The UK is a bubbling pit of fear right now, and #Islamophobia, #ISIS and #terrorism are fast burning up to the top of this millenium’s buzzwords. It’s been a growing pandemic ever since that first plane hit the twin towers back in 2001, then we saw it amongst the carnage of 7/7 and, most recently, on the beaches of Tunisia. Pointing fingers at a whole community out of blind panic seems to be the bandaid solution to ease the troubled Western mind. The impact is real, tragic and nothing short of scary but who’s asking about the effect on the rest of the population, including young and creative Muslims trying to make it through their teens, 20s and beyond without getting abuse hurled at them in the streets, online and in the news.
Now in its fourth issue, OOMK (One of My Kind) is a bi-annual zine pushing the DIY publishing scene in new directions, from creating a zine centred around women, art and activism amongst women of colour to co-founding DIY Cultures, one of the biggest DIY fairs in the UK, the collective is championing collaborative and independent ways of making and organising art – and it’s headed up by a small group of Muslim artists who are kicking some serious ass on the zine scene right now. “It's frustrating to see our religion being discussed so widely and narrowly by people who have little to no expertise about the religion of Islam,” said Sofia Niazi, one-third of the OOMK editorial team, when we spoke with her earlier this year about tackling the many -phobias that come with being a modern day Muslim. As OOMK prepare to launch their latest issue, we ask the collective to offer some advice on how to navigate religion, girlhood and the ‘war on terror’.
YOU ARE NOT A ‘PROBLEM’
You’ve grown up in a post-9/11 world and are daily reminded that every part of your Muslim existence is problematic. Self-appointed, as well as government appointed, saviours have taken it upon themselves to liberate you from your clothing, your parents, your God and your natural born inclinations to become a jihadi fighter or British bride living in an ISIS paradise. It’s time to learn about yourself and your religion away from the hype. Find out about religion the way people used to, by reading holy books and their historical surrounding texts and learning from knowledgeable and credible people.You will have to do this at your own risk though since ‘searching for answers to questions about identity, faith and belonging’ will make you suspect under new Prevent guidelines. If your efforts to become ‘woke’ don’t end up getting you referred to a de-radicalisation programme like this three-year-old continue with your journey of self-discovery. You don’t know what you’re looking for so stop bashing words into Google and wander around your local library before it gets turned into a Tesco. Learn to put yourself at the centre of your story, move away from seeing yourself through the eyes of others.
DIDN’T GO TO ART SCHOOL? YOU CAN STILL BECOME AN ARTIST
You’re obviously very talented at art, your papier mache game is second to none and your teacher always picks your work to display in the classroom – but despite this you don’t consider art to be a career option. You decide that in order to survive like your immigrant parents did you need to find secure work. You study all the boring safe A-Levels and get the grades you need to do something academic that will make you more employable. This doesn’t mean you can’t make art anymore, in fact it means you can be a lot more free with your work because your income is not dependent on it. Join up to any and all gallery/museum outreach programmes you can; film, photography, drawing, everything. You are ticking their little BME inclusion box and they are helping you to learn new skills and to connect with like minded people who may later become part of your radical art massive. Start making comics and share them with your friends, go to zine fairs and make friends with other people who make art.
You’ve saved yourself a lot of grief by not doing a fine art degree, you’ve avoided haram things like drawing naked dudes in life drawing class and you didn’t have to endure hours and hours of posho students talking about their crap work. Instead, you’ve developed an art practice which is organic and free from the tastes and surveillance of your tutors, your art work is reflective of your true interests and does not center around your identity as the only POC or Muslim in the class and you’ve also gained valuable skills doing that academic degree or saved money by working. Your art-making is going well but you’re becoming more interested in politics and social justice movements and are looking for other art-making and religiously inclined people to have a #cutetime with.
FIND YOUR OWN (CREATIVE) PEOPLE
It’s a well-known fact that when Muslamics congregate and organise, whether it be for charitable, political or spiritual purposes a little alarm goes off in GCHQ/Satan’s bum to make sure they don’t do naughty things with bags of fertiliser. That being said, there is a gaping chasm between complete apoliticism and a cell in Belmarsh in which you can form an artistic ‘collective’. Being part of a collective is a great way of joining with other people to bring your personal practices and skills to bear on an issue, goal or set of practices that require the energy of a community. Research existing collectives and groups who are interested in similar things to you and find out how they started and how they run. If you find one whose values and ethos sits well with you then join it, otherwise you will find that there are countless starting points to making your own collective. Take an existing friendship and give your shared vision a name with the aim of expanding or engaging with others in a movement as Lonely Londoners did, or answer a call-out and come together with a group of people you’ve never met to do brilliant things like Sorryyoufeeluncomfortable or make a tumblr and allow people from all over the world to submit to your zine like Girls Get Busy.
For your collective to endure the test of time and remain productive establish clear aims and roles, and evaluate both regularly, preferably over food. Don’t get too caught up in the identity and branding of your collective just yet – you’ll know who you are once you start making and doing. Check in with each other and communicate. Do you still share the same aims? Is this a business model for one of you but an act of healing for the other? Give the collective space to grow into something new and unplanned. Check your intentions. Check your ego. Check you’ve got a uniform. Give yourselves a flag. Accidentally become an insurgent military group? Go back to Step 1, you took things too far.
DON’T RELY ON ANYONE
Keep your identity and voice independent. While responding to mainstream narratives on race, gender and religion can often look like opportunities for meaningful intervention and education that is not your primary job. You will receive constant emails from time-wasters asking you to comment on ISIS, the hijab, some more about headscarves, about Femen and so on – before you know it, you’re 47-years-old and blinking ‘#Squad, Save Me’ in morse-code from your seat on the panel of the Big Question while using your Union Jack headscarf to cut off the oxygen to your brain.
Toni Morrison said it best when she wrote: “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend 20 years proving that you do (...) Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.” Start your own debates, set the terms of the conversation, distribute your own narratives.
When it comes to public funding streams, #reparations #RobThisEngland all the (sharia-compliant) way. But don’t wait around for it and don’t rely on it. In the 70s and 80s public funding for communities and groups saw a burgeoning in black publishing, increasingly multi-versal library collections, and community centres as a result of public policy focusing on ‘multi-culturalism’ and race issues. As soon as public policy shifted, so did the funding streams. Jobs were lost, centres closed, collectives disintegrated. You have a right to this money but learn how to survive without it – inject any grants or funding you get into projects, structural changes and groundwork that will have long-term benefits for your collective and community once the cash runs out.
MAKE FRIENDS, KEEP THOSE FRIENDS AND COLLABORATE
Collaborating with other artists and collectives to produce work you believe is important is a really enriching experience, and can be as easy as dropping an email to someone whose work you’re a fan of proposing a good idea. Collaborate with people outside of your immediate circle or field of knowledge for maximum awesomeness, combine your skills and energy to make something new, share space, share work, this is peer-to-peer learning at its best. Start to organise and run DIY events so you can invite all the new groups and collectives you have connected with to meet each other and nurture an independent DIY scene where the art, ideas and issues affecting POC and Muslims are put centre stage.