Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre (MRWC) is an inclusive organisation that empowers and supports Muslim and BME self-identifying women.

Their ‘Life in the Time of a Pandemic’ project responded to the negative impact of Covid-19 on wellbeing through creative activity. Over 100 Muslim and BME women and girls from all over Scotland created audio, visual and written art pieces to express their experiences of the pandemic.

‘Life in the Time of a Pandemic’ included both online and offline elements, as participants connected via Zoom but also received art materials by post. The virtual, interactive exhibition of artworks produced during this creative project toured digitally across Scotland, through the websites of organisations like the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), An Lanntair, Aberdeen Arts Centre, Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA), Horsecross Arts, MacArts, Tramway, and Traverse Theatre.

Responding to and Learning from the Covid-19 Pandemic 

‘Life in the Time of a Pandemic’ was a response to the Covid-19 impact assessment that Amina carried out at the beginning of the pandemic. The assessment revealed the harmful effects of Covid-19 on the women’s wellbeing, mental health and ability to connect, which was also compounded by domestic and financial issues caused by lockdown, and the heightened visibility of systemic racism in the wake of the George Floyd murder and Black Lives Matter movement.

Through this creative project, the women found a space to express themselves, to be creative and to process what was happening to them during lockdown. It was also important as a way to share their stories and highlight the issues of discrimination and inequality they faced.

One positive effect of the pandemic was that it generated greater opportunities to share this message. Firstly, Amina MWRC found that they had increased access to organisations whose entire live programmes had been cancelled. This helped them secure multiple platforms to showcase their online exhibition. Secondly, the global significance of the Black Lives Matter movement meant that racism and exclusion in the creative spheres could no longer be ignored. As one workshop participant said:

We were not voiceless, it’s just no one was listening.

‘Life in the Time of a Pandemic’ was structured around three words: narrate, create, elevate. ‘Narrate’ meant the opportunity to come together and meet people. ‘Create’ meant the production of poetry, videos, and visual art by groups of women, with the support of artists Annie George, Katherine MacKinnon and Raman Mundair. This also included postcard art, where blank postcards with a stamp and Amina’s address were sent out to participants alongside art materials. Women were then able to produce drawings or poems and then send their postcard back. ‘Elevate’ meant taking these women’s stories into the mainstream, through the travelling exhibition.

Overcoming the Challenges and Finding the Benefits

The themes that emerged in the creative work of the women involved in ‘Life in the Time of a Pandemic’ included loss, isolation, lack of connection and anxiety. More specifically, the art produced often highlighted the experiences of women who had arrived in the UK just before lockdown and who had not yet had the chance to connect socially and form friendships.

Participants’ mental health was, therefore, crucial to the design of the ‘Life in a Time’ project. The workshops began and ended with people saying a few words about how they were feeling. This allowed Amina to witness a positive change in participants’ moods throughout the project, as they shifted from feeling nervous, scared and isolated to feeling heard and supported.

Through its connections to qualified therapists (especially Muslim integrative therapists), Amina was also able to offer mental health support. There was a lot of engagement with this element of the project, which was facilitated by the trusting relationship that Amina has carefully built within communities of BME women.

Another key benefit of this online creative project was that it was open to women who would not have been able to attend and participate in-person (for a multitude of reasons, for example, issues around accessibility, caring commitments, busy schedules or geographical distance). Vicky Mohieddeen, Project Development Officer explains:

We had a lot of new mothers in this project, and to be able to work on poetry writing and self-resilience building with people who had their first baby as a single mum in lockdown, after having moved to the UK six months before or with unstable immigration status, is a wonderful thing to be able to say. It doesn't have to just be about survival, we can do more. 

Moving Forward

As ‘Life in the Time of a Pandemic’ brought together women from all over Scotland, the question of maintaining and developing the sense of community created has been an important consideration for Amina.

The organisation is keen to create connections among the women on a local level and to foster their creativity in person as well as online. Additionally, many of the organisations whose websites hosted ‘Life in the Time of a Pandemic’ are eager to continue to engage with the women involved in the project who live near their venues.

Maintaining this connection and thus bringing a fully digital project to a local, in-person level was at the forefront of Amina’s plans for the future. Amina worked towards obtaining a funding extension of six months for ‘Life in the Time’ and as a result, the exhibition will be a starting point for future projects. This continuity will allow Amina to build on the positive effects produced through using art as a form of expression and a way of highlighting social injustice.

Another key question was that of capitalising on Amina’s newfound digital reach. Vicky highlighted the importance of tailoring the digital tools used to the purpose of the project or event. For example, Amina often disseminates information and hosts events through Facebook Live. As this kind of platform allows for a wide geographical reach, it works well for events that are designed to draw in a large audience. As Vicky say:

It’s about asking ‘what is the project and what's the best path?’ If it's local, then in-person is great because you're in that place and it's about that community. But, for example, during Ramadan we have a series of seminars that we're doing through Facebook Live with Mind, Body and Soul and we want to reach all the Muslim women in Scotland. So, of course, we're going to do those online. I think it's given us another few tools that we can use to ensure that we're connecting in the best way.

To utilise all of the tools available in the most effective way possible, future projects will include blended approaches to creative activity. In particular, Amina is looking at ways to continue online interaction with the exhibition website and with Amina’s own website during future events. The ‘Life in the Time’ exhibition is displayed on a purpose-built website, to which cultural venues such as CCA, An Lanntair, Aberdeen Arts Centre, DCA, Horsecross Arts, MacArts, Tramway, and Traverse Theatre provide a link. 

The format of the interactive online exhibition could act as an alternative to physically travelling from community centre to community centre, from exhibition space to exhibition space. Online exhibitions might also be used alongside in-person events, in order to exponentially increase the exhibition’s target audience, both in terms of greater geographical distance and greater accessibility.

For more information about Amina MWRC, please visit https://mwrc.org.uk/