Document Scotland was delighted to be able to talk to recent graduate photographer Ili Mansor about her work titled Salaam.
Salaam is a short form for ‘As-salamu alaykum’ which means may peace be upon you, a universal greeting Muslims greet each other with. Salaam (peace) is the main concept of this body of work.
Islamophobia is a continuous problem in the world. There is a stereotype of how a Muslim should look like. Some examples will be donning the hijab or being brown-skinned. This body of work is to challenge the stereotype showcasing a series of portraiture to show the diversity of Islam in the UK
Beliefs and appearances should not be presumed.
Ili Mansor created this work whilst a student at Edinburgh Napier University in 2019.
DS: Hi Ili, can you tell us a little about how you came to make this work – it was made while you were a student, what made you choose the subject.
IM: My project is about the beauty of Islam in portraits. I really wanted to show the diversity in this religion that often society are not aware of. It started with me feeling really uncomfortable about the term ‘Islamophobia’. Every single time a person look at Islam they always talk about the hijab and a brown-skinned looking person. There is always a certain picture that comes to a person’s mind on how a Muslim should look like. Often, society relates Islam to terrorism. Honestly, as a person who practices and beliefs in Islam, I feel sad and I can’t seem to put my feelings into words.
I’ve experienced first-hand on how people were in shock when they found out that I was a Muslim. Then questions starts rolling in, “is it true, we can’t touch the head of someone wearing the hijab?”, “are you really a Muslim?! you don’t even have the hijab on, you don’t look like one either”, “your name doesn’t sound like one” and so on.
I have friends who have experienced harassment because they put on the hijab. There was that incident when there was a letter given to some organisations in the UK titled ‘Punish a Muslim day’ on April 3rd, 2018. A friend of mine was so scared she took her hijab off and went to class. She felt so ashamed but for her safety, she had to, she told me. I felt sad because to me hijab is part of an individual.
Hence, I was motivated to address this subject because it is so personal to me and I really want to play my part to talk about it visually.
DS: The portraits are captivating in their simplicity, why did you choose this style of photography to communicate this subject.
IM: Honestly, I got the inspiration from Thomas Ruff’s portrait series. If only I get to see it in person. I am amazed at the installation photographs online. When my lecturer, Alexander Supartono discussed about Thomas Ruff’s portraits in class, I can’t help but remembered what he mentioned, “officials trust your passport photo more than you in person”.
Many asked, why I made my subjects wear white against a white cloth as backdrop. Muslims have a common greeting when we meet each other, ‘Salaam’. That’s also the reason why I chose this title. The title ‘Salaam’ means peace and white is the colour of peace.
White eliminates everything else and get the audience to focus on the facial features of my subject. The gaze of each portraits is very important and lastly I really want my audience to know that in Islam, rich and poor should all be treated equally, They are all the same, there isn’t a bigger person. Hence, wearing white helps my audience bring their focus to the faces of the portraits. It’s really beautiful and that’s a part of the teachings in Islam that I would like to share through my portraits in the series, ‘Salaam’.
During the exhibition I presented my photos on a matte paper and printed them in A1. I enjoy looking at big photographs, it feels like I am communicating with the artwork. It grabs attention and gets the message across too. Simplicity is key, helps all age groups to understand easily.
DS: Who are these people – ages, backgrounds etc, how did you find them, how did you get people involved, why did they want to take part in the project?
IM: I photographed a total of 42 Muslims in Edinburgh from young to old, all came from different backgrounds and were residing in United Kingdom at that moment. I used social media as a platform to share (e.g. Instagram and Facebook), approached societies from different Universities in Edinburgh to join their meetings so I am able to introduce my project, and lastly talked to organisations such as Saheliya and The Welcoming to ask if anyone were interested.
I was touched because the people who I photographed supported the same views and wants to play their part in showing the world the diversity of Islam. I took about 30mins to an hour to photograph each portrait. During that time, I hear the individual stories and it is a mix of both beautiful and sad. All the people I photographed really wants the society to know that beliefs and appearance should not be presumed.
They supported my idea because just like me, they experience it first-hand too and have a story to share.
DS: What are you working on now?
IM: I just got a job as a Visual Journalist in Singapore with a local online news platform. It was a dream of mine to be able to work as a Photojournalist – why visual? Cause the work focus on doing photos and videos. This helps me practice on my skillset and really understand what it is like working in a newsroom. A really fast-paced job and you’ve got to be prepared for any types of situations… also, I always have to dress comfortably because there’s a lot of walking, exploring and sweating. As a visual journalist (for only a few months now), I always remind myself that it is important to adapt in any condition!
At the same time, I look forward to work on my project ‘Salaam’ again and this time, I aim to photograph more people. My goal is for my audience to see the message behind my portraits, “society should see colours in Islam and not just looking at a group or community that looks similar.”
Thanks Ili, your work raises important questions about identity, diversity and prejudice, both in Scotland and the wider world, thank you for sharing it with us, SG.
Keep up to date with Ili’s work on Instagram at @ilinadhirah and see her website at www.ilinmansor.com