Challenging the validity of ‘representation’

Nasima Begum (aka Nasima Bee on stage) is a performance poet, producer and creative practitioner. She uses art as a means of activism and her work is an exploration of loss, a celebration of femininity and an observance of the world. Here, she shares her experiences as a Muslim artist in the UK.

Photo credit - Hannah Vigus

 

As cliché as it sounds, ever since I was little, all I can remember was my urgent need to tell stories. At that age, most of them were made up and my imagination was the only place a true likeness of what I wanted the world to be like existed. Most children who were diaspora kids, were very hyper aware of our culture, skin colour and Muslimness from a young age. We knew we were different. Whether through unkindness, ignorance or bias we recognised our white counterparts would benefit from the way they looked, as we undoubtedly suffered.


As I write this piece, I’m trying to think about the first time I ever felt truly represented in the UK, whether that was in the arts scene, in media or even the workforce.


Though, all I can think of is the one too many times I have been othered and categorised into a box, namely because of the obvious traits of my identity and appearance. The older I get and the more I think about the word, the more I realise it’s used as a cop out.


As nice as it is to see a hijabi on the telly or in a boardroom, the strive for equity doesn’t end there.


I know just like any other Muslim woman in other career paths, but particularly those of us who are visibly Muslim, the ways in which we have worked to be around the table are just as hard as our sisters before us fought. So, I don’t want it. If ‘they’ (by ‘they’ I mean those who other us and cannot seem to see beyond our differences), don’t see us as equals, I no longer seek to wish approval or acceptance.


The structures were never built with the same level playing field and in order to be truly ‘represented’ these frameworks should fall.


Someone like me was never in mind as a contender. We must dismantle these conditions and rebuild but it is not my job alone. In fact, it is the undoing of everyone but the global majority. Otherwise, we will continue to pay lip service to the cause by using terms as such.


For me, my job is to keep telling those stories. My stories.


I’m lucky enough to have made my love and passion as a writer a real life and sustainable thing from which I am paid. Sometimes that drive is wired up with the very notion of my existence and activism, which is who I am by default. If my work encourages conversations and dialogue that has one politically charged or even willing to educate themselves, then that’s great. Though, circling back to the definition of the word ‘representation’, I only represent myself, and I take no responsibility to be anyone’s role model.


My experience has been a humbling one and continues to teach me that I have a choice when it comes to being represented. I choose myself.


Photo credits - Lee Baxter

 

Nasima is a trustee for Manchester’s Young Identity, a collective of poets, dancers and musicians. Her most notable performances include Manchester Literature Festival, British Council’s BritLitBerlin conference and BBC’s Contains Strong Language. Nasima’s most recent residency was Belgium’s Museum Nacht, where she spent 24 hours with 14 artists making performance work. Nasima was 1 of 5 Greater Manchester recipients of the Jerwood Creative Fellowship with Manchester International Festival Currently she’s working on an audio commission with New Creatives North entitled ‘Salt’. Follow Nasima on Twitter @nasimabee and Instagram @nasimabeepoet


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