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Arab arts organization Mizna celebrates Black SWANA experience in latest literary journal

SWANA stands for South West Asian North African.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Look closely and art is everywhere. Look closer, and different pieces of Arab art speckle the streets in St. Paul.

Specifically, off Vandalia street, there's a sculpture that makes a statement.

"One of the projects that we did one of the years was [we] commissioned a sculpture from Monira Al Qadiri, who is an incredible Kuwaiti artist," Lana Barkawi, Mizna's executive director said.

Titled 'Alien Technology,' the sculpture is of an exaggerated oil drill bit with a pearlescent finish. The eerie sea-creature reminiscent piece is both a nod to the pearl industry that fed the Gulf's economy for so long and the current economy of oil. The artist said she focused on the iridescence of both pearls and oil.

"It's about some really interesting ideas of environmentalism, colonialism," Barkawi explained.

Facilitating, curating and executing art like that is Mizna's mission. Primarily, the art collective and nonprofit focuses on literature, publishing two literary journals a year. 

Barkawi said Mizna was started in 1999 because there wasn't a space celebrating Arab literature in general.

"It still continues to be true today that artists find a sense of being unburdened in a space that is for us by us," she said.

Their latest issue focuses on the Black SWANA experience.

"SWANA stands for South West Asian North African and it's a de-colonized way to think about the region that's not Middle East," Barkawi said. "Middle East is very much a European-center-of-the-world."

With a celebration of the journal, and the works inside it done by folks who identify as Black SWANA, Mizna is hoping to highlight the diversity of the Arab identity.

"You don't have to exist as an artist in a way that society expects you to be, an Arab artist or a SWANA artist, that you can do work on your own terms," Barkawi said. "Maybe you can do work exploring identity or overtly political work, maybe you're not. There's room for that three dimensionality."

Mizna is hosting a free reading of its latest issue in St. Paul on Thursday, April 27th. You can find details to that event below.

Black SWANA Lit: Mizna Reading + DJ

St. Paul's Amsterdam Bar & Hall at 7:30 p.m. 

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