Brick Lane Mosque

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Jamaat (2018)

Made in collaboration with Brick Lane Mosque community, Jamaat comprised of two moving floor projections, one in the main prayer hall and one in the female prayer room. Jamaat found a way to connect and engage both prayer spaces, allowing access for men and women to both sites. As this research project evolved the relationship between the two prayer spaces became a fundamental aspect of the work. The two sites, so different in location, size, atmosphere, joined by the performance of worship.

At the end of the residency the Jamme Masjid invited the general public into the main prayer hall and female prayer room, providing an opportunity for Muslims and non-Muslims to experience Jamaat first hand via the site-performances. 

The Georgian building, acquired by the Bangladeshi community in 1976, was built as a Huguenot church in 1743 and was then converted to a Methodist chapel, then a synagogue, before its current use as a mosque.

The term Jamaat (Arabic: جماعت) (meaning Assembly) can apply to the following: Jamia – a gathering or congregation; place of gathering. It feels appropriate therefore to title the work Jamaat, as this work is not concerned with the individual (the salat) but the congregation as a whole.

After negotiation with the Brick Lane Mosque committee it was agreed that I could extend the project to film in the female prayer space, located in the basement of Brick Lane Mosque. It is a much smaller space with an LCD screen streaming the imam from the main prayer hall. I worked in collaboration with the female congregation to gain feedback into the social/religious/ethical development of the project.

Womens entrance to Brick Lane Mosque

The Inclusive Mosque Initiative (dedicated to creating places of worship for marginalised Muslim communities, spiritual practice and the promotion of inclusive Islamic principles) became involved in the ethical development of the project.

Jamaat is made respecting the religious and cultural rules of the mosque and is exhibited following the same rules; the camera is not permitted to film in front of the people praying, nor can it show their faces. Subsequently, a mechanical rig is constructed to film from above, at a constant speed from the entrance to the Mihrab.

The rig is designed to obtain a 1:1 ratio between image and site. The work presented a significant technical challenge in terms of programming the rig to handle the scale and time of the projection in the physical site. I worked with a technical engineer and coders to develop a recording/display device that not only reproduced the image but also physically moved through the space in synchronised time. To fit in with procedures in each mosque, the rig could not be permanently fixed into the space and therefore had to be designed to be freestanding.

Film of congregational prayer in Main Prayer Hall Brick Lane Mosque.

Moving projection of film of congregational prayer seen from balcony in Main Prayer Hall.

Pre-recorded footage of prayer is then projected back into the architectural sites using the same automated device. The controlled motorisation of the projection re-traces the movement of the recorded image, giving the effect of only the frame moving through physical space, constantly revealing and concealing the actual site below.

In Jamaat the pre-recorded image content is a vital component of the experience, as it is a re-projection of the exact architectural space. The way that the projected image of the carpet matches the scale/proportions of the real carpet makes for a visceral and direct corporeal relationship between the spectator and the site. Using pre-recorded imagery of the same architectural space allows the nature of the two events to become significant content, in the space between the image and the projector. The pre-recorded footage of people in prayer projected back into the architectural space prompts the audience to question what is real and what is illusion. Naturally, the audience questions how the representation relates to the real space and how the experience of the real space is mediated by the image.

Valuable feedback was gained from the mosque community and the Inclusive Mosque Initiative. When discussing the project trustee Naima Khan stated, We would like to use this opportunity  to challenge the perception that mosques like IMI [Inclusive Mosque Initiative] exist in opposition to other mosques (and vice versa) when really, we can coexist in a peaceful, productive way.

As the prayer starts the LCD monitor and speakers are automatically activated and link the two spaces via image and sound.

The silent automated rig witnesses an experience than could not have been captured by the human eye. The mechanical eye allowed access to the sacred moment of prayer where focus to worship needed to be central and the camera non-intrusive.

Film of congregagional prayer in Female Prayer Room, Brick Lane Mosque.

The film is then projected back into the female prayer space using the same automated rig. The projected image maps perfectly with the prayer carpet as it moves in synchronized time through the prayer space. Perhaps the most striking result of the project was that it gave the congregation a new view of themselves at prayer. Watching the ghostly images of themselves shot from above, many were suddenly aware of actions that had been unconscious or routine and found in them an unexpected interest and beauty.

“If Jamaat were to be shown in a gallery, it would take on an entirely different meaning, one we wouldn’t be comfortable with,” said Naima Khan, of the Inclusive Mosque Initiative. “However, the bird’s-eye view used to create the footage – fittingly called the ‘godshot’ in the film industry – shows us ourselves in a unique and unfamiliar way that’s worth experiencing.” 

At Brick Lane, the mosque community asked if they could invite the general public into both sites of worship, allowing non-Muslims to experience a “performance” of Friday prayer in site. The project built significant links with the local community, especially through a C of E primary school event where over 40 children, staff and parents visited the artwork at the mosque alongside pupils from Brick Lane Madrasah. The openness and confidence of the mosque community helped create a forum for reflection and productive debate. As a result, the mosque was no longer perceived as a “no-go area” outside of the Muslim community; it provided an opportunity for non-Muslims to understand the religious practices taking place, without feeling like voyeurs.

“I was always curious to see and know what was taking place, but it was obviously a strict no-go area. Having the opportunity to witness prayer through Jamaat, and not feel as though I was intruding was really incredible. I found it a rare, meditative and moving experience.” (Audience feedback)

“The madrasah pupils gained a sense of belonging and pride as they show the visiting children ‘their mosque’ while the local school children learned about Islamic faith and culture.” (Audience feedback)

“I loved seeing the children playing in and around the films and I loved Stella’s friends clearly being both proud to show her round the mosque and also simply enjoying being together.” (Audience feedback)

The importance of sharing cultures and establishing deeper relationships within the younger generation was evidenced during the local school visit where over 40 primary school children, staff and parents visited the artwork. After the site-performance the children filled in questionnaires, providing their reflection on the event.

“The surrounding darkness in the women’s prayer room projection felt like an ode to the building’s former haunt as a church – where I would normally identify churches as more accustomed to darkness/limited lighting.” (Audience feedback)

“The projected image makes prayer appear even more tangible and real than reality itself. There is a heighted sense of the theatrical within this and seeing my own body in the film is fascinating, i’ve never seen myself in this light before.” (Congregation feedback)

“It was a very special and moving experience, especially the way the congregation interacted with us, it was very beautiful how they welcomed us into their space.” (Audience feedback)

“Jamaat manages to engage politically and socially very successfully.” (Audience feedback)

“The installation feels like a very accurate representation of my experience – the overwhelming sound with a focus on a partial area of flooring. What is even more apt is the sense of both confined space and everlasting space – the knowledge that a mosque acts as an infinite space, but you shone a light on one row, as it where, enough to have a communal feel.”  (Congregation feedback)

On the 27th March 2019 Brick Lane Madrasah pupils welcomed over 40 children from Christ Church Primary school, alongside parents and staff. Questionnaires were given to the children to complete that also asked for a drawn response from the event.

Closeup Cinema artist talk prior to site perfomance.