This article originally appeared on the Project Birmingham Blog.
Tom Glover in conversation with Farwa Moledina
Farwa Moledina is everywhere in Birimingham, until March at least. She is exhibiting in ‘Women, Power, Protest’ at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, at the MAC, and in the Ikon show ‘Forward: New Art from Birmingham’ at Medicine Bakery and Gallery. ‘Forward’ and ‘Women, Power, Protest’ both show variations on her piece ‘Not Your Fantasy’, where a girl in a hijab is shrouded in vibrant, exotic fabric and surrounded by a white expanse, sometimes peering from behind, sometimes staring into the middle distance. Look closer, and the fabric reveals the words ‘Not Your Fantasy’ stitched throughout the piece, damning you for daring to take this near inspection.
The fabric is full of colour and oriental riches, vivid blues and reds and golds all interlocking in a repeated pattern, and this pattern is lifted from a 19th Century Ingres painting depicting naked Muslim women lounging in a Turkish Harem. Ingres had never been to Turkey, and even if he did, he would never have been allowed in a female-only Harem, and as a result his vision of Turkish women as hyper-sexualised presents an unreal image of the East and the Islamic world that continues to persist today. The girls in Ingres’ work do not speak for themselves, they cannot show the West what their lives are really like, they have no choice over how the Western world sees them, trapped in a foreign man’s lust. The real women of the Islamic world are not his fantasy, especially not with the lack of access, knowledge, and sensitivity that constitute his perception of the ‘East’.
Farwa’s work is mostly white, devoid of colour, devoid of the unreal vibrancy that Ingres concocts, attempting to show that the Islamic world is not set apart from the Western world. This lack of colour removes the prejudices of how ‘we’ see ‘them’, removes the 19th Century perception of Islam, and forces the viewer to challenge their assumptions and beliefs regarding different cultures and attitudes. Moledina stresses that these stereotypes feed into modern society, high street conversations, deep seated hatred and suburban distrust, fuelled by newspaper headlines and TV news broadcasts that present only negative headlines, made worse through ISIS and their distorted bastardisation of Islam. These falsehoods surround us; Cardi B’s video for Bodak Yellow presents the Arab world as exotic, erotic, and hyper sexual, a world which she is completely removed from and has no relation to, reinforcing an image of a culture totally different to our own.
Her work is focused on reconciling depictions Islam with the real, normal, lives of Muslim people, and her future projects will reflect this desire. Ideas such as a video of two Muslim women, almost engulfed by Ingres’ fabric, discussing heavy, topical, and important topics challenge every stereotype Farwa faces. Farwa’s work is a weapon to tell her own story, in her own terms, never content with letting stereotypes escape unchallenged.
These assumptions and stereotypes will never go away, they will always colour the stories, the headlines, and the actions of Muslim people. Thus, Farwa will keep creating work, raising these issues, and asking these questions to publicise the fact that they aren’t true. The process is continual, her artwork is essential, and this not the last we will hear from Farwa Moledina.