Culture Forward

Writer Ruth Millington caught up with Start the Press! printmakers Haseebah Ali and Taiba Akhtar, who are making work in response to the Birmingham Qur’an and Mingana Collection at University of Birmingham.

In January, both artists visited the Cadbury Research Library to view the impressive collection, which comprises nearly 3,000 manuscripts of mainly Arabic and Syriac Middle Eastern origin, together with other items including a few Hebrew and Jewish works, coins, seals and clay tablets.

It also houses The Birmingham Qur’an manuscript, which is one of the earliest surviving fragments of the Qur’an. This is the object which has inspired Taiba Akhtar to make three different etchings. While working from a public collection, she said “I’ve never made work that is so personal before”.

Haseebah Ali also felt a personal connection to the Mingana Collection, commenting that: “Being a Muslim and seeing spiritual texts felt like home”. As a printmaker, she creates narratives through the imagery of Islamic patterns, and for this project is layering ornamental designs and text from a manuscript, Arabic paintings and the Qur’an across a series of linoprints.

This work is part of the Qur’an in the City project, organised by Culture Forward, to increase public engagement with the Birmingham Qur’an and Mingana Collection through a programme of activities such as theatrical installations, exhibitions, workshops and lectures. Culture Forward is an initiative aimed at forging closer and more creative collaborations between the University of Birmingham, the city, and Birmingham’s cultural organisations.

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Start the Press!
The centrepiece of Start the Press! is a vintage, flatbed printing press from Wolverhampton School of Art, taking its position in the gallery as a form of protest or occupation in the tradition of the student art-school sit-ins of the 1960s, and in response to the current challenging economic landscape. A cohort of West Midlands printmakers will operate the press, producing original prints and filling the gallery walls as work is made in real time.
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Printmaking Studio: Haseebah Ali
Haseebah Ali presents a Printmaking Studio as part of Ikon’s exhibition Start the Press! (9 February – 21 April 2024).
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Printmaking Studio: Taiba Akhtar
Taiba Akhtar presents a Printmaking Studio as part of Ikon’s exhibition Start the Press! (9 February – 21 April 2024).

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