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Women, Art & Activism, Amna Abdullatif

Amna Abdullatif is a community psychologist who has worked in the voluntary sector for over 15 years, and is currently the assistant director for youth empowerment at The Anne Frank Trust. She is also one of The Three Hijabis who launched a petition last year in the wake of the Euro finals to ban racists from football. Alongside this, she was elected as a local Councillor representing the ward of Ardwick in Central Manchester, UK in 2019, making her the first visibly Muslim and Arab heritage councillor to represent in the city. She is an anti-racist and women's rights campaigner.

What is your background, and what led you to becoming involved in community building?

From as young as I can remember my parents have been active in our community. Particularly supporting refugees and asylum seekers with translation of legal documents, supporting them through various processes that would be daunting and opening up our home to them. Keeping in mind we were also not a well-off family, we lived in a council estate, and I know my dad struggled greatly in the job market when we moved to the UK, but still he knew we all had a role to play in others lives.

I often think about my parents sitting together, long in the night, translating documents that would cost thousands in order for a family to remain in the UK. They understood they had a skill and certain privileges that were invaluable to others, and used it.

This led to me doing a lot of voluntary work teaching conversational English to refugees, supporting people with translation, working with women to develop their confidence through setting up their own social enterprises, amongst other work.

But my parents are essentially the reason I do what I do, whether that’s in my role in the charity sector, or in the work with The Three Hijabis.

Can you tell us more about your role as a Community Psychologist?

Community psychology is actually what I studied as masters level when I was a bit stuck in my life. But I saw this masters and it sounded like everything I was doing in my voluntary capacity and what my family had essentially been involved in for as long as I could remember. What it taught me was the huge importance community activism, solidarity and support were in everyday life. A big part of how community psychologists work is inside communities where the community leads, and your role is essentially to support.

I see it in the work I do daily, when I support residents’ groups to maintain services, to secure and protect community buildings, to ask and speak up for marginalized groups, to listen to residents who speak up powerfully for those more vulnerable than themselves. It’s incredibly powerful.

That action looks different depending on where you go, be it a sit in, or greening local streets or holding art or wellbeing days. There’s so many ways in which we connect as people, and the pandemic really made me recognize just how important that connection was. In some cases it was life saving.

I spent the early part of the pandemic supporting the set up and organization of the local mutual aid group and to this day when I reflect on everything we achieved by groups of different volunteers from varying organisations and groups coming together, it really showcases just how important our communities are.

So, although I studied community psychology, and utilize it in my day to day work, it’s not a job title as such.

How can the creative industries help community cohesion and social understanding?

Creative industries hold a huge level of power in creating a sense of belonging, identity and connection and shaping our thoughts and ideas. I want to celebrate the way in which the arts can bring people together, to teach us something new and I love how it can create a space for representation. I want to see more women of colour, Muslim women, who are often missing from this industry. It’s why I love BaytAl Fann so much, because you are bringing us regularly absolutely phenomenal pieces of art and culture, that’s inspiring, educational and centers Muslim creators.

I truly believe there is immense power in the way we can use the arts to bring voice to those not given a platform. I also do think that art often provides the creation of spaces where we can have much more accessible conversations on very complex and sensitive issues.

One of the first art led event I attended as a guest to speak a few years ago was titled Women hold up half the sky, and it was challenging the celebrations of the centenary when some women got the right to vote, yet we know that not only not all women did, but that actually women of colour didn’t and that there was little to no recognition of women of colour who fought for and won the right to vote well before white women did in the UK and US. It was through sculpture and art walks and providing that space for everyone to engage in art within that setting that we were having these conversations.

You are an advocate for women’s rights, do you think more needs to be done to increase the visibility of women in the arts and women artists?

I really believe in the stories that are told through the arts, and the ability to see through the lens of an artists world. Often for me its to connect, and I’ve found myself searching for Libyan female artists, because I want to celebrate their work and share that connection of similarity.

But often I just want to be absorbed in the female lens, through their art and the voice is portrays even when it’s different to my experience. Art with women present and at center stage is also necessary, that we see ourselves and others in art.

The artists I share below are a representation of the power of art as a political tool, to advocate for women’s rights in spaces where often the rights of women are at the bottom of the pile of priorities.

Has a work of art had an impact on you?

An artist who has impacted me is Shamsia Hassani, whose an Afghan graffiti artist, who creates these incredible murals of art that depict so much power and beauty at the same time with poignant messaging on women’s rights.

Theres a number of things I love about her work, and how so many of her pieces are centering Muslim women often in traditional clothing, with hope and power to create change.

I also love that her work is political and so much of it is based on street art, which by the very nature of her art, means it’s accessible, it’s not in a fancy art gallery, its there for everyone to access, to explore, be challenged by and enjoy. I’ve seen in many interviews with her, that she wants to use the walls of a country known so much for war to be a canvas for her work to bring colour and create peace, which is incredibly poignant when so much of your life has been framed by conflict.

I also started quite recently to