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Islam LGBTQ Personal Writing Projects Sudan Politics U.K. Politics

Modern Prayers: A Companion Guide

This article intends to be a companion to my work ‘Modern Prayers’ commissioned by Out and About: Queering the Museum at RAMM, Exeter, 2021.

Another way of saying history is written by the victors is that history is denied to the oppressed.

I grapple with this a lot, especially when museums have a huge task in modern times of not only preserving history but a responsibility to actively find out what was ignored or forced into hiding.

Queer histories are one of those blank spaces.

I was drawn to the necklace taken during the Nile expedition from a Sudanese soldier in 1885 when I looked through the online collection at the RAMM. I am – still today and through the months of the commission – fascinated by it because it is wrong, but only upon a second glance. It passes at first, blending into a normalcy. When you examine it though you find it falsely labelled – even taking rosary to be an approximation and not intended to associate the necklace with Catholicism the beads do not count high or few enough to be a misbaha, used to count the 99 names of Allah.

You always know when you have a good project when it plagues you. I spent a whole weekend reaching out to my Sudanese relatives and friends and they too could make no sense of it; my father said it is a fraud, not genuine Sudanese at all.

78 beads with 21 missing pieces – it neatly reflects how queerness is a missing element of our histories, both in the UK and in Sudan, as well as the sloppy way the history of those under British rule was treated during colonialism.

I want to note here that a lot of the questions I have around the treatment of the prayer beads are something I place in the historic period and not something I see as coming from the modern RAMM. I think it is likely that the prayer beads were broken at some point in someone’s personal possession and that information was not handed over to the museum when they were donated. I think it’s important for people to remember that we often have a complicated task in modern times of preserving and maintaining history when – either through carelessness or maliciousness – a lot of key information that should have been handed down hasn’t.

There are similar issues with museums in Sudan, where a lot of old Nubian relics weren’t treated well in the past for a combination of factors including religious prejudice due to the former government’s Arabisation drive, and only now is there really a push to properly preserve these important artefacts. Part of my intentional inclusion in the piece of my atrocious Arabic is a reflection of that – why should I be ashamed of my language skills when my family have lost their mother tongue, and relics of times gone by were allowed for decades to be swallowed in sand?

What is in the modern museums hands is how they choose to seek out that missing knowledge in modern times and who they ask to help them with that. Museums tend to reflect what society finds important to preserve and it is vital that more museums invert that process and take a proactive approach of adding nuance and uncovering hidden aspects of our past.

In the UK QTIPOC have a unique experience compared to white LGBTQ people, especially with our relationship to history. Many of us come from places that were under British colonial rule and experience marginalisation within both mainstream culture and mainstream queer life. I think prayer beads and I think of my own prayers for a sense of home, and how so many of us have nostalgia for a past that shares our fullness but no way to learn about or embrace it.

A lot of time with queerness people want to talk about the future. I am interested in the pasts that were denied. I am interested in the fact that the historical language of my fathers side – Nobiin/Mahas – was almost wiped out of common use in a few generations and yet holds so many fascinating aspects that would be considered futuristic by some; for instance there are no gendered pronouns and folk tales abound with stories of women stealing the skins of men to live new lives. I am interested in learning how exactly generation after generation of LGBTQ people have lived in shadows, and how they thrived as well.

There are five chapters to my piece. The first two look at crimes brought with colonialism and with those who originally claimed our history as theirs to filter before being passed down. Next I expore our erasure from history and then the role of us as rememberers. Finally I seek to reassure that there is still joy and revelry to be had as we continue to rebuild our pasts.

Coming from a place where these queer histories and those of other minority groups are regularly erased, from our personal stories right down to the languages we speak, it feels important to bring to light just how much of our past does not show up in formal records. I hope that by being part of such a project we can begin dialogues, not only here, but in other countries about how to tackle these blank spaces.

Acknowledgements

Firstly thank you so much to Dr Jana Funke, Natalie McGrath, and Eleanor Coleman for their help and support during this process.

Secondly a major thank you to the RAMM and the University of Exeter for commissioning this work as part of Out and About: Queering the Museum, and to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for investing in this fantastic project!

All music I was kindly able to source through https://www.free-stock-music.com and tracks are listed below in the order they appear in the piece. One of the things that was important to me was to have the strong sense of drums throughout as it drew from the ceremonies the Dervish’s hold in Omdurman each Friday where they spin and chant to obtain a closeness to God. There is something in the rhythm and intensity of the beat that makes you feel a oneness and it was that I wanted to tap into and how through time it has faded away.

Ambient Bongos by Alexander Nakarada https://www.serpentsoundstudios.com
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Mirage by Hayden Folker https://soundcloud.com/hayden-folker
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Bumbumchack by Alwin Brauns https://soundcloud.com/alwinmusik
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Last Promise by Nettson https://soundcloud.com/nettson
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Luminance by Ghostrifter Official https://soundcloud.com/ghostrifter-official
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

One reply on “Modern Prayers: A Companion Guide”

[…] We are delighted to work with Rushaa Louise Hamid, one of the commissioned project artists. Watch “Modern Prayers”, Rushaa’s creative response to the RAMM collections, below. You can also find out more about her work in the introduction video below and in this companion guide. […]

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