Photo Credit | Kainat Javed: Instagram @skindeep_photographer

By Gemma Vause (Creative and Cultural Industries Management (MA) Student)

Whilst Arts Centre Washington is currently showing the Srijoni Exhibition until 7thJuly 2021 -which explores notions of cultural entitlement and celebrates belonging and a sense of place for Muslim women - we seek to know more about the origins of the Srijoni Group and how this Islamic Arts Project came to life.

By talking to the women involved in the exhibition, we can understand the history and context of the art works that will be featured and how this project came to life. Srijoni (meaning ‘creative’) is the namesake of a group of women, originally founded in 2005, to support and build confidence in women and provide opportunities for development in a safe and liberating space. I was able to speak to Community Engagement worker, Asma Begum, which enabled me to gain a deeper understanding of the Srijoni project.

Asma, who founded the group, started reaching out to women in August 2020 through her work with Sangini, to try and combat loneliness and anxiety during the pandemic. With hard work and determination, Asma was able to gather around 50 women to take part in the project, starting with two sessions a week but later was able to become more frequent.

The project has not only taught the women arts and crafts but has provided them with mental health peer support and COVID-19 safety information services to ensure the women’s physical and mental well-being is cared for. Asma explained how thankful she was for the women being “so supportive” of her and of each other with many having noted that the “group is like a family to them”.
She went on to explain that as a Bangladeshi woman she “was the first lady in [her] family to be independent and work”

She went on to explain that as a Bangladeshi woman she “was the first lady in [her] family to be independent and work” and without the support from her family, that may not have happened. Asma expressed how she hoped Sangini would be like a family for women who may not get that kind of support elsewhere because “everyone needs family support no matter what age - everyone needs to support each other”.

Asma’s passion for the project has undoubtedly continued to have positive effects on all the women, with many feeling comfortable enough to express how the pandemic has affected their mental health in a safe and culturally enriching space. Members of the group have explained to Asma how it is a relief to be able to talk to her. Asma's passion for the group is evident, as she noted how she was “thankful to Sangini for bringing Srijoni back” so herself and all the women who are involved can carry on supporting one another in a way that is empowering and accessible.

It is abundantly clear that this has been a project that is more than just an exhibition, but a way of highlighting the importance of celebrating the triumphs of black and minoritised women, through lifting each other up and inspiring other women to do the same. Not only is this an exhibition that celebrates the accomplishments of both lead artists work, but a cultural statement that everyone can come together and enjoy each other's company which I am sure we will all be grateful for, perhaps more than ever after this past year.

Check out the digital exhibition at the Arts Centre Washington celebrating the collaborative work of Padma Rao and Roohia Syed-Ahmed in calligraphy, contemporary drawing and texts, exploring notions of cultural entitlement and belonging and sense of place for Muslim women.

You can also join us via Zoom on 29.06.21 at 6pm for a special talk from the incredible artists behind the Srijoni Exhibition -registration via Eventbrite.

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