Female Muslim art and poetry goes on show in Hackney

Nazia Mirza, the curator of Manifesting the Unseen, standing in front of Evolution (2017) by Jeea Mirza. Pic: Ilaria Grasso Macola












An exhibition seeking to challenge common misconceptions about Islam, art and women is taking place at Hackney art space Guest Project.

Manifesting the Unseen features the work of 12 female Muslim artists and poets. Its aim is to show the unique artistic language of Islamic art and its modern cultural expression while challenging stereotypes about Muslim women.

A series of photographs of black Muslim women by Wasi Daniju. Pic: Ilaria Grasso Macola












Nazia Mirza, 41, the exhibit’s creator and curator, said: “We’re a Muslim, woman-led project; all of our artists are Muslim women, all of our poets are Muslim women. Whenever possible we try to use Muslims.”

The project’s main objective is to dismantle stereotypes about Islam and Muslim women where they are often associated with repression and being a victim.

Mirza said: “The women in the project, both poets and artists, are very diverse as Muslim women. We’re not a homogenous block: some of us are religious, others are not. We’re really trying to just be visible, as we are within ourselves and our own communities, but we’re often not seen that way.”

She added: “This exhibition is about the idea of seeing what is hidden. We’ve built on that, talking about seeing what is marginalised. For Muslim women, the ‘unseen’ is manifested in the way we ourselves are and not in the way the ‘white gaze’ tells us that we’re supposed to be.”

Rumi line giving name to the exhibition. Pic: Ilaria Grasso Macola

Manifesting the Unseen was born as Mirza’s passion project. Mirza, a civil servant living in Hackney, never worked in the arts world before it started.

From Yorkshire, she grew up surrounded by poetry and Islamic art, writing poems as a hobby. She said: “In our family, my father is a huge fan of poetry. He quotes poetry for every situation you can think of. We also grew up with lots of art. Islamic art is in your environment. In Muslim countries it’s in mosques, in the buildings, in the architecture, but it’s also in your prayer mat, it’s in your clothes, in bowls etc.”

The idea of doing the exhibition came from different sources. Mirza cited her friends and her background as inspiration from the curation.

She said: “I was just trying to answer questions about Islamic art and a couple of my friends, who are artists and have exhibited here, said to me ‘Why don’t you do a show?’ I said: ‘I’ve never done that and I’m not a curator’ but they offered to help.”

Along with her sister Jeea, who is one of the artists featured in the exhibition, Mirza realised that the general public knew very little about Islamic art and there was an “appetite for it”. They also thought it was important to display something positive about Islam and Muslims.

Manifesting the Unseen is also an educational project and offers 12 free workshops on the art of geometry, arabesque and calligraphy. Six of these workshops are reserved for schools.

Mirza realised that being Muslim nowadays is hard and she wanted Muslim children visiting the exhibition to be “proud about their identity”.

Manifesting the Unseen is running until December 15 at Guest Projects, 1 Andrews Road, E8 4QL.


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