David Cameron’s speech made me feel alienated, again. Islamist Extremist. British Values. Democracy. Had Cameron acknowledged that recent British foreign policy had led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives, and had failed in almost all respects, he might have attempted to start the healing process so desperately needed in this country. Failure by those in power to concede that our foreign policy was erroneous in so many, explains why a tiny proportion of British Muslims feel they need to leave and fight along side Isis, who ironically, are the antithesis to the Islamic faith and its teachings.
I have connected with many young British Muslims through my work, and they all express a deep anger and resentment towards the British Government and its aggressive stance on foreign policy. With our political establishment steeped in prejudice, and the fact that everyday life for the majority of Muslims is testing in this country, it is hardly surprising that many feel forgotten by wider society. Add to this the countless articles and news pieces which relentlessly pound in the message that Muslims are the enemy, it makes me sad to come to terms with the fact that we are in this position. The UK is my home, but being told my native culture and religion is barbaric makes me feel isolated from British society and displaced. It is no wonder therefore that some youths turn to religion to find salvation, and worryingly, are easily taken advantage of via the use of videos and images on the internet. However, this sinister propaganda has given them a sense of purpose in the world which has failed them. Cameron, I think you need some new advisers.
My book published by Dewi Lewis in association with Multistory has arrived. For nearly two years I worked closely with Muslim residents in Tipton, making a series of photographic portraits and places I found.
I was interested in working in Tipton because of a nail bomb which exploded outside the local mosque and I wanted to research what impact this event had on the local community, how they felt, and overcame such a traumatic event.
I never imagined this project would help me connect with first generation men and women who came here in the 1950s and 60s. It was a privilege and honour to hear their stories that speak of hard work, sacrifice and a great sense of pride, a very different narrative to what we hear presented in mainstream media. These men and women truly felt part of British society, were proud to call themselves British, whilst holding onto their cultural and religious identity. I wondered how they had such a strong sense of self and can only put it down to the fact that they still had a physical connection with their homeland. I feel once a connection like this is lost, it is then, when, the struggle to find ones identity begins.
The Quiet Town of Tipton was commissioned by Multistory as part of an ongoing body of photographic work and archive that documents life in Sandwell and the Black Country. Photographers, writers and filmmakers are commissioned to work with local people to tell their stories of everyday life and recent commissions have included projects by Martin Parr, Mark Power & Bruce Gilden.
I met with Mark Sealy, Director of Autograph ABP after returning from Light Work last week. We discussed at length my experience at Light Work and what the future holds for You Get Me? As I have mentioned before, Mark has been closely following my journey as an artist for the last 6 years, and has been championing my practice throughout. We spent time going through the prints I made at Light Work and discussing the possibilities of working together and I am delighted to announce You Get Me? will be exhibited as a main gallery show at Autograph ABP in 2016.
I am incredibly excited to collaborate with Mark on You Get Me? we now have roughly a year to get the book and show ready, there is lots of research to undertake, and I am starting right back at the beginning, the Salman Rushdie affair, it was was hugely significant for younger, second generation Muslims as they were forced to question their sense of belonging, no longer in terms of their ethnicity, but rather their religiosity. The debate moved from race to religion, and ultimately, to the unity of Islam. I cannot wait to start this research journey, for now he is an image of Autograph ABP, courtesy of Adjaye Associates.
I traveled to Baltimore a few days back to present a lecture at MICA. It is one of the leaders in the education of artists and designers and it was a real privilege to be invited to talk. After the lecture I reviewed and critiqued 6 final years students work. I was very impressed with the level of work they were making, their work was considered, highly researched and visually strong. It was also wonderful to be invited back and I hope to take this up in the near future.
After my residency ended in Syracuse I traveled back to New York City as I was selected to attend the New York Times Portfolio Review. James Estrin invited me in for a meeting to spend more time going through my work and practice. What can I say about James, he is a top guy. And it is so thrilling to share that James has agreed to interview and publish my work on LENS very soon!
For now, here is a gratuitous shot before my meeting.
Every now and then I have to do something really random for my work, and last week was no exception to the rule. We were soon going to print my first publication with Dewi Lewis in association with Multistory and I mentioned to John Mannion that I needed to burn some nails for the commission, the series researched the impact of a nail bomb which exploded outside Kanzul Iman mosque in Tipton, West Midlands and I wanted to include the nails in the sequence. These nails have been in my photography bag for over a year. I previously bent them in their desired shapes from photographic evidence sourced from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Until. I needed to burn the nails to resemble the real Buy Zolpidem thing, we ended up using a simple candle to achieve this. I am pleased with the final images, they look stunning. So a big shout out to John Mannion, Walker Blackwell and Trevor Clement for making this all happen so smoothly.
Mark Sealy, Director at Autograph ABP and I have been in conversation about my practice for 6 years now, and only a few months ago,I was awarded the prestigious residency under Autograph ABP who are able to nominate one artist each year.
At Light Work, I spent a month critical developing and re-mastering You Get Me? with Master Printer John Wesley Mannion. In that month I was able to digitally print 48 portraits on Canson Platine Fiber Rag, 26 x 40 inches. I also developed my critical thinking with regards to how I want the book to look and feel. Having this time to concentrate entirely on my practice has been invaluable and I cannot recommend enough the residency at Light Work.
