Noel Bowler Making Space: Review by Rameez Khawaja

Making space is a photographic series that has been created by Noel Bowler over the course of three years. These images exhibit records of adaptive use of spaces by diverse Muslims communities across Ireland.

3 Rampart Court, Rampart Road, Dundalk_CMYk

3 Rampart Court, Rampart Road , Dundalk © Noel Bowler

Bowler’s exhibition allows us to see the discreet daily transformation of these ordinary open spaces that wait, in tension for a transcendent experience to descend towards these very simple but completely empty areas of prayer.

These deadpan straight photographs show the nobility of these interiors and how frank and intimate they are, even though many of these spaces share a dual functionality between a living space and the use as a prayer room. The small details that begin to slowly appear in repetition throughout the course of the exhibition, such as the persistent appearance of radiators that remind us of the cold climate in Ireland, or slyly hidden away from the main focal point a tin box of Cadburys Roses hinting at an area placed with social awareness as well as that of a place of prayer and contemplation.

The photographic gaze that Bowler has managed to capture allows us to, in a way, almost ‘objectively’ engage with spaces examining them as to what goes on within them on a daily, weekly basis.

Whilst the main purpose of this exhibition is to explore on Islamic faith present in Ireland, and a response to what is slowly beginning to transform Ireland’s built interior environment, it also pertains to the Islamic culture that is present right here in Bradford. Showing in Impressions Gallery in the very heart of the city centre, Making Space allows us to interpret and view spaces where Muslims pray up to five times a day.

Within Bradford exists a large population exceeding 293,717(since 2001) and among this number a relatively large percentage belongs to the Muslim Community. However despite this there is still a lack of communication between one another.  Why is this?

Turning to when the Channel Four television show Make Bradford British aired, a lot of controversy was created, and subsequently a lot of stereotypes present within certain communities clashed head on with some far-fetched expectation that this show would create a sense of agreement between different cultures and in the process somehow make Bradford British. However the end result was no more than what had been before the show had aired.

Since the showing of this program has Bradford became more British? Bradford really had been no less British to begin with.

A difference however still stands today between the Pakistani and White community. It may boil down to the gap of knowledge and lack of understanding between one another, however as a consequence those first stereotypes that were created for each race has over time been embedded into current & future generations and due to the masses mindlessly following these fathomless remarks and possibly not even trying to understand whether such remarks are true or otherwise false, this has in a way became part of each communities identity. We are all guilty of this happening at one stage or another. The only real way to break these barriers is to communicate among one another. There is a sense of those barriers beginning to shake within the foundations of this exhibition. This is where these stereotypes can travel no further simply because this exhibition does not propagate such stereotypes nor negate them. Without the presence of people present within the images, the need to de-individualize the individual begins to disseminate and there is no way to place your assumptions onto any one person.

There is simply no way to attach such remarks and this is where this exhibition certainly starts to show some fruition as said before, in shaking some of these barriers that have not been shook in quite some time.

Ultimately these images lack drama and to some, unfortunately, the aesthetic appeal to stay interested. However the all too familiar spaces that Bowler has gently pushed onto us allow us to be more contemplative within these open spaces and place them duly in context in our lives, whether some of us may be Muslim or otherwise.

Stepping outside of your bubble for about ten minutes to talk to someone outside of your culture/religion/race may be the difference between understanding what they stand for or just acting as a bystander and letting your assumptions grow all the more, which may be leading you astray.

Featuring in How Do magazine issue 07 June/July 2012


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