dancy mood. I like the majority of contemporary music – I’ll listen to anything that pops up on my Pandora station.

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Goltune: What have you watched lately ?

I am the worst at keeping up with anything and I also don’t have much time to sit on the couch and watch T.V., although I would like to. During Ramadan however, it’s a family tradition to sit down and watch the newest season of “Bab Al Hara” or “The Neighborhood’s Gate” after we break our fast.

Goltune: Where have you been to… or where would you like to go and why?

Thankfully, my parents love to travel so I’ve been to a lot of places. I’ve been to numerous fun states all around the U.S., along with Canada, Spain, France, England, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Cyprus, The United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. We love to travel together and create new memories. We often get along more abroad rather than at home! I think my favorite vacation would have to be our Spain trip because – one, it was a World Cup year and, two, Spain is filled with Islamic history!

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Goltune: Share with us some of your personal wisdom, life mantras.

I have a couple of pieces of advice: Be patient, there is always something waiting for you. God always has something planned for you. It took me three very rough years to discover my true calling and passion. When the time comes, you will be filled with genuine happiness. And also, everyone needs to sit down once in awhile and just breathe. Lay your phone down and take life as it is. Don’t worry if you didn’t get that one moment on Snapchat! People often don’t [let themselves] live in the moment because of the deep investment they have with their technology and lifestyle as a whole.

Finally, we asked Razan:

Who would you be thrilled to meet?


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