“I approach new projects with an attitude of openness and a willingness to embrace my own ignorance, a recognition of my own stupidity”
John Wynne sound artist
At the end of last month, I went to see photographer Peter Sanders in Conversation at the National Media Museum Bradford, which was part of the Bradford Literature Festival. Peter Sanders was a rock photographer in the 60s capturing many musical icons including Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, but then went on to a different path – he coverted to Islam in the early 70s and now photographs Islamic life and culture. More than the photographs he showed as part of his presentation, I was drawn to Peter’s very calm and luminous presence. It’s difficult to describe but he had a certain aura that seemed clear and simple and honest, and I wondered how much of this was down to his faith. I was very interested to hear why he had chosen Islam over the other faiths he had explored, including Bhuddism and Sikhism.
I left the event intrigued, though a little frustrated; although the facilitator tried to probe him, Peter didn’t give much detail on why he had felt called to Islam. Maybe he’s not a natural speaker. That’s ok. Making visual work and having skills of being able to talk to a large group people are two very different things, as I well know.
But it’s being milling around in the back of my head since.
As I mentioned in my last post I’ve been working with a group of mothers – the Coffee Morning Group – at a children’s centre in Manningham in Bradford. The group are one of the best groups I’ve ever met. They are inclusive, friendly and a lot of fun. They have an amazing energy and it’s a joy to just sit and listen to their stories and banter. Most of the ladies are Muslim and from South East Asia. They have been celebrating Eid and a lot of the conversation over the past couple of weeks has been about preparations and celebrations. I’ve become aware through listening to them that I know very little about the faith, culture and traditions of Islam, beyond the basics. Although I’ve met and worked with many people who are Muslim (In Bradford where I mostly work one quarter of its citizens define themselves as Muslim) and also have Muslim friends, I’ve never really sat down and had a proper chat about Islam. I’ve been wondering why – its probably a combination of reasons – the focus is normally on something else, faith isn’t normally a general topic of conversation, and maybe coloured my own personal attitude towards faith in general. I had a very negative experience of religion being brought up as a Catholic and tend to avoid most things that relate to (any) religion.
I’ve been feeling in recent weeks though that I need to learn more. We’re living in very incendiary times, where in the wake of our government’s decision to take us to war against ISIS factions of the media are propagating anti-Muslim sentiment . I think all of us have a duty to reject this insidious Islamophobia. .
As an artist I’m especially interested in how Muslim identity has been or is expressed creatively. I’ve been listening and learning from my Coffee Morning group, I’ve got some books out of the library, and I found a great zine online called Oomk which features work from 40 women artists and writers many from non Western perspectives and experiences. Of particular interest was an article called ‘Islamic Feminism’ by writer Sara Salem which describes her explorations into her own Islamic roots and identity. Also a piece on British Pakistani and Muslim artist Nasreen Raja and her project Reconnecting Memories. Nasreen describes her work as inviting ” dialogue and re-centres a scape for Muslim women’s bodies to become people”
I’m feeling increasingly more awake to the fact that my influences up to now have been pretty monocultural and Western – and I want to look and learn outside this. It’s a big world out there and I know so little of it. So inspired by the John Wynne quote above, time to declare stupidity and learn some stuff.