The following audio recording is 9 minutes long.
It starts off by explaining some ideas behind the images shared in this exhibition and then also goes into some larger ideas and realities experienced whilst making these works.
Allot of my practice is interconnected, so I often find myself working on many ideas with varied processes, over the same time period.
I often use water and beauty as tools to focus on lived experiences, serving themes of love, trauma and belonging, whilst inviting community engagement to navigate the ever evolving and ephemeral human condition. Often prioritizing the process of making not just the outcome.
The photographs above were taken in the waters of Yorkshire, during a period of exploration and development in Bradford, UK. As I speak this recording, I am still here, still looking for clear waters in hope to specifically photograph local queer communities within them. Those same communities are the ones I’ve been inviting to sit down with me to also have recorded conversations over a game of backgammon.Backgammon is key here and in these images.
The images are first time explorations of some of my glass works explored and presented through my underwater practice. Usually I photograph people, not just things. But in all fairness, these glass pieces are not just ‘things’.
The glass work presented are of small round hand made backgammon pieces I’ve been working on since 2021. You wouldn’t know this unless I told you, but there’s actually two works of glass in each of these images, one which you can see (the circular like disk that has tints of blue, red, cloudy white and a face running through it) and another one behindit, which you cant see but is black and fits quite nicely inside the visible piece.
I’ve included one image in this presentation, that has both these pieces visibly presented.
The backgammon pieces themselves are actually of my head..
For a while now I had visualised a painting with my hands on one side and on the other were crumbling hands of certain family members based on plaster casts I took of them from 8 years ago. Between us is a game board of backgammon with my head as the playing pieces.
As a queer, gender non conforming woman from West Asia and in my mid 30s, this reality of being consistently played with, compromised, expected to bend, turn, reform into other things and play other peoples games has always been a present reality for me. And I know I’m not the only one.
I realised I’m yet to make this painting because I’m meant to make it instead. Consequently since 2021 I’ve also had the opportunities to learn woodwork and glass casting and so for the past year I’ve been exploring these mediums in hope to bring to life some of these ideas.
Backgammon is one of the oldest games in West Asia, it’s also something which can be linked to origins from Iran… The place I was born, in exile. For me, it is a game I learned from my dad, and we used to play it together regularly before he past. Since then, it is a game I’ve played with so many others, including sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, strangers too and have taught it to my nieces and nephew.
To me, I have played it all my life and it is a simple and fun tool of the coming together. Of playing, no matter who you are, no matter where your politics lay and especially considering my own personal experiences, no matter where your sexuality lies.
So I’ve been working on this idea of using the traditional game of backgammon, ‘Dowli’ in Arabic, as a tool to bring people together, people from within my communities and those outside of them. Using Dowli and play as a tool to bridge so many differences whilst centering the physical ideas of engagement.
I will be honest and say that I initially wasn’t planning to share these images or this specific work.
Instead I’ve been in the process of getting ready a short film based around a vulnerable conversation amongst 3 women; 2 other women and myself.
Shared between us, these significant moments in time tread on conversations around a specific West Asian government, misogyny, homophobia, sexuality and sexual violence. It is a reality of how a very toxic and privileged gay man knowingly married an unknowing straight woman. And in it there are so many truths and perspectives which I truly believe, we need to share, discuss and most importantly overcome, as a collective of people. In these moments of recording, I am humbled into remembering the significance of centering the need for safety and the need for understanding, on all fronts.
Although the conversation was known to be recorded, it is one thing to agree to a recording and another to hear or see that recording being played back to you, translated into ‘art’ and having to see your truths through other peoples lenses. Often, in these moments, fear can exist.
The woman who shared her lived experiences still lives in the region. Her fear of what ‘could’ happen to her currently outweighs the personal sacrifice being made, because depending on your perspective – it can be a sacrifice to be sharing these details, in speaking such truths.
More and more I’ve been trying to centre the continued need for change when it comes to accessibility and for me, consent does not look like a one time order. It is a continued relationship between you as a creator and those who have been generous enough in sharing their realities with you. I think the industry needs to do better and personally as a film maker as well as a multi disciplinary artist, I don’t need to wait for it to catch up in order for me to understand my responsibilities towards another human being, inorder to create in and amongst the margins.
The truth is, I cannot be mad, upset or confused because today, we all live in the illusion that there is some kind of privacy in data collection. And art is also a type of data collection.
We have to recognise that not every bodies life is valued nor is it safe when we are creating. So how can we continue to create, and centre safety, care and understanding? Putting peoples changes of needs, before putting content?
So I guess in an obvious way for me, these photographs, these extended self portraits of glass works I have been working on since 2021, the wider concepts they attach themselves to so intertwined in Letters To Ummi (Ummi meaning my mother in Arabic), and the waters they sit in with the reflections and solitude they share, all reflects the current realities I find myself in. Constantly drifting from majestical ideologies of saferworlds and more honest realities with the truth and the weight of how fragile our lives really are.
To me, there is so much power and fragility in both glass and water.
Sometimes, you are forced to hold your breath.
Sometimes, you are forced to take the opportunity.
And sometimes, you are forced to just wait.
Than you for listening.
Estabrak, July 2022