It was a slightly damp cold evening in East London. My husband and I had been at a workshop with Jamie Catto entitled “What about intimacy?” We were tired and hungry but arrived at Richmix in just enough time to grab the a couple of the last few remaining seats in a packed theatre. There was a buzz in the air as the crowd awaited proceedings to begin. The stage looked very exotic and befittingly dressed and the team of organizers had everything working with military precision.
The first mistake I made when struggling with this post was trying to make it somehow represent everyone there…wrong! This is my personal response to the evening with my perspective and warped perception of the world. The great thing is we all have our own story to tell of that evening. From the heckler at the back ranting about the American embassy to the woman who told a story about visiting Israel. So resisting the urge to write a cultural critique and quote Said and Fanon, here are the bits that stood out for me.
The hosting was fabulous (thanks American embassy) and that’s Leaf network and Radical Middle way. The mc Abdul-Rehaman Malik held the floor with entertaining and inciteful precision for which he should be awarded something equivalent to a Bafta….one should also go to the panelists Riz MC and Wajahat Ali. (maybe they have one alkready) They shared with us their journeys to making it in the Arts as young muslim men.
I can liken the experience to being on a bus tour entitled “The muslim cultural tour” Abdul-Rehman Malik was the conductor complete with funky hat and leaf badge. The VIP seats were reserved for Wajahat Ali and Riz MC. The first few stops were a on whistle-stop tour through very personal stories and experiences shared by fellow travellers on this exciting ride. These were largely not professional performers. It was raw, unpolished, anecdotal, edgy and quite often very funny. The audience was captivated in a way that only a highly personal story can engage the listener. This was the delivery of what the evening had promised. this was the practise of the theory; this was raw and personal storytelling. If I am completely honest I was rather jealous of their courage because I could not imagine myself standing up in the middle of the bus to tell a highly personal tale. Largely for fear of being judged or taken the P out of. Kudos fellow passengers, I take my hat off to you. Specially the lady who practically grew balls and stood there unapologetically to tell a story called “The day I pretended to be jewish”
You see there is a very interesting by-product of listening to authentic story tellers and it relates very much to what we had learnt in the course during the daytime. It gives everyone permission to do the same, to stand in their own power and speak with their own voice. Not to project and expect others to speak for us. Not to rant and rave about what is wrong with so and so’s work or writing or acting or drama. It was a call to arms by the conductor and his VIP’s to take it on. To Bum Rush the Show in the words of the great Shaykh Chuck D as referenced by the Wajahat Ali. We were challenged to find your own ‘Rumi of London’. I glanced around the eager audience looking at who this may possibly be…will he have a beard or not..perhaps he will be a SHE in a hijab?!
In the field of the creative Arts there is no one muslim voice. There are many voices, differing from one end of a city to another let alone one country or continent. The Arts demand nuance, variety, openness and a great deal of resilience. If a muslim artist has made it to the mainstream it does not automatically mean they have sold out or bowed to stereotypical typecasting. They have faced many challenges from family and community in a quest to find themselves through their Art. That is not an easy path to walk and these special group of beings have ny utmost respect and gratitude because without them there would be no dialogue, no conversation about “Staging the Ummah”, zilch!
A watershed moment for muzzies across the globe; that’s what we are facing. Share experiences, tell anecdotes, make paintings, model sculptures, write poems and stories. Real stories that don’t fear judgement because these human stories are written in a universal language where the boundaries between race, religion and nationality become blurred and human beings connect. Lets move the discourse away from a collective muslim identity. Instead lets give each other space to share what we create. Like the bus only bigger….much bigger.
Reflecting upon the nature of intimacy discussed in the workshop I get it. Perhaps true intimacy is not feeling responsible for being true to anyone but oneself.
Special thanks to Radical Middle Way, Leaf Network and Samir Malik for use of his sexy photos in my blog🙂