While growing up in Irvington, a “harder” area of New Jersey, Tamina Muhammad found sanctuary and hope for a better future through creative expression.
“I had a lot of support with teachers who pushed me to be better than the environment,” she says. “That inspired me to try to continue art to find different avenues other than being part of the street life.”
One of those teachers was Rita Owens, also known as Queen Latifa’s mother. Muhammad was the only girl in Owens’ advanced art class at Irvington High School. “She took me on like I was her other daughter,” Muhammad says. Miss Owens encouraged the high schooler to dream big and motivated her to give the boys in the class a run for their money.
Another high school teacher encouraged Muhammad to apply to the Pratt Institute; she did and was accepted on-the-spot during her interview. After graduating, Muhammad moved to Arizona, where her father lived; she stayed there for 14 years.
The beauty of the desert overwhelmed her. “The sunsets, the skies, the monsoon season, the light – everything that I never really experienced, I got to see there,” she says. “It’s like the sky opened up.”
Muhammed established herself in Arizona. She was a RAW Artist (an international and online platform for emerging talents) and her work was featured in several shows.
Three years ago, Muhammad and her family moved to Minnesota to be closer to her brother. As a director at West Minnehaha Recreation Center, he helped her get connected to the local arts community here. Since then, she has painted a mural at the center, and every Friday she invited youth to come in and paint.
“A lot of them, they’re on the streets. They get into trouble with gangs,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Why don’t you come in here and paint on Fridays?’ And they’re like, ‘No, we’re too cool for that.’ And then you would see them on Fridays, ‘Uh…Miss T…can we paint?’”
Now she's connected with East Side Arts Council, where she does the senior arts program.
This week, Muhammad is preparing for her first solo exhibition in Minnesota. Her work is influenced by landscapes from Africa to the Southwest U.S., and pulls from both her African-American and Native American cultural backgrounds. While she creates in a variety of mediums – from watercolor and acrylic to prism markers and colored pencil – she says the exhibition will feel cohesive for viewers. “It’s really about the mood,” she says.
Muhammad often incorporates earth tones and images of womanhood into her pieces. “I try to represent women in the way that I feel like you should see them,” she says. “I want to show beautiful images of them being strong.”
Muhammad is a mother herself, and she tries to set an example of artistic entrepreneurship for her three sons (though right now they’re more interested in being athletes than artists, much to the chagrin of Muhammad and their father, who is also a muralist and a fine artist).
Perhaps one day the boys will come around. Until then, Muhammad is happy to share the transformational power of art with others. “I love letting people see they can do something that they don’t think they can,” she says. “Art means something to people, no matter what form it’s in.”
IF YOU GO:
East Side Arts Council
6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 3
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