Work by each Artist-in-Residence is also published in a special edition of Contact Sheet: The Light Work Annual along with an essay commissioned by Light Work and I am delighted to announce that Charles Guice has taken up the challenge. Here is a link where Charles is interviewed, he talks about how he became an art dealer, the type of work he represents and more.
Here are a few images from my time at Light Work.
Here I am with Sue Steward, writer, broadcaster and photo-editor working in Photography, Visual Arts and World Music and Melanie Kidd, Director of Programmes at New Art Exchange for a detailed conversation about the commission and the important questions it provokes.
I was approached by Gavin Wade, Director of Eastside Projects to be an exhibiting artist in their upcoming group show titled Birmingham Show, an exhibition which is history and not history, connecting gaps, distances and potentials of artists who have lived, worked or studied within the city. Three key questions underpin the exhibition making – ‘What is the art of Birmingham?’ ‘Is there an accent to Birmingham’s art making?’ and ‘How is Birmingham useful for the production of art?’
I was intrigued, and during the meeting, Gavin proposed using wallpaper material and kindly offered their billboard which is situated at the font of the gallery. I exhibited 4 pieces of art work at the space.
The exhibition was curated by Ruth Claxton & Gavin Wade and a special thanks to Marlene Smith.
Here are three installation shots: Photographs by Stuart Whipps. Courtesy of the artist and Eastside Projects.
New Art Exchange the exhibition finally opens.
A project commissioned by New Art Exchange (NAE) in 2014, The Commonality of Strangers combines photography and text to explore important relationships between identity, heritage and displacement resulting from international migration – the truths of which are rarely revealed in the public realm.
Moving beyond the Pakistani diaspora community, which has been a significant focus in my work to-date, this project he has engaged with both established and new migrant populations in the UK from a multitude of locations including: Poland, Romania, Sudan, Ghana, Kurdistan, Jamaica, Algeria, Malawi, South Africa and Iraq.
I Immersed myself in local communities during a five month research residency, spending time walking and exploring the streets of Hyson Green, Nottingham. During this period I connected with people from all walks of life and from across the globe, including those who consider themselves to be wholly British. The results of these encounters have been developed into a curated exhibition, The Commonality of Strangers, and accompanying publication. The exhibition premiered at NAE 31 January – 12 April 2015, and is available to tour to two venues in England from May 2015.
Here are a few installation shots of the exhibition: Photographs by Bartosz Kali. Courtesy of the artist and New Art Exchange.
Over the last month I have started a new commission in Nottingham and have been making work in Hyson Green, an area that I am slightly familiar with. Last year I walked though parts of Hyson Green when walking to my MA lectures a Nottingham Trent University. It always felt very multicultural and clearly home to a variety of cultures. I have since found out it has the largest ethnic minority population in the city with many shops and supermarkets offering foods from Arabia, Eastern Europe, Iran, India, Pakistan, Russia, West Africa and Southern Africa. It is amazing to witness how diverse this place is and how small a space it occupies in Nottingham. Here is a recent portrait of Soran, a local business man who works in the area and originally from Kurdistan.
This image titled St Georges Cross, Union Jack and two Asians recently made it in the Guardian online and the G2 supplement. The article included Stuart Hall’s essay that was commissioned by Birmingham University for the group show at mac Birmingham. I will be exhibiting three pieces in the show.
Last week I made the trip to Tipton as I had arranged to photograph and interview a few sitters towards my Multistory commission. The series is taking shape now and I have begun to explore interior details.
Making work in Tipton has been a different working experience to how I would normally work. In the past, I would meet people on the streets or in social settings to then engage and make work. These exchanges could take 2 minutes or even half a day, it really was dependent on the sitters time. In Tipton I have arranged many meetings with potential sitters over the phone with the kind help of key individuals in the town. It has meant that sometimes I knock on the doors of individual who I have never met before. Entering their homes I have been greeted with cups of tea and most recently chicken and spinach curry for lunch. It has been a real humbling experience engaging with the older generation and the portraits I am making are so powerful.
Here is an image I recently made at Mr Allah Ditta’s home a man in his 80’s who has lived in England since the 50’s. We had a great interview about his life and Mr Ditta also agreed to be photographed. His portrait along with some of his interview will be included in the book.
This was one of the portraits I exhibited at my final MA show in Bonington Gallery. There were four portraits in total which are now permanently exhibiting at Nottingham Trent University. The MA programme itself was very intense and over a period of 6 months I made over 100 portraits of women both singular and in groups. Furthermore, I officially interviewed 32 individuals totalling approximately 48,000 words, which helped form my final research field notes.
Recently I have been concentrating on making work in and around the mosque that was bombed in Tipton. It was the first time that I had seen a mosque decorated in fairy lights and bunting. These decorations were put up to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet. When reading around the subject of birthdays its gets complicated as part of the Muslim community believe the celebration of birthdays are contradictory to Islamic law, and perhaps this is why I have never seen a mosque decorate like this before? The prophets birthday is called Mawlid or Milad. I personally really enjoyed seeing the mosque decorated like this, it gave it such a warm and welcoming feel.