Unbreakable Rope: An Exploration of Sexuality in Islam at the Free Word Centre
Western society lives in fear of politically incorrect speech, making discussion of unfamiliar religious doctrine a minefield few are willing to negotiate. London-based think tank Quilliam is bucking this trend; The Unbreakable Rope – an Exploration of Sexuality in Islam is the latest from the counter-extremist foundation.
The Free World Centre plays host to ten international artists scrutinising diversity of sexuality in Islam. From photo to audio to performance, a variety of media is used to confront what appears to be a tradition of volatile attitudes. Using Love in Bloom, Abu Nuwas’ 8th century Arabic poem, as the basis for the exhibition, this volatility is harnessed as proof of Islam’s capacity for inclusion.
Today, homosexuality is punishable by death across the Arabian peninsular, where social and religious regulations are strictly controlled (with the arguable exception of Iraq, Egypt and Turkey). Go back to pre-17th century, and the art of Islamic nations celebrates exploration of sexual preference – whether hetero or homosexual. By recognising this previous acceptance, these artists contest the current dogma of sexual regulation and so attempt to bridge the apparent gap between extremist and liberal attitudes as well as Eastern and Western traditions.
Amid the outlawing of same-sex relationships in the Islamic world, paradoxically, censorship leads to heightened creative expression, and an intricate homoerotic iconography permeates through Middle Eastern art. We see this in the photography of Lisa Bretherick and Ibi Ibrahim, the mixed media images of Farah Ossouli and the audio work of Alison Butler and Shane Winter. This is not, for the most part, the brazen stuff of the Western LGBTQIA community. It’s a sophisticated and nuanced call for understanding from a people torn between sexual and spiritual identity in a religion that makes no distinction between flesh and soul.
Love is presented to us as the unbreakable rope, which will be allowed to flourish.
Unbreakable Rope is on at the Free World Centre from 10th March until 8th June 2016, for further information visit here.