The Sojourn of Life

This month I have travelled up and down the country rubbing shoulders with fellow artists, made art for exhibition, listened to stories of displaced peoples and engaged in discussions on the therapeutic nature of art making. Each of these experiences have reinforced my understanding of the temporal nature of life and served as a reminder of our status as travellers in this world. And while I continue to feel quite philosophical about my experiences, let me take you on a journey and share what I have learnt…

Al Balad [The City] Migration Arts Exhibition

 The complexity of our humanness often serves to contradict the very nature of our being. We have an inherent need for community yet we yearn to be alone or separate. We want to belong yet we highlight differences and ostracise those who we see as other than ourselves. We need security but start wars and refuse those who seek refuge on our shores.

These thoughts and more overwhelmed me as I attended an exhibition on the experiences of Syrian refugees at Milton Keynes College.  I heard the harrowing account of a young man who had fled war in Syria only to find himself fleeing from the fear of death in Europe at the hands of individuals who felt their livelihood would be threatened by his presence.

In Europe, it was Aristotle who first defined the idea of community as a group of people who shared common values. And although we do share the need for acceptance, it often manifests itself in an exclusive rather than inclusive way. Reflecting on the artwork and performances of newly arrived migrants, I was struck by the reality that we are all travellers migrating through this world, that our perception of rootedness in this world is no more than a shortcoming, a delusion of our earthly status and incongruous with our spiritual reality.

God’s image of us is greater than that of ourselves. We have the tendency to want to plant roots, to stay, to settle, to forget that we are all journeying through life. When we settle we limit ourselves by our own image of what we believe to be the truth.

God encourages us to reflect much. Reflecting on the plight of migrants we can, if we choose, learn about courage, hope and vision. A sense that life can be better than it is. Our biggest mistake is that we believe that a journey’s end is a part of the life of this world. The Islamic dream is better than that and more lasting.

A Sense of Place

A recent conference at Bedfordshire University discussed the use of art in enabling an individual and collective sense of identity, place and belonging. Speakers discussed the effects of Brexit, the didactic concept in storytelling and ways of developing health and wellbeing through engagement in the Arts. Although I came away feeling inspired by the individuals I connected with, I was struck by a mindset that was focused on delivering high art to the masses. One artist, who was working on a project to develop a community space in the north of England, described how her funders had encouraged her to develop the project in a particular direction much to the dismay of the local participants involved. To top it off, the said funders had hired the services of consultants who were ‘problem solvers’ working with hard to engage communities in order to enrich their lives.

What was very apparent was a hegemonic approach which left no choice for participants to develop a sense of agency within these projects that were devised to offer a sense of belonging and inclusion. What concerned me about this was that many of us from Black, Asian and minority and ethnic backgrounds struggle to feel that such place making projects reflects our story of migration to these Isles. Or indeed, a sense of place welcoming our presence into the mainstream. It seems that Art has yet to overcome issues with otherness and difference. There is an overdue effort necessary to include a variety of stories and histories with

integrity rather than delivering exclusive outputs that serve as a one size fits all approach.

Not only do projects that bring opera and costume design to former mining communities deny a voice to a community’s heritage, they also enforce a sense of appropriateness and acceptability. This same problem is reflected in museums and galleries across the country that do not reflect the changing face of British society and which continue to inform a cultivated sense of what should be, instead of looking at what is in its truest sense.

Art Therapy in Action

“Children in Northeast Nigeria are living through so much horror. In addition to devastating malnutrition, violence, and an outbreak of cholera, the attacks on schools are in danger of creating a lost generation of children, threatening their and their country’s future.” – Justin Forsyth UNICEF

A chance meeting with Fiona Lovatt made me aware of the Lovatt Foundation, a charity working in northern Nigeria caring for 120 orphans through their Children of Borno project. The crisis in Borno is particularly acute due to the ongoing threat of Boko Haram. The eight-year insurgency has left communities shattered, leaving thousands of children without parents to care for them growing up as orphans. The Lovatt Foundation offers children a caring environment where children can live safely, flourish and grow.

As well as giving a basic education, Lovatt uses art as means of working through difficult memories and experiences. It is a way to reach deep feelings and express them in ways that words cannot.

Lovatt shared with me how horticulture is used to offer a creative outlet to the children. Innocent youngsters who have witnessed their homes burned to the ground can once again look upon the earth with favour. Acknowledging the Rahma (mercy) that now extended from it, can nourish them and enrich their lives once more.

“Whatever good anyone chooses to contribute is welcome including and especially the prayers for the orphans and people being tested in this region.” – Amina Ibrahim, Lovatt Foundation

Donations are welcome for the Children of Borno project. For more information visit

The Place to Be

Exploring milestones in the journey of Muhammad(s), a mercy to mankind

Rumi’s Cave

An exhibition celebrating the life of the Prophet(s) will take place at Rumi’s Cave. There are eight artists involved and each of them has created a piece based on a chapter of the Beloved Prophet’s(s) life. The artwork is accompanied by poetry articulating this momentous story.

The exhibition is curated by DOT {Developing Our Traditions @dotguild] and runs until December 21st. Rumi’s Cave, 26 Willesden Lane,  London NW6 7ST

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