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Sara Surani's Creative Portfolio

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

–Oscar Wilde


Identity. Without our own sense of self, who are we?


Although I learned many lessons from my time in Muslim Voices in Contemporary World Literature, the most important lesson I learned is how important one’s sense of self is for the development of an individual. Throughout the beautifully composed pieces of literature we read this semester, ranging from controversial novels to poems translated from another language, one theme that struck me most was the importance of identity. Even though the topics of the literature ranged from religious education to forbidden sexualities, one thing remained the same: all the characters struggled with their identity at one point or another.

From reading and eventually sympathizing with characters in readings like Madras on Rainy Days and The Complaint and The Answer, I realized that I had not fully immersed myself in thoughts concerning my own identity. What do I love most about life? What do I dislike most about society? Who will I be in ten years? Twenty years? Who am I now? Thoughts like these stormed through my mind like a hurricane, at first confusing me, but then coalescing together to give me a better insight into my inner self. As I read these readings, I began to think more. My previous opinions either amplified in their magnitude or slowly started to change into something new.

For instance, prior to reading Persepolis, a comic-style book illustrating life in Iran during times of war, I assumed that hijabs and burqas were articles of clothing related to the religion of Islam. However, as we read more, I realized that rather than acting as symbols of female oppression (like I previously assumed), these articles are symbols of anti-Westernization. Rather than being religious, the origins of the burqa lie in politics and unwanted intrusion from the West into the Middle East. Realities like this caused me to think twice about my assumptions and made me realize the importance of knowing, rather than assuming. Ignorance in the world has always irked me, but realizing that I was also veiled in a burqa of ignorance fired a passion within me. A passion not only to exterminate any spark of ignorance within me, but also to help eradicate this ignorance from strangers and friends alike.

In order to combat this ignorance within myself, I sought to educate myself more. In addition to actively engaging in the assigned literature, I also began reading into the news more. At first, I scoped through The New York Times and The Crimson (it’s hard not to take a peek when your door crate is erupting with a week’s supply of untouched Crimsons!) However, as I read more and started watching clips on CNN, I realized there must be some bias present. This led me to search newspapers from the Middle East, such as Al-Arab and The National. Getting perspective from both sides of the story helped extinguish ignorance and allowed me to further develop my identity.

In order to combat this ignorance within my friends, I tried something much simpler: I talked. I talk about The Saint’s Lamp and how religion and science can compliment one another, rather than contradict. I talk about The Reluctant Fundamentalist in light of the recent Ferguson case, sparking conversation about how discrimination is present all across the world and what we can do to overcome aesthetic boundaries. I talk about Madras on Rainy Days and how society makes people feel like they need to conform in order to belong, and how people should always feel comfortable in their own skin. I talk about We Sinful Women and how women are worth more than their beauty, how women are equal to men. I talk about The Complaint and The Answer and how we often are so caught up in the material aspects of the world that we often forget about the importance of introspection and spirituality.

In addition to talking, I used my creative responses to the literature as an avenue for sparking conversation. While embarking on the creation of this blog, I interacted with many people. Whether the interaction involved asking entryway mates to pose for a photograph or asking a friend for help in downloading Photoshop, the interactions led to conversation about religion, society, and more broadly, the world. As I created each blog post, I tried to emulate a certain part of each reading that struck out to me, and I aimed to make it my own. I tried to find a part of myself in each reading. Looking back on the posts now, I realize that many readings revolve around the same basic themes: empowerment, unity, and acceptance—all components in discovering and embracing one’s identity.

While some posts focus on certain parts of one’s identity—like the importance of embracing one’s sexuality in order to fully accept oneself—other aspects of one’s identity seem less concrete. Your identity doesn’t simply evolve around your physique, your identity transcends to your thoughts and beliefs. Furthermore, your identity is also defined by how you feel about other religions, about science, about education, and about yourself. I try to project these ideas in my creative responses by emphasizing the importance of self-discovery and identity through the differing mediums, subjects, and colors. In particular, I used color (like black and white) to accentuate the importance of grey. In life, different situations are often perceived as either right or wrong, conforming or not, black or white. However, creating this “black or white” mentality restricts people from realizing that there are more than just extremes. The grey perspective is what makes people different and allows different perspectives to form. The grey is what constitutes your identity.

Another theme I address on this blog is the importance of perspective. Every situation builds different individuals, creating a multitude of perspectives. Rather than believing that perspectives conflict, I believe that differing perspectives build upon each other to create a whole understanding of one another. While working on this blog, I realized that there are more than a hundred different interpretations of a single reading. When I was reading over our class’ responses to weekly readings, I realized that even though the reading was the same, every student’s interpretation of the reading was wildly different from the other’s interpretation. Although the common theme strung through was constant throughout, different students focused on different matters that they felt more personally about.

In order to show this, I try to take a different angle on some of my works. Friedrich Nietzsche said how, “There are no facts, only interpretations,” so, in order to address this thought, I try to create my own interpretations for different readings. I not only reflect on the main idea of the work, but I try to shed light on smaller issues and offer my commentary on these issues. I tried not to be objective, but rather, embrace the subjective nature of open-ended literature. I questioned certain elements in the text I didn’t agree with and questioned my reasoning in the elements I did agree with. I formed counterarguments for society’s affinity for creating a utopia and started to comprehend how it is easier to control a population of people if everyone thinks the same way. This epiphany made me appreciate different perspectives and pluralism even more, and led me to value diversity deeply.

So, it comes back to the question of identity. Without our own sense of self, who are we? I hope that this blog will address some of these elements of identity and help you gain a new perspective about different religions, society, and the world. Hopefully it will make you realize the importance of thinking for yourself and not letting the boundaries of society limit you from becoming your own person. Hopefully it will help you to remember not to let other people’s opinions dictate your thoughts and teach you about the importance of perspective and identity. At the least, I hope you enjoy!

December 7th, 2014 at 10:08 AM