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Contemporary British Muslim artists Expository Essay

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Updated: Dec 1st, 2019


Post- colonial art is a genre of artistic expression that portrays the discourse an artist has over colonization. Post-colonial art often involves works that deal with issues of de-colonization or the political and cultural emancipation of people previously subjected to colonial rule.

Post-colonial Britain art is an imaginative evaluation of British society, and the art works incorporate racist or colonial innuendos (Anwar, 1979). Post-colonial art on the contemporary scene also makes an effort to analyze the current post-colonial debate that has taken root over time (Anwar, 1979).

Muslim artists have in particular expanded their artistic coverage of the attitude and mentality they bear towards the British imperial rule since their religion mostly puts them in a highly charged position (Murray, 2008). Several artists of Islamic affiliation have gone ahead to exhibit a number of controversial artworks in the British cultural scene.

The art presented by these Muslims bears the attitude portrayed by the British society towards them and the Islamic religion as a whole and the artists’ own views on Islam (Shaw, 1994). Some of the expressions include racism, sexism, segregation, peace, harmony and love. These artists are especially recognized for their work in critiquing the both the British and the Islamic societies’ aggression toward each other based on simple differences perpetuated by different cultural backgrounds (Jacobson, 2001).

Famous post-colonial British Muslim artists

A great number of young and talented artists have over the recent years been discovered among the British Muslim community. These artists include;-

Mohammed Ali who uses graffiti to express the cultural uniqueness of Islamic art. He derives inspiration from the Qur’an and his work depicts universal principles such as Peace, Knowledge and Patience which criticize religious prejudice and act as a bridge that links all religions (Webster, 2007). Mazzy Malik is also a graffiti artist but highly influenced by hip hop music. She uses Islamic calligraphy on her images to comically depict western civilization and the chauvinism against Muslims.

Taslim Rashid founded the Tranquilart: a personal arts project in 2003 at a time when she was teaching people suffering from mental illness (Webster, 2007).

She uses the image of a butterfly as an allegory for the change the British society needs to embrace. Modasar Rasul is a professional photographer who was first discovered through a photo essay he carried out to document the suffering of Chechen refugees. Currently he exhibits pictures of old doors to symbolize opening up of new opportunities in life’s continuous journey (Webster, 2007).

Some of the other contemporary British Muslim artists are Jamil Ahmed who specializes in classic Islamic calligraphy fused with European contemporary style, Rafia Hussain Kamel who specializes in calligraphy, modern Islamic art and architecture, Samsul Islam a graphic artist, Hasina Zaman who produces Islamic themed mosaics, Bilal Badat who is well groomed in painting, calligraphy and interior design and Samir Malik, a canvas painter (Webster, 2007).

Sarah Maple

She is a contemporary painter who specializes in self portraits and still life paintings and also indulges in sculpture and photographic expressions. Over the recent years, she has turned out to be the most controversial British Muslim painter, with her work deeply criticizing the British and Muslim communities.

Sarah was born to a Christian father and a Muslim mother, but she was raised in accordance to the Islamic traditions. She was first recognized in 2007 when she won the “4 New Sensations” competition which was organized by Channel 4 to find the most creative talent in Britain. Since then, she has gone on to release a series of controversial paintings that have attracted negative attention for their candidness in regards to race religion and sex (Sherwin, 2007).

Some of her most controversial paintings include “The New Black” which is an oil based canvas painting of a Muslim woman covered in a black gown. The portrait insinuates that the Islamic code of female dressing as being discriminated against and it is therefore given the name ‘new black’.

Another painting is an acrylic board painting titled “passport”. This one seems to suggest that a woman can go anywhere she desires as long as she can offer herself through intercourse. The ‘Cherry Bakewell anyone’ and the ‘Bananarama’ oil on board paintings have a woman covered in traditional Islamic attire and performing sexually suggestive actions (Walker, 2008).

Considering the Islamic world take their faith and dress code to be sacred, it is therefore not surprising that these paintings evoked violent reactions from the Islamic community (Walker, 2008). ‘…join them’ is an open impression of the British women which suggests that if the Muslim women cannot stand the discrimination of their dressing they may as well walk in the nude. Other controversial paintings include, ‘God is a feminist’, ‘Paintbrush Wank’, ‘I love Orgasms’, ‘Haram’, ‘Burka Chic’ and ‘Blue, Badges, Burka’.

