Talha Ahsan: “Muslims should support May Ayres’ new art collection”

"British Values" (part b) wounded Afghan girl (Photo: Talha Ahsan)

Muslims living in London should support artist May Ayres’ latest art exhibition Stuff Happenswhich includes sculptures depicting the horrors of War on Terror, writes Talha Ahsan.

Right now a church in East London has devoted an entire space to the suffering of Muslims. Climb the bell tower and through the darkness you will find ten life size figures possessing an eerie presence. These clay works took six months of hard graft each. They represent some of the most sickening cases of injustice during the so-called War of Terror.

There is Aafia Siddiqui, the MIT neuroscientist who was brutally mistreated in US custody. In the corner is a representation of Abeer al-Janabi, the 14-year-old Iraqi girl gang raped and murdered by US soldiers in March 2006. By your feet squats five-year-old Samar Hasan who was splattered with the blood of her parents who were killed by US soldiers in January 2005. Finally, at the back kneeling in a pool of dead babies, hands clasped in prayer, is one Anthony Blair with Janus-like faces.

In the hashtag age of instant iconic images, these works may seem redundant. A viral picture only takes a thumb press at an opportune moment. On the other hand, it takes an all too rare capacity of patience and empathy to spend the weeks, days and hours finessing clay between finger tips to shape the contours of a child’s screaming mouth.

The exhibition featured a sculpture on of Aafia Siddiqui.
The exhibition featured a sculpture on of Aafia Siddiqui.

One senses that which is exercised on the aesthetic plane is the one and same exercised on the moral plane. Only love and devotion sustains the making of these works through months of intensive labour.

These works will continue to echo the screams of their original subjects beyond the moments of pain.

We cannot feel peace within our own limbs until Aafia is repatriated, Samar no longer needs pills, and Abeer – well, it’s too late for Abeer. We can only ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The quality and detail of her craft ensure these stories will be seared onto the minds of future viewers. We – and here I mean the Muslim communities of London – are doing a great disservice to this lady in her 70s if do we do not ensure the continued public display of her work. She has no confidence in the art establishment to exhibit her sculptures. They are too political.

Speaking of the intention behind her work, May Ayres quotes author Arundhati Roy:

“Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.”

In writing this piece, I urge Muslims around the world to give what is due to this artist for her commitment to these cases – the suffering of our Muslim brothers and overwhelmingly sisters. We must ensure these pieces are purchased and this exhibition continues after October 6th otherwise these works will be boxed and put in storage.

I feel it will be a deep moral shame if this happens. I understand the inhibitions about images of living beings. Visit them in person. This exhibition is about Muslims in the heart of the Muslim quarter of London. They are more powerful than the images we circulate to highlight their cases. I know there are partners of law firms and property developers who have private lunches with the Mayor that can host these pieces. London is a city state of Medicis who need their Michaelangelo.

The church could have very reasonably devoted its space to the suffering experienced by Christians at the hands of Muslims in Iraq. Selflessness and love of one’s neighbours are values I have always associated with Christians. The Qur’an states: “Is not the reward for good anything but good” [55:60]. If we cannot recompense the good this lady has done for us then perhaps we should question what our own values are in today’s Britain.

You can follow Talha on Twitter @TalhaAhsanEsq

Exhibition information 

Stuff Happens. An exhibition of sculptures from May Ayres’ new collection War of Aggression.

At the Belfry, St. John’s Church on Bethnal Green E2 9PA next to Bethnal Green station (Central line) until 6th October 2016. Viewing times: Thursday to Sunday only, 12 noon to 7pm.

Talha Ahsan will be reading his poems at the closing night event 6th October 6-9pm.

For more details contact organiser Bella Ayres 07704 302 183 info@mayayres.org

To see more of May Ayres’ work, visit her website www.MayAyres.com

You can see her speaking about the Theresa May sculpture inspired by Talha Ahsan’s poetry here: “Wasn’t it great to say good bye” https://vimeo.com/160027203

#StuffHappens #MayAyres #E29PA

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