poly | to be black, female & muslim

January 03, 2018

words by: Vane Karolle

Ever questioned an identity you've been taught all your life to embrace? If yes, then relating to this series entitled "Poly" created by the 21-year-old multidisciplinary artist and architectural student Ejatu Shaw will be not be much a herculean task. 

A British Sierra Leonean, Shaw was brought up the Muslim way as her upbringing set her amongst Islamic communities in and around London, within what she best described as a "loosely-ruled" Muslim household. Her earlier years saw her constantly wrapping up her crown with the hijab in a bid to stay yoked with her kind and connect with her spirituality. However, as Shaw grew into her own thoughts, she began to realize a disconnect from her thoughts and her faith. Needless to say that the hijab became history.

Tasked by Reform The Funk to explore what it really means to be British, black, female and Muslim, Shaw created the "Poly"  series in order to explore the religion passed on to her by her parents. So far, Shaw has come to the realization that she couldn't be any further from her born-faith, thus causing a crisis in her very own identity. 

As the name of the series "Poly" is synonymous to the word "many" or "plural", so does Shaw aim to explore the many sides there are to her as opposed to boxing herself into her faith and being just "some Muslim girl". Shaw uses the series as a medium to embrace the unending possibilities of not letting her religion define her. The series can be interpreted as Shaw's quest for isolation of language barriers and anxiety, sexual liberation and so much more.

Using her own family as her subjects, elements of the Islamic religion, a variant of rich textures and colors, Shaw's photography traverses through the Islamic orbit as and her diasporic African identity; it's a melange of the two as well as her shift from both. Shaw looks to the visual styles of the likes of Malick Sidibe and Nadine Ijewere to create her own distinct backdrops. She links the Islamic religion and her African descent with the all-pervasive crescent moon, the jalamias and hijabs; the traditional coiffure and the symbolic macromolecule of an object that is plastic, which Shaw describes as "indestructible and non-biodegradable," symbolizing the solid structures of her upbringing that she has set out to go against and goes on to acknowledge that "to damage these relationships and reject that side of myself - to burn that plastic - could be to release something toxic"

"Poly" summarily can be considered a depiction of Shaw coming into her own as she continuously struggles with what has been impressed upon her as her identity.



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