Najjar Abdul-Musawwir

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Najjar Abdul-Musawwir
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Born (1958-10-25) October 25, 1958 (age 65)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
CitizenshipUnited States of American
EducationMaster of Fine Arts
Alma materSouthern Illinois University
  • Artist
  • Professor
Years active1992-present

Najjar Abdul-Musawwir (born October 25, 1958) is an African-American artist and professor of studio art and art history. His work has been exhibited around the world, including in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia. He teaches in Southern Illinois University Carbondale's School of Art and Design.[1]

Early life and education

Najjar Abdul-Musawwir grew up outside Chicago, Illinois in the suburb of Harvey.[2] He recalls first being impressed by amateur art done by his father and cousin when he was around seven or eight years old. But the moment he fell in love with art was in fourth grade, after a school art project involving layering black over other colors in a crayon drawing, then scratching away the black to reveal colors underneath. He has compared that moment to "a scientist discovering penicillin."[3]

In high school, Abdul-Musawwir was bussed to a majority-white school, Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois, where he spent his time on the gymnastics team, where he was a gold medalist, and in the library, where he read art books. However, in both these areas, he was the target of racism. His own art was sometimes destroyed, leading his teachers to believe he wasn't doing his homework. He also experienced racism on the gymnastics team, where his teammates would defecate on his clothing. Finally, he dropped out of school.[3][4]

After leaving school, Abdul-Musawwir ended up committing a crime and served nine years in prison. While incarcerated, he became friends with a Muslim inmate who noticed that Abdul-Musawwir illustrated cards for fellow inmates to send their families. That man encouraged Abdul-Musawwir to study art as well as to improve his reading skills; at this time Abdul-Musawwir realized he was functionally illiterate. He realized the importance of knowledge to survival and spend his years in prison reading and studying art. He began reading the dictionary every day to improve his vocabulary and ultimately earned his GED while in prison. Some of his teachers in the prison worked at Southern Illinois University, who encouraged him to pursue his undergraduate degree there after he was released.[3][4] He took their advice, and in his senior year, he earned the Rickert Ziebold Trust Award[2], which is the university's most prestigious award for art students, awarded to graduating seniors.[5] He earned his Master of Fine Arts, also at Southern Illinois University, in 1997.[6]


Abdul-Musawwir's primary art forms are painting and drawing, and he works in the styles of abstract art, abstract expressionism, and realism. His art reflects his identity as a Muslim and an African-American as well as his interest in Islamic, African, and African-American art history. One of his major influences was WSIU instructor Robert Paulson. Abdul-Musawwir said, "If there was anyone who taught me how to paint, and to see, and to appreciate color, it was Bob Paulson." Another influential teacher was Larry Bernstein.[4]

Abdul-Musawwir is a professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where in 2009 he was awarded the distinguished Judge William Holmes Cook Professorship Endowment.[7]

In 2011, Abdul-Musawwir was invited to serve on Illinois governor Pat Quinn's Muslim American Advisory Council.[8] He has also served on the board of the Illinois Association of Museums.[9]


Abdul-Musawwir's has appeared in galleries and exhibitions in the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia, including:

  • Solo exhibit "State of Triple-Consciousness" at the Clemens Fine Arts Center Gallery at West Kentucky Community and Technical College (2019)[10]
  • One piece in the exhibition "Visions of Our 44th President," which toured around the U.S. and became part of the permanent collection of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (2012)[11]
  • Solo exhibit “Harvesting an Artist’s Mind: Paintings and Drawings by Najjar” at the Surplus Gallery (2011)[12]
  • Solo exhibit, "Muhammad Speaks: Preserving an American Voice," and residency at Tuanku Fauziah Museum and Gallery, University of Science, Malaysia (2011)[13]
  • Solo exhibit "From Chains to Change," at the Carbondale Civic Center Corridor Gallery and co-sponsored by the African American Museum of Southern Illinois (2009)[7]
  • Solo exhibit at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey (2008)[14]

Media references and appearances

Abdul-Musawwir was the host of the television show Expressions, in which he interviewed artists about their work and lives. It aired for six seasons on PBS affiliate WSIU-TV, ending in 2017.[15] In the December 12, 2012 episode, Abdul-Musawwir was the featured artist and was interviewed by guest host Jak Tichenor.[4]

A short documentary, From State Prison to State Professor, about Abdul-Musawwir's life, screened at the 2018 Pan African Film Festival in California.[16] The film was directed by Joshua Jackson and starred Abdul-Musawwir, Christopher Summers, Simeon Frierson, and Michael Key, Jr.[17]

Personal life

He has four daughters and is married to Khaleelah.[3]

In the media



  1. "Najjar Abdul-Musawwir". Southern Indiana University. Retrieved 2020-07-24.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Green, Chanda (2014-05-23). "Seeing the possibilities: Najjar Abdul-Musawwir paints, teaches -- and hopes -- for generations to come". The Southern Illinoisan. Retrieved 2020-07-24.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "From Prison to Professor - The Life and Times of Najjar Abdul-Musawwir". Black Art in America. Retrieved 2020-07-24.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "Najjar Abdul-Musawwir". Expressions. 2012-06-12. Retrieved 2020-07-25. {{cite web}}: Unknown parameter |station= ignored (help)
  5. "2019 Rickert-Ziebold Trust Award finalists announced: exhibits open April 1". Southern Illinois University. Retrieved 2020-07-24.
  6. "Artist in Residence: Artist Bio". N'namdi Center for Contemporary Art. Retrieved 2020-07-26.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "CCA weaves a cultural tapestry throughout the region". The Southern Illinoisan. 2009-08-27.
  8. "Governor Quinn Announces Creation of Muslim American Advisory Council (Press Release)". Retrieved 2020-07-26.
  9. "Board of Directors and Staff". Illinois Association of Museums. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  10. "SIU Touch of Nature Environmental Center: 'Black Migrations' is the theme for SIU's Black History Month commemoration". Carbondale Reporter. 2019-02-09.
  11. "Visions of Our 44th President". Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  12. "Abdul-Musawwir to present gallery talk". The Southern Illinoisan. 2011-09-29.
  13. "Son of the Diaspora Journeying Home". Retrieved 2020-07-26.
  14. "Abdul-Musawwir takes art, experiences to Turkey". Southern Illinois University. 2008-03-11.
  15. "Expressions". WSIU. Retrieved 2020-07-25.
  16. "Screening Schedule" (PDF). Pan-African Film Festival. Retrieved 2020-07-24.
  17. "From State Prison to State Professor". IMDB. Retrieved 2020-07-24.

External links

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