“Visiting Thahab” is an ongoing performance project by artist Nabeela Vega that, in her own words, explores “the muslim woman’s presence as an object in contemporary, domestic and foreign spaces.” Vega uses the character of Thahab (meaning body in gold) in order to scrutinize the role of the Muslim American woman in post-9/11 America and to investigate themes such as the blending of feminine and masculine roles and spaces, and the modern significance of assimilation .
Vega’s representation of the character takes multiple forms. She utilizes photography to create still, aesthetically beautiful images of Thahab in various environments. But the static image is not enough to convey the full significance of Thahab.
Vega also uses recorded video performances of Thahab inhabiting and interacting with different locations that range from urban to natural and domestic to public. In two of the video pieces, Vega introduces narratives from other Muslim people living in America. In one, imagery of Thahab in a city is overlaid with the recorded narrative of a young man recounting what it was like to grow up Muslim in America. In the other, Thahab inhabits a domestic environment – watches television, prays on the carpet – while the voice of her mother describes how their lives changed in post-9/11 America.
Vega uses juxtaposition and humor in order to invite her viewers into what could otherwise become a very serious situation. Her use of humor does not trivialize the subject matter, but rather makes it accessible on yet another level.
Vega also incorporated sculptural elements into the show – gold fabric hanging from above welcomed visitors into the space and coalesced into a larger-than-life seated Thahab. This figure is uninhabited by a human body and presses further at the tension between feminine and masculine identity, delicate fabric twisting into a phallic form.
And finally, there is Thahab herself, Vega cloaked in gold, walking among the public in real time. All the pieces in “Thahab Visits SMFA” worked together to create an multi-facetted environment. Vega’s use of many mediums and repeat incarnations of Thahab speak to the complex nature of her subject matter and allow viewers to engage and re-engage with her dialogue on multiple levels.
Don’t forget to check out Vega’s web series “Adventures of Thahab” and look out for Thahab visiting a location near you!
Learn more about Nabeela Vega’s work and more about Thahab at her website.