Representation in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Having heard positive things about BMAG, I took a fairly spontaneous trip to Birmingham this week. I made all manner of delightful discoveries in my short time in the city; the 99p baguette and the striking architecture (as well as the expansive shopping experience) of the Bullring to name a couple. However, the museum and gallery really was the icing on the cake with such a wealth of diverse exhibits and contributions from quite a lot of female artists which is always refreshing. The exhibit that ultimately caught my eye and has made a huge impression on me was the new photography from the Middle East. Taken in the last couple of decades, the pictures seek to challenge common perceptions of predominately women, as well as provide an expression and celebration of multiculturalisms that have arisen from trade and immigration.

Shadi Ghadiran, ‘Qajar’ (1998)



Although the photographs in the Qajar series look archaic, the modern commodities featured in them establish their fairly recent composition. The pictures juxtapose the women’s public role (the historic aesthetic perhaps emphasising the ubiquitousness of equally historic traditions and propriety) with private aspirations. Here, the use of modern sunglasses and a ‘Vogue’ pose might challenge these traditional roles for women, as well as challenge the presentation and perception of women in the Middle East.

Similar themes are reflected in Hassan Hajjij’s ‘Jama Fna Angels’ (2000); the Moroccan women pictured are undeniably glamorous and look tall and powerful – indeed, the concrete walls surrounding them begin to crumble. Framing the picture are world renowned Western brands fused with Moroccan culture, representing the coming together of two cultures.


Another exploration of multiculturalism is Youssef Nabil’s ‘The Yemeni Sailors of South Shields’ (2006)


In this condensed example of the work, Nabil explores the settling of Yemeni sailors in South Shields in the early 1900s who made the first Muslim community in the UK. In the portraits, the men’s clothing unites traditional Muslim and 20th century English dress, as a celebratory expression of multiculturalism.

It was a real surprise to stumble across this extraordinary and thought provoking exhibition which continues to resonate. I would highly recommend investing a couple of hours in BMAG – this exhibition runs until 2nd November 2014.


Lame Fresher Diaries: 10 things to do now first year is over

Alas, this is my final post exploring my life as a particularly boring student. As always, the year’s gone by faster than we could have imagined, but what a year it’s been! The year of Ocean Fridays, of the £5.10 mealcard, of glandular fever, of the £1 bus fare, of short term book loans, of never using the tram. This year I have established an open relationship with Hallward Library, paraded around campus with blue hair then shrivelled with despair as each new day brought a more minging shade of green, looked on in horror as six hours of work per day in the first term dwindled to six minutes in the third, and managed to attend classical concerts more times than I have attended Rock City. Needless to say, we’ve definitely all earned a break before shit gets absolutely real next year, so here are ten things to do to unwind and prepare for second year.

1) Go to a festival. This is a definitive essential for every student summer. Fake flower headbands and tie dye tees you’ll never wear again are strictly non optional

2) Start writing your novel. It is a truth universally acknowledged that everyone has a story in there somewhere. Plus, this’ll definitely keep you occupied when the annual British monsoon puts all outdoor activities on hold for about a month.

3) Learn 5 basic recipes. This will guarantee you and your housemates gourmet cuisine until you all give up on cooking after about a week.

4) Take up a musical instrument with plans to start a douchey band on returning to uni. Nail about six chords on guitar and you can literally play any song in the known universe. Especially Wonderwall. 

5) Interrail. It’s always more expensive than you think it’s going to be but at least you can say you’ve been to a lot of countries.

6) Send a mass email to every family member/family friend who is likely to ask you how you found first year – it’ll save you a lot of time at family barbecues.

7) Get to know Aldi; unspecified German delicacies may be all we can afford next year.

8) Read a really really long book – I’m going for Clarissa. At 1,534 pages, it’s a great excuse to lay in the sun all day while you take on one of the heftiest classics.

9) Invest in some suncream because sometimes the sun comes out in Britain and when it does you should enjoy it responsibly

10) Work out what your ‘summer jam’ is going to be – useful for da club and car journeys.

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading this year and have a great summer!


Maleficent: A brief, feminist glance

Be aware, this review WILL be LITTERED WITH **SPOILERS**, so avoid if you don’t want any of the plot revealing.

I approached Maleficent under the impression that it would manifest itself as the latest in a new Disney trend of alternative (though somewhat apologetic) retellings of fairytales to atone for the chauvinist twaddle of the 20th century. The film is akin to the likes of Princess and the FrogTangled and Frozen, all of which contain at least one female lead who maintains an active role throughout the plot in a bid to challenge her Disney original. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), I was ready to have my socks knocked absolutely off by a tidal wave of subversive genius. And yes, in some ways the film utterly delivered; in others, there were shortcomings and missed opportunities.

There are many aspects of Maleficent that demand our praise. We are presented leading female characters whose presence monopolises the duration, and whose stories form the plot. Indeed, Disney artistically expresses its awareness of the damaging themes of their earlier fairytales by having Maleficent’s wings clipped by a man who lets his ambition rule him. Metaphorically, this suggests that the patriarchy figuratively clips the wings of women, stripping them of power, authority, independence and identity – an act performed symbolically in the majority of Disney classics. Equally, regaining her wings at the end of the film allows the restoration of all those qualities as well as the restoration of harmony in the world of the film, boldly stating that existence is healthier and just for us all when women are empowered.


Disney dismisses the bonkers notion of “love at first sight” in the awakening of the princess Aurora. Having spent years acting as a distanced guardian to the child she’d cursed, Maleficent grows to love the princess, establishing a maternal relationship with her when Aurora reaches her teens. Consequently, only Maleficent can bestow “true love’s kiss” on Aurora to alleviate her own curse; it’s truly wonderful to witness Disney exploring the value of love which has had time to develop naturally and believably, rather than hammer home the fabricated “necessity” of idealised, heteronormative, young, romantic love.

Conversely, there are problems with the kiss. The young prince is reluctant to kiss Aurora; he acknowledges her beauty but asserts that love is impossible having only met her once. All the same, when urged by Aurora’s three failed guardians to kiss her and despite being very uncomfortable, he acts without her consent. For me, this is lad culture at work; being coerced into performing an evasive or disrespectful act in order to conform, avoid chastisement or attain a certain image. To a young audience, this legitimises force and being forced, especially since the intentions of the the prince and the guardians were basically good (although the guardians were more concerned with saving their own skins having failed to shield Aurora from the curse). In a modern context, Aurora is unconscious at a party and assaulted by an older man as a result of pressure from his friends – this is utterly inexcusable, so why isn’t this made clear in the film? Indeed, the scene would have been so much more powerful had the prince refused to kiss her.

One might also argue that Disney’s exclusive switch in focus from Aurora’s story to Maleficent perhaps wasn’t entirely just or necessary. In both versions, Maleficent is a active character, empowered both by her evil and her heroism. Unfortunately, Sleeping Beauty’s lot never really alters. Despite growing up outside the influences of patriarchal society, she is still a passive character haunted by an impending doom against which she cannot defend herself; she doesn’t save herself, she has no influence over the direction of the plot, she’s to some degree incarcerated and is embarrassingly naive. When comparing the Sleeping Beauty to Maleficent, it’s disheartening to witness no change in one important essential – though the active does remain active, so too does the passive remain passive. The film is subversive, just not subversive enough. Despite her fate being in the hands of Maleficent rather than the patriarchy, once again we witness a beautiful, powerless aristocrat with no control over her own destiny.