Painting at Everett Community College offends and enlightens

The painting is displayed almost directly opposite the entrance of the Russell Day Gallery at Everett Community College.

It was the first thing Doaa al Maly, 19, saw when she walked in one week ago.

On a blue background, a Muslim woman holds a Quran in one hand and a machine gun in the other, a grenade strapped to her chest.

A row of minarets lines each side, while machinery from oil refineries borders the top and bottom.

“At first, I thought it was racial stereotyping,” said al Maly. Now, a week later, al Maly said she realizes the situation is more complex.

The freedom of expression that allows the painting to be in the exhibit, she said, is the same freedom that also allows her to educate others about Muslim women.

“Now I’m painting a new picture, with words, of how I feel,” she said.

The painting, a watercolor with mixed media, is part of an exhibit of work by former students of Russell Day, the art instructor for whom the gallery was recently named.

In a plaque near the painting, which is untitled, Marysville artist Joan Cates writes about Day encouraging his students to travel and explore the world for themselves. She studied at EvCC between 1951 and 1953.

Cates, 74, said most of her recent artwork is heavily based on current world events.

“Politically speaking, I’m not taking one side or the other,” she said.

“I have no intention of insulting anybody,” Cates said. “That wasn’t my purpose at all. The painting is just based on current events that were taking place.”

A portion of the painting uses newspaper clippings about U.S. action in Iraq as a background.

“If a person who does have issues with it would take a second look they can think about some other things in the painting,” Cates said. “There are oil refineries, and I put some symbols that would indicate it was Muslim, but really I was just winging it on that. I was hoping I was doing the right thing.”

Al Maly said the painting is unnerving because the woman in it looks so similar to her: olive skin, a scarf wrapped tightly around her chin.

“That’s an al-Qaida woman, not a Muslim woman,” she said, adding that the artist should have included text near the piece to explain its context.

School officials said the exhibit does not contain explanations of the pieces because the works are meant to recognize Day, the artists’ instructor, and the influence he had on their work.

“In a different kind of show, each work would probably have some kind of statement by the artist about what the piece is about,” said Jeanne Leader, the college’s arts administrator. “So I can see where that could be a frustration when someone is trying to understand a piece and what its intent is, because that’s literally not part of the show.”

Nearly 1,000 people have visited the show, called “Catalyst,” since it opened in January. There haven’t been any other complaints about the displayed artwork.

Talib al Maly brought his entire family to Everett in 1994 after escaping persecution in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. They are now U.S. citizens, part of Everett’s sizable Iraqi community.

When Doaa al Maly saw the painting, her first reaction was to angrily confront museum volunteers.

She said she was told the “painting was meant to be in support of the school’s Muslim women.”

“But why didn’t they show us caring for our families? That picture does not show what Muslim women are like.”

Later, al Maly returned to the gallery with her father, and they asked for Cates’ painting to be removed.

Museum officials refused, and both father and daughter on Thursday said they appreciate the reason it’s still on display.

Al Maly and her father decided to use the opportunity to speak out against Muslim stereotypes.

“The painting is right, because there are some women who have bombed themselves,” Talib al Maly said, in a mix of Arabic and English, while his daughter interpreted. “It has happened, and people in the U.S. know this has happened. But, it’s very, very rare.”

“The Iraqi women here in America, they’re the same as women from America,” he said.

Many of Everett’s Iraqis attended EvCC to learn English when they first arrived. Now, many of their sons and daughters, who grew up here, are getting their undergraduate work done, many focusing in the science and medical courses.

Muslim women’s head scarves make them targets for harassment, said Teena Ellison, a coordinator for the Everett Housing Authority who works in the Grandview neighborhood, where many local Iraqis live.

The painting feeds the worst fears of those who don’t know any of Everett’s Muslims, she said.

“Still, art is art,” Ellison said. “We can take this time to have a voice, and point out that the Iraqis in this community are not wearing bombs.”

Talib al Maly said he wants to invite Cates to his home so they can discuss the differences between Wahhabism, the extreme sect promoted in Saudi Arabia, that preaches violence, and the local Shia Muslims from Iraq.

“I live in this community,” Talib al Maly said. “I want people to know who I am. I don’t want to be lost in my own community.”

Cates said she would welcome meeting the al Maly family and learning about them.

“I’d probably come to have a cup of tea,” she said.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Crews will reduce lanes and eventually close northbound Interstate 5 between Everett and Marysville this week to work on a bridge overpass girder. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Overnight lane closures, I-5 detour set between Everett, Marysville

Crews need to replace a girder on the 12th Street NE bridge that was damaged by an overheight load in September 2021.

Mike Rosen
Businessman Mike Rosen announces campaign for mayor of Edmonds

Rosen, a city planning board member, is backed by five former Edmonds mayors. It’s unclear if incumbent Mike Nelson will run again.

FILE - A Boeing 747-8, Boeing's new passenger plane, takes its first flight, Sunday, March 20, 2011, at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. After more than half a century, Boeing is rolling its last 747 out of a Washington state factory on Tuesday night. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing’s last 747 to roll off the Everett assembly line

The Queen of the Skies was dethroned by smaller, more fuel-efficient jets. The last 747s were built for a cargo carrier.

PUD workers install new transformers along 132nd Street on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Electric vehicles spur big forecast jump for PUD demand

Not long ago, the Snohomish County PUD projected 50,000 electric cars registered in the county by 2040. Now it expects up to 660,000.

Traffic moves northbound on I-5 through Everett on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Grinding work still needed for I-5 through Everett

Construction crews need warmer temps for the work to remove what a reader described as “mini raised speed bumps.”

After a day of learning to fight fires, Snohomish firefighter recruit Chau Nguyen flakes a hose as other recruits load the hoses onto a fire truck April 19, 2018, at the training facility on S. Machias Rd. in Snohomish. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)
Lawsuit: Everett firefighter sexually harassed numerous recruits

Chau Nguyen resigned earlier this year, long after the first complaint about his behavior at the county’s fire training academy.

Jamie Haggard
Half-brother gets 15 years in dismemberment, leaving body near Maltby

After his conviction of second-degree murder, David Haggard still claims innocence in Jamie Haggard’s killing in 2016.

People work on the roof of the Stilly Valley Senior Center on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Seniors evacuated from Stilly Valley Center housing due to roof damage

Residents said water damage issues began years ago. Mid-winter repairs forced them into hotels.

FILE - In this photo taken Oct. 2, 2018, semi-automatic rifles fill a wall at a gun shop in Lynnwood, Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee is joining state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to propose limits to magazine capacity and a ban on the sale of assault weapons. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Trade in an unloaded gun for a loaded gift card in Mukilteo, Everett

Mukiteo’s Gun Buyback is Saturday. Everett has $25,000 to give out at its exchange Dec. 17.

Most Read