Monday, 8 August 2011

Art, Rick Davies and Michael Hansmeyer

The arts represents perhaps one of the largest minefields for British Muslims to navigate due to the conflicting messages they receive.

For example, on the one hand Islamic Bookshops will have literature stating that photography of living objects is forbidden - whilst on the other hand Islamic magazines will readily print pictures of contributors.

Similarly, the reading and writing of novels is condemned as idleness by some Muslims (see here for the battles that a Saudi fiction writer has to go through) - whilst at the same time, a prominent Muslim charity is running the Muslim Writers Awards.

Crikey, talk about not knowing what to do for the best!

Stepping back a little to consider the wider arts situation in the UK, it is perhaps the case that it is worth looking at the common ground between Muslim communities and the wider society rather than focussing on what divides them. For example, the council art galleries in many towns hold a number of exhibitions each year, all of which are ignored completely by Muslim organisations.

But is that really fair? Perhaps some (indeed, perhaps all) of these exhibitions are just as much of interest to Muslim communities as they are to the wider society. Perhaps these "common ground" exhibitions are a useful way for Muslim communities to engage with the wider society. . .

Let's take a practical example.

There is currently an exhibition (see here) by photographer Rick Davies at the Ffoto Gallery at the Dairy(?!) in Cardiff. The Guardian describes the images as "panoramic photos of Wales' changing landscape" and goes on to say that "hi-tech plants can be seen as far as the eye can see like a city of the future, though rows of cars. . .show this is present day". The review goes on to remark that "train tracks, metal pipes and monster mining operations seem to overshadow the mountains in the distance".

This exhibition sounds really interesting and thought provoking! The nature of the relationship between industry and the countryside is something that is a concern for all communities in the UK. What's not to like?

Or, to take another example, the New Scientist (30th April edition) has a fascinating article about the computer generated geometric sculptures of Michael Hansmeyer. Some of these have over a million facets and need to be constructed by cutting out individual one millimetre layers and then stacking them up. You can see some examples of his work here. Again, Michael’s geometric patterns seem to be in keeping with Islamic tradition and to offer the possibility of making some genuinely new structural forms.

Perhaps, if Muslim organisations supported exhibitions like this, it would help to remove the perception that Muslims communities only engage with arts bodies when they want to complain about something. It might also help British Muslims to constructively engage with the arts community instead of placing themselves away from it. The reality is that by being silent in this area, our mainstream Muslim organisations are leaving the extreme elements as the only ones defining the relationship between Muslims and the arts, and their definition is one that is very destructive and disrespectful of the artistic heritage of this country.

Since actions, rather than words, are the focus of this blog, BFTF has sent out the following:

Nottingham Contemporary
An email to say that the work of Rick Davies and Michael Hansmeyer look really interesting and it would be great to see their work exhibited in Nottingham. As someone from the Muslim community in Nottingham, I think that this kind of work lies in the "common ground" where the artistic traditions of the Muslim communities and the wider society overlap. Should you be in a position to host exhibitions of work similar to that of Davies or Hansmeyer, you may wish to consider contacting some of Nottingham’s Muslim organisations (Mosques etc) to see if they are would like to view the exhibition and, perhaps, recommend it to their communities.

Jammat Ahle Sunnat and Nottingham Council's Muslim Communities facilitator
Sent email summarising this post, in particular the bit saying the if the Muslim community does not engage with wider society then someone else is probably going to do it on their behalf.

Update (15 Aug 2011)
Received a response from Nottingham Contemporary saying thanks and that they would pass on the email to the exhibitions team.

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