Atlanta artist paints his ‘truth’ as a gay Arab-American

To Nabil Mousa, orange symbolizes fear, loneliness and marginalization.

Those are the feelings he experienced when he came out as a gay Arab-American in 2000.

“I love my culture, but I would be more involved in the Middle Eastern culture if my people would accept me for who I am,” said the Atlanta-based artist and author, who has been married to his husband, Scott, for four years. He found more acceptance among people in other communities. “I wouldn’t stand a chance in the Middle East. Even people who claim they are open-minded really are not.”

So, it’s little wonder that orange is a dominant color in his mixed-media series, “American Landscape: An Exploration of Art and Humanity,” which is on display through April 8 at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich.

It looks at sexual identity and patriotism through strong imagery.

It’s a big step for Mousa. The museum is described on its website as the first and only museum in the United States devoted to Arab-American history and culture. It’s his most significant exhibit so far.

His work has been featured at an arts fair in Miami through the Salamatina Gallery. In his show at the Arab American National Museum, there’s nothing overtly sexual about the nine paintings, one of which incorporates his husband’s jeans over a tweaked U.S. flag.

He hopes this latest exhibit will at least open the conversation and help others in the LGBTQ community.

“It’s really the story of my life — my struggles and my empowerment,” the 51-year-old Mousa said. “It’s all in there.”

Museum officials said they have not received any criticism.

Elizabeth Barrett-Sullivan, curator of exhibits, called it a powerful work that spoke directly to civil rights issues, equality and American politics.

“It has a message about freedom,” she said. “We thought this was a theme we wanted to tackle.”

Mousa’s family moved to the United States from Syria in 1978.

He knew he was attracted to other males at an early age. At 14, he was fully accepting because “I realized this was not going to go away.”

When he came out to his family in 2000, the reaction was swift. He said members of his family called him an embarrassment. Some stopped speaking to him altogether.

Mousa’s sexual orientation was not a problem for his cousin, Daniel Yousef, a Miami pharmacist.

“His parents are very religious in their beliefs, and in their culture,” he said. “This was not something that was part of the norm. They started to slowly exclude him from family gatherings.” A brother could not be reached for comment.

Yousef said that strained relationship may have shaped Mousa’s work.

“I think for him it motivated him to pursue his art career,” he said. Before, “he ran a couple of businesses, like real estate. Being cut off really caused him to pursue what was in his heart rather than do things that pleased everyone else.”

His work can be provocative. Some might even say offensive.

In 2015, for example, Mousa created a 13 1/2-foot installation titled “Paradise Built on the Bones of the Slaughtered.”

The piece contained several burned copies of the Bible, the Torah and the Quran.

The city of Grand Rapids, Mich., declined to accept the work for display in City Hall, according to an article on MLive. However, it was shown at Gallery 874 in Atlanta.

“It doesn’t mean I like controversy for controversy’s sake,” he said. “That’s useless and not my objective as an artist. I’m the kind of artist that fights from the soul — from the heart.”

Religion, he said, has often been used to put people in a box and demanded that they follow certain guidelines “instead of allowing us to shine and be enlightened.”

It’s also been used to divide, rather than unite.

“There is a message of love found in all three holy books,” he said. “Why not focus on that? Let’s just get rid of all the clutter.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Living

What is Earth Day? 5 things to know
What is Earth Day? 5 things to know

Sunday is Earth Day 2018, and more than one billion people across the globe are expected to celebrate with environmentally friendly events. But what exactly is Earth Day? Here's what you need to know: >> Read more trending news  The first Earth Day celebration took place 48 years ago, in 1970, after a devastating oil spill in America brought...
Concert review and photos: Pink flies high with dazzling return to Atlanta
Concert review and photos: Pink flies high with dazzling return to Atlanta

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene (This review was originally posted at 1:25 a.m. on April 22, 2018) Think what you want about Pink, but don’t doubt her integrity – as a musician, a performer, a humanitarian. She’s as real as it gets. So yeah, you try this while singing. Pink apparently has no problem! Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC...
Kim Zolciak likely departing ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’ yet again
Kim Zolciak likely departing ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’ yet again

Posted Sunday, April 22, 2018 by RODNEY HO/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog Here we go again. Kim Zolciak is not coming back to “Real Housewives of Atlanta” after a short-lived part-time stint season ten, according to Us magazine. Five years ago, Zolciak walked out on “The Real Housewives...
Inside the birth of the Weather Channel
Inside the birth of the Weather Channel

When the Weather Channel launched in 1982, its founder, John Coleman, knew he was on to the start of something important and something special. In its first night on air, he presciently told viewers that the channel would “become the nation’s primary source of weather information” and that it would “serve the nation with information...
Concert review and photos: Bon Jovi romps through classics at Philips Arena return
Concert review and photos: Bon Jovi romps through classics at Philips Arena return

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene Ten songs into a two-hour-plus romp, Bon Jovi went back to the very beginning. Amber lights created a halo around David Bryan’s curls as he tapped out the signature opening of the band’s first hit, 1984’s “Runaway.” David Bryan, in his usual spot. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC...
More Stories