Estrangement

Muneerah Yate

As a British-Muslim, I constantly find inspiration from my dual English and Iranian heritage. My practice is socially engaged, multidisciplinary, and heavily driven by a relentless fascination in psychology. Namely in the effects of societal and cultural norms on the human experience, with a specific focus on using art to facilitate human betterment.

This artwork’s particular sculpture and dark colour originated from a series entitled Sunken Embrace. The ‘sunken’ canvases explore my journey as a British-Muslim who grew up wearing the hijab (Islamic modest head covering and attire for women). For fear of appearing “oppressed”, I would avoid dark colours. This negative association with dark colours extended to my choice of clothes, home and art work. The frame-like display looks at portraiture, covering and containment. Which, apart from relating to the positive and negative experiences of wearing the hijab; also explores the many different human experiences in relation to one’s upbringing, society, culture or religion.

This new series is entitled The Death of the Mother, where I look at the turbulent relationship between my mother and I. Culturally, as first-generation British diaspora children, we have been brought up to put the parent on a pedestal. Culminating in a vicious generational cycle that elevates the parent to the status of infallibility. This risks absolving them of any fault or responsibility for the emotional development of their children – especially if they are supposedly providing for every other need. Granted, the majority of immigrant parents hadn’t had the privilege of even thinking about anything else but surviving. This series explores how this dynamic change as the new generation gain privilege, stability and education.

Estrangement (2021) comes to mean the loss of a relationship between family members: in this case, my necessary estrangement from my mother. Coming as a result of being distant from her because of COVID-19, and having that space to reflect and finally admit her narcissistic abuse towards me (one key aspect being psychological and emotional abuse). Grief for an estranged parent is very complicated, and often feels just as close to losing them to death. We yearn for what might have been. We mourn for the loss of a part of our heritage. We feel nostalgia for a relationship that we once loved, at the same time, feeling nostalgia for a loving relationship that never quite was.  

Sunken Embrace (2019-20) helped me get over my fear of dark colours, and this series seeks to again embrace the bravery in vulnerability and process the ‘death’ of my mother. Starting out with the usage of dark colours to represent inadvertent “oppression”, then empowerment, and now through this painting, the freedom to use dark colours in abundance and unreservedly.

Estrangement incorporates the elements that my mother has passed down to me – the good and the bad, and the downright ugly. The framing design typically illustrated on Islamic prayer mats and Persian carpets represents my religious and cultural upbringing. Surrounding it is eroding gold-leaf, which represents my mother’s narcissism: one fundamental attribute of a narcissist being their superiority complex and delusion of grandeur. This eroding alludes to the loss of power and control (which is the narcissist’s supply) over the child.

The double portrait in the middle emblematic of her two sides as a mother, both of which failed: symbolised by two faces looking away. One connected to the baby she holds, representing this convincing facade of a caring and dutiful mother; simultaneously contrasted by the unconnected side, representing her duplicitous nature. Ultimately, both personas of her are inextricably intertwined. This is why I eventually like all children of narcissists, had to come to the conclusion that I couldn’t have a relationship with her, if I ever want to have a happy relationship with myself. 

Psychological and emotional abuse is often not taken seriously because it’s difficult to recognise and prove to others and yourself. But the long-term consequences can be just as devastating as physical abuse. I hope for Estrangement to raise awareness and inspire the viewers to evaluate all their relationships objectively. Nostalgia can be beautiful, but it can also be blinding.

Words: Muneerah Yate, BA (Hons) Fine Art, @muneerahyate.art

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