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'We Are MKE': Fanana Banana's July art exhibit supports local Milwaukee artists

Mallory Cheng
Fanana Banana founders Amal Azzam (left) and Nayfa Naji (right).

Updated Friday at 11 a.m. CDT

The art collective Fanana Banana is hosting an upcoming exhibition called We Are MKE on July 8 on Historical Mitchell Street. The show will feature local artists and provide an opportunity to connect with other creatives.

"Fanana" in Arabic means artist. “Banana” was a twist that founders Amal Azzam and Nayfa Naji added. Fanana Banana is an art collective supporting Muslim, Middle Eastern and North African artists in Milwaukee.

"This show is about really just returning to the art scene in a big way. And also secretly celebrating our milestones within the last couple of years due to COVID, we had to take a long break. And this is kind of just like our comeback event," says Azzam.

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The group's goal is to feature as many local artists as possible.

We are MKE is located in a former men's clothing shop, located at 710 West Historic Mitchell Street, that is in the process to become an artist hub through the Mitchell Street Arts Collaborative. The intent is to create a space within the area for affordable art programming.

After meeting with Rew Gordon, one of the leaders of the Mitchell Street Arts Collaborative, Naji says, "It's big enough for us to do the plan we envisioned for this event to happen."

Azzam says a wide range of artists will be presented along with different types of art mediums like music, acrylic oil paintings, installation rooms as well as a lot of creative vendors to sell their work. There's over 20 artists and 20 vendors featured.

There can be a misconception that Arab artists are only confined to creating calligraphy or Islamic art, which is important but Azzam sees Muslim artists in America in a phase of cultivating an identity and trying new things.

Azzam hopes that these shows push the boundaries of creation because they finally have a space where Arabic artist can feel comfortable to present their work.

Artists should have a space to share their work without judgment or the expectation that they have to have a certain style of work to be labeled or fall under that category of Muslim artists, she says.

They are collaborating with local community organizers throughout the summer.

"We will be having an event for the Milwaukee Women's Coalition's COVID-19 city wide vigil. We'll be doing a COVID visual installation on July 17. It'll be at Washington Park and we'll be having another show hopefully in August. Stay tuned for that," says Naji.

We Are MKE is sponsored by UWM's Center for 21st Century Studies, Hanan Refugee Relief Group and Mitchell Street Arts Collaborative.

Corrected: July 11, 2022 at 12:43 PM CDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly called the Mitchell Street Arts Collaborative, the Milwaukee Street Arts Collective and the Milwaukee Street Arts Collaboration.
Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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