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2001: Pressure Makes Diamonds | A Retrospect on Muslim Identity in Britain

When regarding the ever-evolving dialogue surrounding representation within the creative industries, what never ceases to emerge is its influence over societal dynamics — and vice versa. Incidentally, Kazim Rachid’s vidéo installation & group exhibition Pressure Makes Diamonds, is centred on a tri-narrative film focusing on three pivotal 2001 events: the North West riots, Muslim boxer Naseem Hamed’s first loss, and 9/11. The exhibition, curated by Loren Elhili,  also features new work by selected London-based artists from the South Asian, Middle Eastern and Muslim diasporas — Sabiheh Awanzai, Abbas Zahedi, Jannat Hussain, Alaa Kassim, Meryem Meg and Viveck Vadoliya; all addressing an issue at the heart of life in 21st-century Britain.

In evoking a particular diasporic subjectivity — that comes into visibility simultaneously as both the translator and the witness of such narratives — what moves us most is how these artists manifest remnants of their own experiences — by means of furthering the dialogue on the current socio-political landscape, through contemporary art. Consider the work of Meryem Meg for instance, which expresses a nostalgia of kitch 00’s Islamic graphics in the context social media and modern communication.

There’s something particularly striking in her manner of juxtaposing her stylistic methods of traditional painting techniques to embody a contemporary means of communication — belonging to a digital world we know all too well. Though beyond this, her work stands as a powerful testament of urban nostalgia, recalling an experience which is as intimate as it is accessible to so many.

Kazim believes social media has played a significant role in opening accessibility and allowing individuals to visually present themselves, their views and their identity. The video itself raises questions surrounding whether we are living through a global war on Muslims. That’s Kazim Rashid’s belief – and the artist’s video installation in question raises just those concepts (see above) in a manner that is both thought-provoking and visually poignant. Following explosive race riots in Oldham, Bradford and beyond, and notably the attacks on the World Trade Center, fear, suspicion and Islamophobia have forced Asian culture and Muslim identity into retreat.

Reminiscent of generic Islamic greetings mass forwarded, using messages from her own WhatsApp chats, Meryem aims to highlight a resilience that is still highly present amongst a generation that grew up having their spiritual identity mocked and devalued on a global scale. For her, the beauty lies within the search for closeness and love for her religion, and in her own words “the Islam we know”.

The Qur’an uses numerous numeric patterns to reinforce revelation, symbolism and numerology takes centre stage with this sub series. As Meryem reflects, “when my parents moved from Paris to the UK, we settled in Leeds, Beeston, where I spent the later part of my childhood and teenage years. I would see 786 stickers stuck on shop entrances, at the Islamic high school I attended,  vans and license plates. It remains an iconic visual of growing up in a south asian community while trying to navigate my own identity post 9/11 and more specifically post the 7/7 bombings which had a direct emotional impact on our neighbourhood”

Just as with Meryem’s work, each artist’s oeuvres stand as a testament to their respective social realities – whether their aims surround generating a reaction or to convey a more or less explicit message to viewers of the exhibition. As Meryem reflects, “my initial viewing of the installation re-emerges feelings towards  the Islam they showed and the Islam I knew – and all that came with growing up in a bitter sweet context”.

2001: PRESSURE MAKES DIAMONDS runs until 30th September

MEZZANINE GALLERY LONDON.

For more info visit here

By Amel Meghraoua
Cover photo by Meryem Meg