Resulting from a remote residency with AirSpace, Sofia Niazi
presents brand new work made following a period of intensive research, and presented in our window exhibiting space.
is an exploration of a 1950s London house for artists established by Farah Khan (1930-1990) and Kareem Janan (1940-2022). Set up as an art waqf*, in accordance with Islamic law, the house operated as a guest house, workshop and small art school for over 40 years.
Displayed publicly for the first time, this installation features works and archival materials from the house, many of which were made by its guests and students. These works, which have come to light following the passing of Kareem Janan, begin to tell a story of a curious chapter of contemporary Islamic art history which has, until now, gone unnoticed by the art world at large.
During its most active years, the house offered a site of rest to spiritual travellers and provided art education and training to students of religious knowledge, giving them opportunities to learn through making and create art and craft works for both spiritual and worldly benefit. Farah and Kareem were, at the time, practicing artists and educators with considerable reputation in the art world. According to archival materials, access to which has been generously granted by Janan’s niece, the founders set out to follow in the tradition of the zawaya (Sufi lodges) and guilds of the Islamic world.
Establishing a waqf (Arabic for endowment) is a special kind of religious philanthropic deed in perpetuity. It involves donating a fixed asset which can produce a financial return or provide a benefit. The revenue or benefit generated then serves specific beneficiaries - in this case, the guest house and ceramics made for sale served artists and students. It is perhaps due to the religious intentions behind setting up the waqf that the activities of the house were shrouded from the art world.
Khan and Janan’s waqf was a large house. It featured 8 guest rooms and a large communal lounge (used for prayer and lectures). On the ground floor there were 3 artist studios, a textiles room and a pottery workshop where Khan, and presumably her students, made ceramic works for sale.
This installation features several sets of tiles which were found along with notes and documentation from the pottery workshop in the art collection. The works differ greatly from any other works by Khan so presumably they were made by another artist or student who we have not been able to trace.
This installation is part of Sofia Niazi’s ongoing exploration of the potential of contemporary craft workshops to provide public services, drawing inspiration from 14th century waqfs (charities) of the Islamic world. She is currently writing a book on this topic to be published by Book Works in 2023.
*Waqf (Arabic for endowment)
is an artist based between London and the West Midlands. Her work spans painting, textiles and video with a current focus on the relationship between technology and traditional craft in the digital age. Her practice is continually engaged in artist publishing, working on many publications both independently and collaboratively along with co-organising independent publishing fairs across the UK. She is a founding member of artist collective One Of My Kind (OOMK), who publish works exploring art, politics and faith. Along with OOMK’s Rose Nordin and Heiba Lamara, she currently runs Rabbits Road Press, a community Risograph printing press in Newham, London and is piloting Print and Matter, an art school programme exploring connections between religious practice and art making.
Recent and upcoming commissions include Southbank Centre, Serpentine Galleries (with OOMK), Eastside Projects, Grand Union and Bethlem Gallery. She is currently writing a book to be published by Book Works in 2023.