UK Artists Paint Peace in Middle East
In a time of violence and the uncertainty of war in the Middle East, two British artists brought their imagery of peace to the region.
Juxtaposing modern British street art with ancient Islamic creativity, graffiti artist Mohammed Ali and photographer Peter Sanders chose the United Arab Emirates for their show “Salam,” last month. “Salam” is the Arabic word for peace. It is the first time Ali, 27, from Birmingham has exhibited outside the UK. “Dubai seemed like the perfect venue because of its strange urban mix,” says Ali. The urban Islamic artist collaborated with Sanders, also a Muslim, to show their work in the hi-tech environment of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Ali’s colourful words of peace, love and knowledge - the core teachings of the Islamic faith - and Sanders’ classical photographs, capture contrasting angles of the Muslim world. “In the hustle and bustle of city life, people need to take time out for religion, for deen. The two are not in opposition, but can fit quite comfortably together,” says Ali.
Ali believes his exhibited artwork is a response to the recent negative portrayal of Muslims in the media. “I am trying to show the other side. We have to remember what Islam is about. Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) has been vilified, but we have to remember he was a Prophet of love,” he said. But why choose graffiti art to push forward the renaissance of Islamic art? “I use a modern-day spray can, to display words that came down 1400 years ago to glorify God,” he says.
Sanders, on the other hand, captures the diversity of Islamic societies through his camera lens. “There is a saying by an African Shaikh. He said, “the river is crystal clear … it reflects the colours of the river bed”. That is how I see Islam - in Africa, Islam is African, in Britain, it is British and in China, it is Chinese. Islam is fluid and adopts the culture of the country,” he said. Sanders started his career photographing rock bands, including the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. In 1971, when Sanders was 25, he embraced Islam. “My heroes now are people who spend their time devoted to prayer,” he says. Sanders has travelled around the world photographing children attending prayer classes in China, Turkey’s magnificent mosques, Bedouins in Arabia and forgotten African realms.