Haunting photographic images and sculptures shape a circular exhibition entitled “Unrest”.
Arranged around the walls of the Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery at The University of the Free State, the award-winning work of Hasan and Husain Essop speaks to both a local and international sense of “Unrest”.
Every image draws me into their lives while at the same time feeling trapped in the conflict they have put on display.
The work has a three dimensional quality to it making it more potent and powerful. The twin brothers view the Cape Muslim community through their lenses extending the broad sense of injustice experienced in and around South Africa.
A piece which stands out in the collection portrays people looting a Mini Supermarket in Athlone Cape Town whilst the foreign store owner holds his head afraid and helpless. This speaks to the current climate of the xenophobic attacks that engulfed the country in the past months with some South Africans blaming foreign store owners for stealing their jobs and means of living.
“We had to do this piece because it is so close to our hearts, when the original Muslim community moved to Cape Town they opened up superettes (stores) and to see this happening in our communities is sad”, said Hasan.
Another piece that tugs at the heart in a conflicting way especially for the non-Muslim community is titled “Freedom Fighters”. This depicts young men dressed in Muslim attire engaging in intense physical training. As ones eye moves through the picture a sign titled “Jihaad Training” is posted on the equipment. It kicks me in the stomach since my understanding is that Jihaad is linked to terrorism in the mainstream.
Husain explains this differently. “Jihaad means the battle with one’s self, not us against other nations,” he said. So would this be considered protest art I asked Husain “Well yes and no, it’s just our depiction of what we see and what we want the world to see. We want people to interpret the photography in their own way.”
The exhibition is multi-layered asserting pride in their religious belief and their local community while at the same time suggesting elements of tension playing itself out internationally.
Since having won the Standard Bank Young Artist in Visual Arts award in 2014, the singer Sir Elton John has commissioned some of their work and they are steadily reaching broader audiences.
The exhibition reminds me of author Arundhati Roy who once said: “The trouble is once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet becomes like speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way you are accountable”.