A view of an artwork at Jarda exhibition.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
The Arab British Centre (ABC), London, has announced the opening of Jarda, a mixed media installation open from now till October 10. It has been created as part of its Arab Britain theme, in partnership with People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester.
Arab Britain is a programming theme of ABC, the London-based charity that explores the history, achievements and experiences of Arabs in Britain. Centered around the long-term goal of creating an archive of Arab British experiences through commissions and community engagement, the theme was first launched in 2019. It aims to highlight stories of migration, diaspora and the intricacies of the “Arab British” experience, in all its intersections and diversity.
Jarda is a co-produced project devised by Manchester-based artist Jessica El Mal in response to this theme, inviting women from Arab backgrounds in Manchester to take part in a series of workshops focused on art, nature and identity. The workshops built up to the creation of a mixed media installation, which is on display now as part of the PHM’s wider programme for 2021 exploring migration. El Mal’s practice centres around ecology, the environment and migration. Her inspiration for Jarda came when the UK was still in lockdown and when parks, fields and forests became the only outing.
The word “Jarda” comes from “Jardin”, commonly used in Moroccan dialect and derived from the French word for garden. Following a call out in May for women to take part as co-producers in the project, across June and July El Mal led six workshops, five of which were outdoors in Manchester and Salford’s green spaces, including the Royal Horticultural Society’s Garden Bridgewater, Peel Park and We Are Mud’s allotment. Co-producers Maryam Alsaeid, Hibah Ali, Sanaa Sedaki, Hana Masaarane, Reem Alazemi and Soraya Agaoglu, created artwork at the gardens using photography, collage, self-portraiture, screen-printing and more.
The installation they have created to display their work invites museum visitors on an immersive walk in nature through Arab British eyes and encourages viewers to re-question the green spaces nobody may never take for granted again. Alongside the physical exhibition in Manchester, ABC is releasing a free digital pack of creative activities people can do from home to engage in the themes of Jarda and reflect on their own connection to green spaces. Audiences are invited to submit their activity responses to the Centre, where they are shared online as part of the digital campaign as well as displayed online as part of the Arab Britain digital gallery.
“Jarda was a whole other world, but one that was not untouchable or pretentious. It was creating art with an open heart, a way of connecting with trees and souls that were very similar to my own.
“Meeting these ladies has been a homecoming for me; I felt as though I validated my inner child’s need to explore and create. All of the workshops that led to the exhibition were completely incredible. So fun, well thought out and creative. “Most of all, I loved being around women with similar backgrounds and yet we are so diverse in nature, in touch with nature and kindly being together,” says Maryam Alsaeid, Jarda co-producer. “We came... we connected... we collaborated,” according to Soraya Agaoglu, co-producer. “The love of nature is like music ... it is a common language that can transcend political and social boundaries,” says Sanaa Sedaki, Jarda co-producer. “Since it was first launched in 2019, our Arab Britain theme has set out to explore the history, achievements and experiences of Arabs in Britain. “Jarda highlights the universal comfort and connection we can all find in nature through intimate and personal reflections on home, belonging and the power of community.
“We hope that visitors to the museum enjoy their walk in nature through Arab British eyes and are encouraged to reflect on their own connections to it at home through our forthcoming digital activity pack featuring some of the workshop exercises,” opined Amani Hassan, Programme Director, ABC. “Working with this group of amazing women has made me appreciate Manchester, myself and my femininity in a whole new way. After the year we’ve just had, this project and exhibition is the lightness we all need,” concludes El Mal, who is also Jarda lead artist.
She is an English-Moroccan creative dedicated to valuing time, care and human connection in everything she works on. With a particular interest in ecology and migration, her work is both deeply personal and yet draws on the universality of the human experience through a balance of digital techniques, aesthetics and interaction.
The work tends to address global structures of power through critical research, multidisciplinary projects, and speculative future imaginaries often centered around collaboration, co-curation and collective knowledge systems.
Arab Britain is a long-term programme by ABC that sets out to explore and document the history, achievements and experiences of Arabs in Britain. It aims to overturn preconceptions and challenge prejudices, retrace the ways the Arab world has influenced and shaped British culture and society, and celebrate the contributions of Arabs in Britain, past and present. The ABC is a cultural organisation which works to further understanding of the Arab world in the United Kingdom. PHM in Manchester gives opportunities for people to learn about, be inspired by and get involved in ideas worth struggling for; ideas such as equality, social justice, co-operation, and a fair world for all.
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