Fight­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia through art

Artists seek to ad­dress prej­u­dice sur­round­ing Is­lamic iden­tity

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SAMEER NAIK

HUSAIN Es­sop re­mem­bers the day he was or­dered to get off a train in Ham­burg, Ger­many, and ques­tioned by po­lice who sus­pected him of be­ing a ter­ror­ist.

“I got on the train and many of the peo­ple thought I was go­ing to blow it up,” says Husain.

“For the first time in my life I put fear into peo­ple when they looked at me.”

Husain was in Ger­many with his twin Hasan last year when the in­ci­dent oc­curred. The artists were there to con­duct art work­shops for refugees.

“It was dur­ing the time of the ter­ror­ist at­tack in Nice, France, that this hap­pened. The pas­sen­gers on the train had the po­lice fol­low us. It made me very up­set in­side.”

It wasn’t the first time the Cape Town-born twins ex­pe­ri­enced Is­lam­o­pho­bia in Europe.

“We’ve been ran­domly se­lected at air­ports, pulled aside and in­ter­ro­gated,” says Husain.

“When we walk in the streets we’ve had peo­ple spit in front of us. We’ve been de­clined help at the counter of some stores. When we’re stand­ing in a tram, we’ve seen peo­ple sep­a­rat­ing them­selves from us and leav­ing a huge gap, even though the train is so full. It’s hap­pened count­less times.”

These in­ci­dents “of hate” have pro­vided the in­spi­ra­tion for their lat­est art ex­hi­bi­tion, Refuge.

The award-win­ning artists from Ry­lands are on their way to Joburg to stage the ex­hi­bi­tion, which seeks to ad­dress prej­u­dice sur­round­ing Is­lamic iden­tity in the sec­u­lar world.

Their work, fea­tur­ing photography, sculp­tures and videos, will be at the Good­man Gallery, Rose­bank, from July 15.

From the per­spec­tive of young Mus­lims liv­ing in the Is­lamic di­as­pora, the Es­sops have pro­duced new works that in­ves­ti­gate main­stream me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the refugee cri­sis ac­cord­ing to the per­cep­tion that there is in­creas­ing mis­un­der­stand­ing and fear of Is­lam in the sec­u­lar world.

“The ex­hi­bi­tion is more a col­lec­tion of things we’ve en­coun­tered, es­pe­cially from the me­dia, and what’s been at the fore­front of the me­dia,” said Hasan.

“Our work specif­i­cally looks at the Syr­ian cri­sis, the refugee cri­sis, Isis (Is­lamic State), and the im­pact it has had on the world, and es­pe­cially the neg­a­tive im­pact its had on the im­age of Is­lam.”

The ex­hi­bi­tion com­prises 10 stills, four por­traits, a video piece and two in­stal­la­tions.

“We’ve stayed true to our process where we use our­selves in our pho­to­graphs,” says Husain. “All our images have been shot in Cape Town, but we’ve made it look as if we’re in the Mid­dle East.”

The 31-year-old twins, who have full-time jobs as art teach­ers, have been work­ing on the Refuge ex­hi­bi­tion for two years.

“It took a lot of hard work and scout­ing for per­fect lo­ca­tions – one of the images looks like a guy in Pales­tine.”

They hope their ex­hi­bi­tion sparks de­bate among South Africans.

“Is­lam­o­pho­bia is get­ting worse,” says Husain. “Af­ter the Ger­many in­ci­dent I was so happy to come home be­cause here we live in a coun­try tol­er­ant of all re­li­gions and race.

“With all this Is­lam­o­pho­bia, peo­ple are bla­tantly show­ing they don’t like you. When I came home from Ger­many, though, I couldn’t help but fear that I was go­ing to get ha­tred here as well. There is so much ha­tred around the world.” Hasan agrees. “Is­lam­o­pho­bia is di­vid­ing peo­ple. There’s a clear left and right. The right has been get­ting a lot more sup­port.

“Peo­ple like Dutch politi­cian Geert Wilders are preach­ing hate speech and be­ing ap­plauded. When peo­ple in high po­si­tions jus­tify clear hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, it spreads down.”

They’re un­sure of the feed­back their ex­hi­bi­tion will re­ceive. “I’ve shown a few peo­ple some of the images and it has stirred the pot a bit,” says Husain.

“Be­cause it’s deal­ing with such sen­si­tive top­ics, like the Syr­ian cri­sis and Isis, peo­ple tend to re­act neg­a­tively. I’m so scared, I ac­tu­ally don’t know what to ex­pect.”

Hasan ex­pects some peo­ple to mis­read the images.

“We try to make it clear in our images that we don’t sup­port Isis and don’t think Isis is any­thing Is­lamic.

“Our work is fo­cused on cre­at­ing a con­ver­sa­tion that these ter­ror­ist groups are not Is­lamic and we’re cre­at­ing that aware­ness to start a con­ver­sa­tion.”

Hasan and Husain Es­sop, Un­ti­tled (House), 2017.

Hasan and Husain Es­sop, Usual Sus­pects, 2016.

Hasan and Husain Es­sop, Un­ti­tled (Wall), 2016.

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