Quilliam Foundation, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank, and Free Word, an international centre for literature, literacy and free expression, are partnering to present an exhibition entitled The unbreakable rope: an exploration of sexuality in Islam at Free Word Centre from 10 March to 8 June 2016. The unbreakable rope brings together the works of 10 international artists who examine issues surrounding the diversity of sexuality in Islam through themes of memory, sensuality and identity. The show will run alongside theatrical and immersive events as part of Quilliam's first creative programme, the Season of #Solidarity, concentrated from 27 April to 8 June 2016 at multiple venues in London.
Inspired by Love in Bloom, an eighth century classical, erotic Arabic poem by Abu Nuwas, The unbreakable rope explores diverse sexual orientations within Islamic cultures, past, present and future. The exhibition will illuminate sexual plurality as existing in conservative and progressive societies, incorporating historical reference points from all over the world to debunk the myth that non-heteronormative identity is a modern or Western construct. By employing a wide range of media, perspectives and voices from both East and West, the show will encourage intercultural dialogue and understanding around sexuality on a spectrum, through the self-critical platform of art.
The show features work by British visual artist Sarah Maple, whose paintings urge the viewer to challenge staid notions of religion, identity and societal roles of women; American composers Alison Butler and Shane Winter who were commissioned to create an audio work based on an interlude by trans artist Antony Hegarty, called Future Feminism, contemplating Allah as a woman; Iranian/American artist Soody Sharifi, whose miniaturist collages explore the tension between public and private spaces, whilst dismantling the Islamic stereotypes presented through the narrow focus of the news media; Yemeni photographer Ibi Ibrahim, whose work seeks to interrupt unspoken censorship practices and bring to light taboo topics of gender and sexuality in conservative Muslim societies; Pakistani artist Faiza Butt, winner of the UNESCO-Aschberg Bursary, whose vibrant mixed media commission is inspired by Love in Bloom; American artist Rachel Maggart, whose bright and sensual paintings highlight issues surrounding contemporary modes of perception; Kuwaiti born Tareq Sayed Rajab de Montfort, who will perform a series of vignettes drawing on Shakespearean and Quranic verses; Iranian artist Farah Ossouli, who appropriates miniature paintings to dissect and interpret what it means to be an Iranian woman; and British photographer Lisa Bretherick, whose emotive photographs depict the memorial of Nazim Mahmood, who took his own life after being forcibly outed to his conservative Muslim family.
Artists will explore experiences of individuals identifying as Muslim, who do not fit neatly into boxes of gay or straight, male or female, erotic or chaste. In turn, the exhibition will look at notions of Islam, either reinforcing or opposing sexuality outside of traditional mores, whilst historicising these perceptions through classical Arabic poetry and Islamic artworks. Aligned with Quilliam's aim of elevating minorities within minorities, the exhibition will redress the failures of wider society to foster a shared sense of belonging amongst all Muslims. It will advocate for acceptance in place of stigma whilst exposing false dichotomies between sexual expression and Islam.