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.


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