Our graduating students share the process behind their practice. Here, Sara Gulamali explains how green screen, King's Cross and a letter from her grandma all inspired her award-winning work.
Graduating from BA Fine Art, Sara Gulamali explores her identity as a Muslim woman of colour through her work. She co-runs Muslim Sisterhood, a photography collective exploring the multiplicity of Muslim women in London, and in 2018 she co-curated The Age of New Babylon the first student-curated exhibition at the Lethaby Gallery, Central Saint Martins. Gulamali won the Hollyport Prize in 2018.
I’ve always looked to my identity as a starting point in my practice. I’m a Muslim woman of colour navigating this space, what does that mean? How do I make work about myself and expect an audience to understand it? Is it ok if they don’t understand it?
I started playing around with the green screen as a tool last year. I could transport myself to other places. If I’m in my bedroom and I want to be in the Sahara Desert, I can just use the green screen to transport me there. And, I can make myself invisible whenever I want.
Wearing it, it began to represent an overall sense of otherness. The viewer can’t see the person underneath, there’s no sense of their race, gender or sexuality.
After my grandma passed away we were looking through her things and found a letter in which she told her journey from Iraq to England. I hadn’t known the full story, it was almost a diary entry. It was such a heavy piece of writing and after reading I really wanted to do something with it. But I found it difficult to relate to because I haven’t known anything other than the UK. I would play at putting myself digitally in Iraqi cities but nothing felt genuine.
I couldn’t relate to my grandma’s environment so it forced me to think about my own environment. I got really interested in King’s Cross as a space; it’s a heavily surveilled place. It’s public/private land in which we’re always being watched. I had found my grandmother’s archive but, in a way, my body is being archived by Argent.
Navigating the King’s Cross space is something that I’m really intrigued by. I wanted to test its boundaries. What would happen if I covered my face and walked around the area? I covered myself in the green screen (partly because I could’ve turned myself into something crazy after or turned myself invisible). So, I walked around King’s Cross draped in the green screen material. Each time was different; I’ve been laughed at, ignored and one time I was stopped and asked to show my face – that was strange, especially for a Muslim woman.
It was all about what it means to be othered or not belonging in a space. The green screen is both hyper-visible and invisible at the same time. I find it funny too but often the audience doesn’t know when to launch or not to laugh.
Imran Perretta’s film 15 days shares his time with migrants in Calais. When I saw it, I realised that it was a great way of making work and telling stories without subjecting or exploiting anyone involved. He inspired me how you deal with sensitive subject matter.
And Sondra Perry’s show Typhoon coming on at the Serpentine. She created a purple ocean, responding to Turner’s Slave Ship painting depicting slaves being thrown overboard. Perry turned the ocean purple. The way she revisits archives and diaspora, how you can use technology to rethink ideas. It made me think about my own archive and my own history in a new way.
Sara Gulamali won the Unilever Un-Stereotype Award at this year's MullenLowe NOVA Awards.