In addition, Maples has a number of paintings that basically contain hand written messages, some of which are funny whereas others are considered to be offensive (Walker, 2008). They include, ‘Does anyone still wank over Hitler?’, ‘You could have done this’ and ‘Who decided….?’ Most of these paintings are considered offensive among the conventional Islamic populace for they bear sexual or improper portrayal of Muslim women.

A major contributor to the inspiration behind these paintings is the fact that Maple is not a staunch Muslim. This has consequently worked to maple’s advantage since she has no barriers either psychological or emotional that hold her back from expressing Muslim women in accordance to her freedom of expression (Walker, 2008). The end result is a comical representation of Muslim women and a semi-mediocre depiction of the Islamic religion as a whole.

In comparison, other Muslim women in the art industry take their identity to be sacred and holy (Sherwin, 2007). The art work of women such as Taslim Rashid, Hasina Zaman, Rafia Hussain Kamel among others, all bear a reserved approach toward Islamic art. Identity to these women is something priceless and should not be corrupted as Maple does, rather it should be treasured and preserved. This can be supported by the works of art they produce, all portraying Islamic design in an intellectual and glorified demeanor.


The fact that the U.K has a foray of individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds in a way subjects the Muslim women to a precipice of ideology and cultural dilemma (Murray, 2008). Muslims in the U.K are a minority group and therefore are subject to a religious democratic environment.

Sarah Maple in her portrait ‘…join them’, gives a clue of the religious adversity Muslims, especially what Muslim women go through. Her painting propels a feeling of surrender to the majority and she therefore tells the other Muslim women to relinquish their religious attachments to attire and simply dress like the rest of the women in Britain. The painting is however not subjective to attire alone, rather the principles and ideology of the Islamic faith are also taken account.

Other Muslim women are however of a different opinion and taking into consideration the content of their art, it is evident that they deem it necessary to preserve their culture more than ever (Ermes, 2001).

From the cards and graffiti to the architectural designs produced by Taslim Rashid, Hasina Zaman and Rafia Hussain Kamel among others, female British Muslim artists have taken it upon themselves to magnify the beauty of Islam (Sherwin, 2007). They intensify the Islamic core values through their propensity for peace, love and oneness, qualities that are clearly prevalent in their work (Ermes, 2001).

Maple’s work has received a lot of criticism from the public and the Islamic community for it is considered extremely insulting especially to Muslim women. She however cites that cultural differences and the preserved nature of the Muslim faith as her greatest inspiration and sees nothing wrong with her art. Contemporary art lovers on the other hand appreciate the beauty and the explicitness of her work and continually encourage her to cultivate her freedom for expression.

Western critics have partly embraced the art by Middle Eastern women, but they are yet to fully understand the core significance of the paintings. Some of the critics have the inclination that the works have suggestive extremist allusions while other critics view the works as a portrayal of hope and encouragement to the rest of the women in the Middle East (Jacobson, 2001).

With such differing opinions, it is difficult to quantify the overall acceptance of such works. However, with the dynamic shift of public interest and global events carried out by members of the Islamic community; art by Middle Eastern women is still currently being considered a moving target, yet to gain the acceptance into the mainstream pedestal.


Anwar, M. (1979). The myth of return. 2nd edition. London: Heinemann.

Ermes, A. (2001). Contemporary Islamic Arts: A positive contribution to London, RMCJ. Web.

Jacobson, J. (2001). Islam in transition: religion and identity among British Pakistani youth. 1st edition. London: Routledge.

Murray, J. (2008). Brick Lane, BMJ. 56.5(56). Web.

Shaw, A. (1994). The Pakistani community in oxford. 1st edition. London: Hurst and company.

Sherwin, B. (2007). Art Space Talk: Sarah Maple. British artist journal. Web.

Walker, T. (2008). . Telegraph. Web.

Webster, R., 2007. A Brief History of Pop Art in Britain and America. MJKJ. Web.

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