Mizna combats stereotypes with platform for Arab-American artists

As headlines and Hollywood portrayals continue to perpetuate irresponsible stereotypes and misrepresent Arab people, one organization in the Creative Enterprise Zone is providing an invaluable platform for authentic cultural and artistic expression for Arab-Americans.

Recognizing a void in the American literary landscape for Arab-American authors, Mizna published the first edition of its now internationally recognized literary magazine in 1999. Mizna: Prose, Poetry Art Exploring Arab America, was the first publication of its kind and remains the only journal of Arab-American literature today.
From its headquarters at 2446 University Avenue, Mizna continues to provide Arab-American artists a platform to tell their own stories and tell them on their own terms, says Lana Barkawi, executive and artistic director for the organization. The publication now makes its way to libraries, museums and coffee tables throughout the United States, Europe and the Middle East.

“To present the work of Arab artists goes a long way to broaden the perception of Arabs for the broader public,” Barkawi says. “The average American might know Arabs through headlines and through a very specific and narrow lens that doesn’t capture the reality of the Arab American experience…we’d like to be a platform for arab artists who are telling their own stories.”
Mizna now offers more platforms than ever to tell these stories. As the organization has grown, it has steadily expanded its artistic and cultural offerings. The organization’s 9th Arab Twin Cities Arab Film Festival took place earlier this month, drawing an audience from across the globe. Since relocating to its current space in 2012, Mizna has expanded its programming even further to offer a wide variety of readings, performances, art projects, and community events.
The Twin Cities is a great location for an organization like Mizna to thrive, Barkawi says. “One of the things we really value about being in the Twin Cities is the very vibrant and smart arts scene that we’re a part of,” she says.
With ongoing partnerships with Twin Cities arts organizations like the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Walker Art Center and Pangea World Theater, Mizna certainly makes the most of the artistic and cultural offerings of the metro area. They were recently named a winner in the St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge for their proposal to introduce new audiences to Arab-American arts by launching their project Arab America at Home—a series of cultural events highlighting how the Arab-American experience is an innate part of the American landscape.


Julie James