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Solent Unviersity Southampton logo

Manifesting the Unseen: Southampton 2021

27 May - 9 October 2021
Solent Showcase Gallery, Southampton City Art Gallery and across the city of Southampton


A drawing of a golden sun on a blue background with gold geometric lines
Image credit: Jeea Mirza

The West uses the East as an inverted mirror, imagining them to be everything the West is not.
Edward Said

Manifesting the Unseen seeks to remove barriers and reveal hidden truths through creating a discursive space to subvert the ‘Orientalist gaze’ and experience the unique artistic language of Islamic art and its modern cultural expression. It began as a discussion on the invisibility of marginalised identities in public space and how for many in the West, Islamic art remains a hidden treasure. In 2018 this collective of established and emerging Muslim women artists first came together for an exhibition in London where they invited the viewer to see the unseen and challenge their perceptions of Islam and Muslim women.

The visual artists in Manifesting the Unseen share an interest in the unifying principles of Islamic art, its origins within the inner realities of divine revelation and its perfect balance of science, art and spirituality. Their work focuses on the essence of things, seeking not to replicate nature but to convey what it represents; revealing what is unseen until nothing remains hidden. The works in Manifesting the Unseen aspire to reflect the infinite nature of Allah; the creation of the pieces becomes an act of devotion for some, and a reflection of faith for others. Through engaging with these themes, viewers are invited to contemplate the idea of oneness and how from unity, all diversity emerges.

In bringing the exhibition to Southampton the collective have produced new work inspired by the city’s maritime history and its reputation as the ‘Gateway to the World’. This deep connection to the sea and the stars, that have for centuries been used to navigate and explore the world, is one shared with Islam. During the medieval period the fields of astronomy, geometry, navigation, trigonometry and cartography blossomed through the work of scientists in the Islamic World. This pursuit of knowledge was partly inspired by the specific requirements in Islam that mean Muslims need to determine the direction of Mecca, and the time for prayers, from any place on earth. Artists were asked to consider this shared history and to develop new work, reflecting in particular on the following verse from the holy Quran.

And He it is who appointed the stars to you, that you might guide yourselves by them through the darkness of land and sea. We have distinguished the signs for a people who know.
The Quran, Sura VI, verse 97 (Al-An’am)

The Journey...

Solent Showcase Gallery is honoured to have been working with the Manifesting The Unseen collective since 2019. Manifesting The Unseen is an arts and culture project that seeks to expose new audiences to Islamic art and its modern cultural expression. Led by and featuring Muslim women it was originally born out of discussions about the invisibility of marginalised identities in public space and how Islamic art remains a hidden treasure for many in the West. Curator and poet, Nazia Mirza, brought together a collective of Muslim women creatives to deliver their extremely successful exhibition in London in 2018. Southampton based artist Nazneen Ahmed and Curator Kate Maple hoped to one day invite Manifesting the Unseen to Southampton. Covid-19 and the lockdowns of 2020 unfortunately halted exhibiting the full exhibition in Solent Showcase Gallery, but in a true example of collaboration in the gallery scene of Southampton, Southampton City Art Gallery was able to come forward to host the artist collectives work for Manifesting The Unseen - Southampton 2021.

Manifesting The Unseen: Southampton 2021 is an exhibition with many elements that will see the celebration of Islamic art across the city.

Exhibition opening times

Southampton City Art Gallery
27 May - 9 October 2021
Monday – Friday: 10am - 3pm (last entry 2.30pm)
Saturday: 10am - 4pm (last entry 3.30pm)
Closed Sundays

Solent Showcase Gallery - window exhibition - Jaali

Solent Showcase Gallery are proud to present two local artists Nazneen Ahmed and Abeer Kayani, in our window space twinned with the Manifesting The Unseen: Southampton 2021 exhibition at Southampton City Art Gallery. Inspired by the Manifesting the Unseen project, these two artists have worked in collaboration and mentorship to create a special installation, with large scale textile pieces by Abeer Kayani and small embroidered works stitched by Nazneen Ahmed and women from the Women’s Integration Group in Northam. This new window display brings together ideas of Islamic geometry, Islamic architectural principles, but also local Southampton spaces and architecture.

The artistic work of local Muslim women in particular is largely absent from the city’s established cultural spaces. Through exhibiting the work of the Manifesting the Unseen project at Southampton City Art Gallery, as well these commissions, this project seeks to make the creativity of British Muslim women artists visible to the city of Southampton and the wider Hampshire community, thereby fostering greater appreciation of the cultures of the growing British Muslim communities in the region.

The display will also integrate pieces made during workshops before the pandemic by the Women’s Integration Group at West Itchen Community Trust in St Mary’s, SO14.

BENCH continues

Solent Showcase Gallery and GO! Southampton's ongoing city centre project BENCH evolves during Manifesting The Unseen: Southampton 2021. Two artists from the Manifesting the Unseen collective, artists Sara Choudhrey and Aziza Iqbal, will each produce a new design for two benches in their unique styles.

Additional info

Alongside the visual arts, and in keeping with the rich tradition of poetry in the Muslim world, Manifesting the Unseen will once again also invite a series of established and emerging Muslim women poets to create new work alongside our visual artists which will be performed at a Mehfil (recital) as one of a series of events offered as part of the exhibition. The exhibition will also feature a panel discussion with artists, talks, artist led tours of the exhibition and a series of free workshops offering the public the chance to learn about and practice: Islamic geometry, painting and illumination and calligraphy (subject to current government Covid-19 guidelines).

Manifesting the Unseen will also work with Solent Showcase Gallery to host a special ‘How we did this?’ training workshop to support local creatives from Muslim and other minority backgrounds to learn from our experiences.

Artists Appearing in Manifesting The Unseen: Southampton 2021

Mobeen Akhtar

Sara Choudhrey

Abeer Kayani

Shaheen Kasmani

Maaida Noor

Nazira Bibi

Aziza Iqbal

Jeea Mirza

Amber Khokhar


Nazneen Ahmed

Rakaya Esime Fetuga 

Sukina Pilgrim

Saraiya Bah

Muneera Pilgrim


This exhibition would not have been possible without the generous support of the Arts Council National Lottery Project Grants and Solent Showcase Gallery.

Manifesting The Unseen Curator: Nazia Mirza with support from Jeea Mirza and Sara Choudhrey

Co-curator: Kate Maple, Solent Showcase Gallery, with support from Asten Holmes-Elliott.

Manifesting The Unseen
Instagram: @manifestingtheunseen

Southampton City Art Gallery
Civic Centre
Commercial Rd
SO14 7LY
Instagram: @SouthamptonCityArtGallery
Twitter: @ArtGallerySoton
Facebook: SouthamptonCityArtGallery

Solent Showcase Gallery
Sir James Matthews Building
157-187 Above Bar St
SO14 7NN
Instagram: @solent_showcase_gallery
Twitter: @SolentShowcase
Facebook: /solentshowcase

The Solent Showcase Gallery would like to thank the generosity of Southampton City Council and all the Southampton City Art Gallery staff for offering us the opportunity to still exhibit this important exhibition in their space.

Logos for Manifesting the Unseen, Solent Showcase Gallery, Arts Council England, Southampton City Council

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