Christ religion

Tales of Hope, Passion and Game (Aga Khan Centre)

IF ONE were to be told of a current football exhibition with female footballers as the main image, expectations would be high for an image of the Euro-winning Lionesses this summer. The very different focus of this exhibition becomes apparent as the key image features the Shimshali sisters – Sumaira Inayat and Karishma Inayat – who have been running, since 2018, the Gilgit-Baltistan Girls Football League, the first women’s football tournament run by women in Pakistan.

The sisters are Muslim and this exhibit, as a whole, focuses primarily on the current contribution of Muslims and Christians to football, as well as an archival exhibit highlighting Jewish and Christian contributions. The stories of female Muslim footballers included are a key aspect of an exhibit that challenges stereotypes on many levels. As Karishma says, “I represent an area that lacks basic facilities but encourages its girls to play football and break the patriarchy.”

The exhibition presents many stories of hope, passion and play in the lives of players and professionals, men and women. These stories are presented through a series of new artworks created by visual artist, illustrator and animator Ed Merlin Murray. These include a series of short animations presented as an immersive installation on three gallery walls, portraits of players and professionals in the form of traditional football cards presented as a football team, and a phenakistiscope, a rotating piece which reveals a moving image. when it is filmed.

Courtesy of the Aga Khan Center GalleryEd Merlin Murray, Yasmin Abukar — motion picture, 2022

As the curator, Esen Kaya, puts it, the exhibition will appeal to a wide audience, including young people “who might be passionate about football and dream of reaching the heights of success”; those who enjoy “conversations around football, religion, inclusion, diversity and identity”; and “those who might be pleasantly surprised by the inspiring stories from around the world”.

Murray’s digital animations and eye-catching pen portraits capture the spirit of those interviewed, who range from Aksa Nisar, a 17-year-old South Asian player at the start of her career, to Cheikhou Kouyaté, a Senegalese professional footballer who plays for Crystal Palace. Their stories, insights and experiences reveal how the worlds of faith and football are increasingly intertwined, as awareness of the cultural and religious needs of players and others involved in the game grows, and how societal attitudes and ideas are changing accordingly. .

Courtesy of the Aga Khan Center GalleryEd Merlin Murray, Matt Baker — football card, 2022

Murray is an artist, illustrator and animator whose commercial work is often found in the world of music, and whose personal work is largely focused on human consciousness and the brain, often depicting his own life dealing with mental illness (he is bipolar), and is informed by current thinking in the world of neuroscience. It was his urban and dexterous style of illustration and animation that caught Kaya’s interest in this exhibit, although Murray considers himself an odd choice, as he grew up hating the idea of ​​football and is a devout atheist. Interestingly, his experience of parenthood led to a greater appreciation of football, while his contact with faith footballers posed a challenge to his atheism.

That’s because the show celebrates football’s ability to champion social causes, promote marginalized voices and create opportunities for inclusion and diversity like no other sport can – like, for example, players pray on the pitch and fans observe religious rituals in tandem. It is also thanks to the commitment of figures such as Matt Baker, Country Director for England and Director of Pastoral Support in English Football, Sports Chaplaincy UK; and Linvoy Primus, a former English professional footballer involved with the Christian charity Faith and Football, who both combined their twin passions of faith and football for many years.

Among the archival documents presented, books such as Thank goodness for football! reveal that nearly a third of the clubs that have played in the English FA Premier League owe their existence to a church, while Four Four Jew: football, supporters and faith and Does your rabbi know you’re here? uncover a hidden history of Jewish involvement in English football.

The background documents also shed light on how far women’s football has come internationally, from archival material on Nettie J. Honeyball, founder of the British Ladies’ Football Club, the first known women’s football club, to A Woman’s Game: The rise, fall and rise of women’s football by Suzanne Wrack, to the Shimshali sisters. Christianity features in a song sheet for the FA Cup final which includes ‘Abide with me’; a cigarette card from a player who was a devout Christian and refused to play on Good Friday and Christmas Day throughout his career; and one Church hours article about the star players of the current generation of English footballers who embody Christian faith and values.

Viewing the archives highlights how far we’ve come when it comes to all of these aspects of the game and the communities that play it. For example, in the original “golden age” of women’s football, crowds of 50,000 gathered to witness the period before the Football Association instituted a ban in England which lasted from 1921 to 1970 and prevented member clubs from allowing women’s football on their grounds.

The current stories collected for this exhibition are, on the other hand, much more positive. Dr Mark Doidge, a senior researcher at the University of Brighton’s School of Sport and Health Sciences, in an essay written for the exhibition, argues that football “as a sport and as an industry should recognize that religion is a key part of many people’s identity and sense of self, and work hard to be inclusive for all.” This exhibit suggests that, for many, this goal is being achieved.

“Football and Religion: Tales of Hope, Passion and Play”, a multimedia exhibition with works by Ed Merlin Murray, is at the Aga Khan Center Gallery, 10 Handyside Street, London N1, until December 4.