In conversation with… The Srijoni Group

By Gemma Vause, Northumbria University Student in Creative and Cultural Industries MA.

Editor – Kainat Javed.

The Srijoni exhibition, opened at the Arts Centre Washington on the 18th May 2021, displaying the art of accomplished North East artist, Padma Rao, and Sunderland University Fine Art graduate, Roohia Syed-Ahmed, with contributions from local women including painter Parveen Abdur and photographer Kainat Javed. The exhibition celebrates their collaborative work in calligraphy, contemporary drawing and texts, exploring notions of cultural entitlement, belonging and sense of place for Muslim women.

In conversation with artist Roohia, who delivered workshops in Arabic Calligraphy to the Srijoni womens’ peer support group based in South Tyneside (facilitated with pleasure by Sangini (a friend)), explained how rewarding this work has been for her on a personal level, as she has been able to observe the growth of the women within the group and watch their confidence grow with each session. The success of the group and their involvement in the exhibition is an opportunity to celebrate the visibility of Muslim artists and in turn, inspire the women within the group to pursue their passions.

Photo credit: Kainat Javed [@skindeep_photographer]

Asma who founded the group, started reaching out to women in August 2020 through her work with Sangini, to try and combat loneliness and anxiety during the pandemic.

With hard work and determination Asma was able to gather around 50 women to take part in the project, starting with two sessions a week but later was able to expand to more.

The project has not only taught the women arts and crafts but supported them with mental health peer support and COVID-19 safety information services to ensure the womens’ physical and mental well-being is cared for. Asma explained how thankful she was for the women being ‘so supportive’ of her and of each other with many having noted that the ‘group is like a family to them’.

Asma’s passion for the project has undoubtedly continued to have positive effects on all the women, with many feeling comfortable enough to express how the pandemic has affected their mental health in a safe and culturally enriching space. Members of the group have explained to Asma how it is a relief to be able to talk to her. Asma’s passion for the group was evident, as she noted how she was ‘thankful to Sangini for bringing Srijoni back’ so herself and all the women who are involved can carry on supporting one another in a format that is empowering and accessible.

Photo credit: Kainat Javed [@skindeep_photographer]

The assembly of the works created not only celebrates the artist’s triumphs but also, calls attention to the development of the Srijoni group. The event signifies the importance of bringing recognition to Muslim artists who otherwise may not have had the visibility they deserve within the art sector. Roohia shares the group’s excitement as she noted how happy she was to be a part of the exhibition and to see ‘her own practice established’ within the event.

It is abundantly clear that this has been a project that is more than just an exhibition, but a way of highlighting the importance of celebrating the triumphs of black and minoritised women, through lifting each other up and inspiring other women to do the same. Not only is this an exhibition that celebrates the accomplishments of both lead artists work, but a cultural statement that everyone can come together and enjoy in each other’s company which I am sure we will all be grateful for, perhaps more than ever after this past year.

If you would like to see the event you can view it digitally via the Sunderland Culture website or in person at the Arts Centre Washington until 6th July 2021.

Event – 3rd June 2021: The Creative Language of Arabic Calligraphy an online discussion with Soraya Syed, hosted by Padma Rao, Project Manager of Sangini (a friend)

Event – 23rd June 2021: Q&A with the Srijoni Artists, hosted by Nazmin Akthar, Co-Chair of Board of Trustees at MWN UK

Take a virtual tour around the Srijoni exhibition. 

Contact [email protected] for more information and how to book your place, limited spaces available!

This project has been funded by Arts Council England.

Do you have a story to share? How have you unleashed creativity during lockdown? We would love to hear from you! Let us know of your creative ideas by emailing us at [email protected]

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