Entering the doors of SOMA Arts, I had to double take and make sure that I was in the right place and that the space wasn’t closed for the night. There was utter silence, and as I rounded the corner to the gallery room my eyes encountered a crowd that trickled out of the doors and into the hall – mind you, SOMA Arts is a sizable space. A quiet bubbling emanated throughout the crowd as I weaved my way through folks to get a look at the exhibit, a comforting quiet that’s only generated through sheer anticipation and excitement. You know, like the opening moments of a film when our mind is still clinging to the preconceptions we might’ve had about it from watching the same preview millions of times or or unwrapping a gift as a child and you’re just sure you know what it is. The crowd at SOMA Arts was gathered to hear Yas Ahmed introduce The Third Muslim, which was co-curated alongside Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, enlisting 14 artists of multiple mediums to weigh in on their experiences. Oakland poet Sarah O’Neal had the souls in the room clinging to her every word as she cast the image of both internal and familial conflicts centered around her identity as a queer Muslim. After she was finished captivating the crowd, folks dispersed to soak up the diverse narratives presented by TTM.
A space for queer Muslims to share their experiences isn’t something you see everyday; the artists involved used their platform to negate stereotypes, offer a slice of the difficulties they face being first generation, queer, trans, and/or gender nonconforming in addition to the stigma the general public (ignorantly) associates with being Muslim. The Third Muslim is a reminder to the viewer of the dualities of identity, the multitude of ways to experience Islam and reprises the concept that the narratives within the show are not necessarily new. In a country where the media often shapes a strong, negative narrative towards Muslims and Islam, and a world where violence of all kinds towards Muslim and LGBQT bodies runs rampant, it makes showcases like The Third Muslim even more necessary, and yet another reason why SOMA Arts is such an amazing space.