When the UK voted for Brexit in June 2016, artists Jess Nash and Erin Aniker watched on in dismay as anti-immigrant rhetoric and xenophobia spiked in the country, along with a rise in the number of hate crimes. As women of color in the creative industries, they had an acute familiarity with the prejudice and stigma that people face in the country—and they wanted to use their backgrounds in illustration and design to do something about it.
"We decided that it was the perfect time to start conversations about the fact that for lots of us, our families come from amazing places and so that's something to celebrate," Aniker says. We Are Here UK begun as a group show in July 2017 and has since evolved into a collective of women and non-binary artists of color.
In August, Aniker and Nash opened their latest show, Neither Here, Nor There, at the Foundry in London. This time, they teamed up with Nasreen Shaikh Jamal Al Lail, an artist who founded the Muslim women artists’ collective Variant Space.
"The exhibition is important because it shows connections from cross cultural identities and also showcases a broader narrative that allows the artists work to co-exist with each other and make connections," Jamal Al Lail explains. "It gives a bigger picture of what art means for BME women and non-binary artists and Muslim women, and how these narratives overlap and how our experiences are shared."
The exhibition features 21 artists from the UK and further afield, all of whom are showing work that explores their dual heritage or feelings of displacement in a white, male-dominated society.
"Nasreen, Jess, and I wanted to work together to create a broader feeling of community amongst various BME [Black and minority ethnic, a term commonly used in the UK] communities and artists and those who feel othered by the existing 'pale, male, and stale' art world," Aniker explains.
"For me," Nash adds, "it’s a really important thing to have a platform for all people. A lot of us have been born here so by birth we're British but we have a whole other heritage which is amazing, and it’s important to talk about how those two concepts work together."
Below, some of the artists from Neither Here, Nor There showcase their work and speak to Broadly about their reasoning and process behind the piece.
Neither Here, Nor There runs until 20 September at the Foundry in Vauxhall, London.
Hair by Jess Nash
"Hair is a collection of visual thoughts on my sense of worth and how it has evolved through my hair. It's a visual diary of self-acceptance, self-love, and a celebration of the versatility of afro hair."
Diclosed by Maha Alasaker
"As a woman raised in Kuwait, a country with culture, tradition, and religion, being a free spirit wasn’t an easy experience. To be me meant ﬁghting with everyone around me, the most important people in my life, my family. I always hated ﬁghting, so I ﬁgured out a way of living in peace, by hiding part of my life and being censored by people."
Fifty, Fifty by Francesca Tiley
"My work is deﬁned by vibrant colours, playful lettering and decorative patterns. Having spent part of my childhood in Mexico, my piece Fifty, Fifty is greatly inﬂuenced by the expressive qualities of Mexico's folk art and vernacular lettering and exploring my Mexican heritage whilst growing up in Britain."
ROOTS by Lamyaa Hanchaoui
"[This is] an artistic photographic exploration of my North African Muslim identity with Berber and Arab heritage as a female diaspora living in the West, inspired by historical narratives of tribal conceptions of beauty through the ages."
The Border by Saffa Khan
"The Border narrates a depiction of separation and distance that creates detachment between loved ones, turning them into strangers and isolating relationships. It reflects that physical heartache of forced partings and still memories. The illustration was a result of passing of my grandmother, who's funeral I couldn't attend due to physical barriers."
For Astaghfirullah & Masha’allah by Areeba Siddique
"The image is a visual representation of a modern Muslim woman stuck between the concept of sin and forgiveness. This is how I, as a modern Muslim, go through my day which is usually surrounded by cute guys and things that are blindingly beautiful—but I have to stay strong in my faith."
British Girl by Aleesha Nandhra
“As I was generating ideas for the piece I thought about the interesting, sometimes frustrating, encounters I have with strangers who think that a good way to start a conversation with me is to ask me, 'So, where are you from?' It made me consider how I am perceived day to day, by strangers—do I look foreign? Do I look like a Londoner? A British Indian? What makes people ask me this question?
After hearing the title of the show Neither Here, Nor There I settled on the idea of a self-portrait. Initially, it was to be a stand-alone self-portrait on a plain white background. I wanted to make it look more "Indian" and asked my granddad to write out 'British Girl' for me in Punjabi script. I enjoy the juxtaposition of what the text translates to, versus not even being able to read it myself! It is also a little nod to subtitles in Bollywood ﬁlms."
Fear and Disappointment by Tewa Barnosa
"The collection of digital collages highlights the journey that refugees go through to cross the Mediterranean seeking a better life and shelter away from their home countries. The work is showing emotions such as fear and disappointment through images taken by German photographer Kevin McElvaney during a rescue mission with the Italian coast guards."
Home by Erin Aniker
"This Illustration loosely explores the duality of my Turkish and British heritage. Whilst I think there are mostly only positives in coming from two (or more) different cultures, I wanted this piece to focus on the slight feelings of displacement and confusion which can also arise when coming from dual or multiple different backgrounds and cultures—feeling a bit disconnected, especially during your teenage years and early 20s; feelings of nostalgia; not feeling quite ‘whole’ or enough of either culture, and trying to ﬁgure out your sense of self, identity, and ‘home.’"