Framing the Debate
Published in Commencement
Basem Hassan wants to use art to precipitate societal change.
Watching the revolution in Egypt unfold on television this past Januaryin his Franklin Park, New Jersey home, Basem Hassan felt the sudden urge to fly to the center of the action, to be a part of his native country’s history. Jetting to Egypt would mean dropping out of his last semester in TC’s Art and Art Education program, but that was a sacrifice that Hassan, whose passion is making protest art, was prepared to make. He drafted a letter to his wife, explaining that he’d be gone for a few days – only to learn moments later that the State Department had grounded all flights to Egypt.
Naturally Hassan was disappointed, but TC is the richer by one thesis – Hassan’s, which explores how Muslim Americans use art to challenge mainstream media narratives about Islam.
That’s typical of the kinds of ideas Hassan spent the past two years exploring, whether in his work at the College’s Macy Gallery, in his classes or informally, with his wide circle of friends. Not surprisingly, he cites “the people” as his favorite part of his TC experience.
“Conversations here are so rich, deep and satisfying—there are a lot of extremely passionate people here. It’s a never-ending nerd-fest,” he says, adding, “I’m definitely a nerd.”
But a nerd intent on forging his own path. Growing up in New Jersey, where he moved with his family when he was two, Hassan was given to understand that he had but one choice of profession: medical doctor. But just one semester after enrolling in a seven-year accelerated medical program at New Jersey Institute of Technology, Hassan dropped out. “It just wasn’t me,” he says.
After floating around New York City for a while, he landed at the Fashion Institute of Technology and became involved in the city’s underground art scene. Viewing himself “an artist first and foremost,” Hassan went on to pursue his Master’s of Fine Arts at Rutgers University. There, he specialized in visual art, photography, new media and performance art. Yet he also broke with the MFA tradition of focusing solely on the making of art and took an internship at the Guggenheim. While there, Hassan won accolades for his handling of student visits, and his interest in art education began to bloom.
Also during his internship, the Guggenheim signed an agreement to open an outpost in Abu Dhabi – and Hassan wasn’t shy about offering ideas on directions for the new venture. “I was curious about how the museum would be received by people who are orthodox when it comes to the use of imagery,” he says. His contributions were noted, and soon, his colleagues were suggesting that he pursue a degree in Art and Art Education.
Hassan isn’t done with school. Currently, he’s applying to TC’s Interdisciplinary Program, with the goal of receiving his Ed.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies, Philosophy and Arts Administration. “I’m looking forward to taking my time and absorbing every class,” he says. Ultimately, he says, “I want to be at the cutting edge of using art to precipitate change in society.”
To that end, Hassan will have a piece this summer in a group show at the Alwan Center in lower Manhattan, presented by Hybrid Theater Works. The show’s title: “The Revolution Will Live-Streamed.”