Why did Arabic Billboards Appear in the US During Midterms Elections?

Published November 12th, 2018 - 12:05 GMT
The billboards were seen in Minnesota and Chicago. (Instagram)
The billboards were seen in Minnesota and Chicago. (Instagram)

Around 150 Arabic-language billboards have been seen in the US lately in different parts of the country. One says: “إنسان” [Human] appeared first in Lansing, Michigan and the other is “أهلا وسهلا” [Ahlan wa Sahlan] in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

The billboards appeared shortly before the US midterms that took place on November 6 as part of the 50-State Initiative, a nation-wide public art project funded and organized by "For Freedoms." The two billboards were designed by a Lebanese-born, Germany-raised Jamila El Sahili and the American artist, Michael Rakowitz.

The organization that aims to promote “public discussions on civic issues and core values”, had raised $150,000 through crowdfunding to pay for the art project.

Their project coincided with Nov. midterm elections that witnessed the win of two Muslim women, one Arab and another Somali who entered history as the first two Muslim Congresswomen.

The billboards were deliberately offered with no translation, as Sahili said: "I don't want people to see what it means, because it can be a conversation starter," she said in an interview with The National.

Her participation in the campaign began with her project “Human” [إنسان]. She designed T-shirts, tote bags and buttons using the same word in Arabic for what she called a response to the "dehumanising" of the Muslim community in America after 9/11 and to promote the beauty of the Arabic language.

Other billboards in Minnesota were put in the city where Ilhan Omar was running for elections. It has "Ahlan wa Sahlan" in Arabic written on it, with an English copy beside it that reads: "May you arrive as part of the family and tread an easy path as you enter".

Earlier, a “Translate Allah” billboard designed by Palestinian artist Emily Jacir was seen standing in Salem, Oregon and it meant to remind passerby that Allah is an Arabic word used to ‘God’ in all religions.

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