Art meets Interfaith
It’s been a very busy summer for me, with Islamic geometric designs taking centre stage in my work. I’m currently working with the Luton Council of Faiths, a charity and voluntary organisation committed to creating shared spaces where cultural barriers dissolve. When an artist and an interfaith organisation come together, interesting things are bound to happen. In this case, the result will be a ‘Peace Mural’, a walled display of over four thousand ceramic tiles individually made and painted by members of the local community.
The aim of this project is to encourage community cohesion. To enable people of all ages and all walks of life to come together and create a piece of art which reflects the entire community. As lead artist, I am facilitating the design and build as well as offering workshops that will help to integrate the learning which underpins the finished piece of art.
During a series of timed sessions local children learned how to draw simple geometric patterns using a compass. They drew a star and cross form – the basis of the mural design – from a series of circles. They also learnt how clay forges a greater understanding of history and how people lived before us and how this sacred substance, from which we are formed, originates.
We also enjoyed exploring and memorising the thirteen digit chemical formulation of it. This came as a great surprise to teachers who initially felt the use of mere compasses surpassed their ability.
The Project’s manager is Ryad Khodabocus. As Community Relations Development Officer for LCoF, Ryad is passionate about building bridges across the wider community. In this issue he gives us a peek into his day to day role. It’s a reflection of how a little positive action can go a long way.
“With the Peace Mural we are creating a piece of work with an integrated approach to faith, spirituality, science, history, creativity and art.” – Ryad Khodabocus
How would you describe what you do?
There are two strands to the work I do. One is building relationships through various ways from sitting over a cuppa to playing sports together such as Archery for which I run regular sessions. I engage in other forms of community development work; getting communities to take ownership of the wider community and become skilled in interfaith activities themselves. Luton Council of Faiths meets six times a year to discuss, as faith leaders and community representatives, how we can improve the life of the hown. This sometimes means having difficult conversations. We also do advocacy for different local faith communities.
Tell us a little about the Peace Mural and why you think it’s important.
The mural is another way, through art, to get people together. It seems we have very little encouragement and investment especially in minority ethnic communities and somehow arts is also not necessarily looked upon as a very important subject in schools over even by parents. We want to show what unity means and is holistic by combining subjects such as art, history and maths in our workshop sessions. It’s a great way of getting people of different faiths together. I guess the theme ‘Breath of The Compassionate’ speaks to everyone in humanity whichever colour, creed, and religion you are.
Even today in the secular world we talk about compassion. Daniel Goleman, a famous writer on Emotional Intelligence explains what compassion is: “To stop and pay attention!” This is something very difficult today as we have hectic lives and are always on the go. Breath is universal – if we cannot breathe there is no life.
Why Luton? Why this church?
The food is fresh and authentic and reflects the plurality of the town. After Brexit we hear a lot about hate crimes and incidents across the country, but in Luton as far as we know we have not heard much and that perhaps the uniqueness of shaping a plural town over years through lots of community interaction despite the relative poverty the town suffers.
Over the years we have had the dream of having a ‘Peace Garden’ in the area and the new Vicar of the All Saints Church also shared this vision. He has transformed a derelict piece of land into this small but beautiful garden. It’s situated in an area where many people do not have garden or much outside space so this will become a shared space the whole community can enjoy. The artwork will enhance the experience.
Why have you chosen Art as a central theme?
Because art has the ability to build bridges between cultures and communities, because it communicates without words and connects with something deep within us all. Perhaps … it’s out of love of beauty and curiosity to know and understand. Engaging in the making of art offers a sense of tranquillity and peace. Leaving something as a legacy to look back on, over the years, is also very important.
You also have an annual ‘Peace Walk’ tell us about it?
Years ago there was no such appetite for people to visit or know about places of worship, hence in those early days some wise people felt a peace walk could be one of the ways for people to interact with each other and get to know the unknown and suspicious.
So the Town is invited to take part and it will be a four-hour day starting in Luton Town Centre to Walk all the way to Bury Park stopping at the Sikh Temple first then move to Luton Central Mosque in Bury Park and end at All Saints Church in Bury Park. The mural will be unveiled at the final stage of our ‘annual Peace Walk’.
2016 marks the 20th anniversary of ‘the mural’. What does this signify?
20th Anniversary I guess is 20 years of ongoing work to be able to achieve what we have been able to achieve – an ongoing committed organisation focussed locally and building and nurturing relationships in a pluralistic society. We are getting bigger and this year for the first time we are working with 12 schools, a number which is big for a small charity such as ours. On top of that we get to meet the local communities to get them involved too.
What do you hope will be the lasting legacy?
Like every year, new friendships being made and communities feeling less isolated. People learn various creative ways of coming together; a sense of pride at what has been achieved. For pupils of primary schools especially, it encourages a sense of belonging and community.
The Peace Mural will be unveiled in September. For further details visit grassrootsluton.com