Set in the serene St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art, photographer Liz Hingley’s Under Gods: Stories from the Soho Road is quietly thought-provoking and provides a thorough and honest assessment of true multi-culturalism. In one of the poorest parts of Birmingham, Soho Road is home to a huge variety of religious denominations; Sikhs, Hare Krishnas, Buddhists, Jains, Polish Catholics, Baptists, Muslims, Anglicans and Hindus all feature in Hingley’s portraits of the road’s residents.
The photographs celebrate the possibility – and, indeed, the reality – of successful integration of different cultural and religious groups. In Jain and Catholic Neighbours (2008-9), two young girls play together. One practises the sitar; the other poses in her communion dress. The grown-up equivalent is found in The Birmingham Faiths Forum Dinner (2008-9), which shows the annual meal attended by representatives from Birmingham’s Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Jain, Muslim and Sikh communities. As the photographer notes, the varied menu reflects dietary requirements – and the effort involved in such an undertaking is indicative of an eagerness to foster integrative lifestyles.
Under Gods is not, however, relentlessly positive. Though community is undoubtedly a focal point of the exhibition, many of the images also speak powerfully of solitude and even forced isolation. The artist does not avoid potentially difficult representations of this: Alka Jain’s Personal Prayer Room (2008-9) shows a young woman, kneeling, with her face covered in a traditional prayer mask – which, to the uninformed, has a distressingly surgical look to it – as she is menstruating, and must pray but is forbidden from entering holy places.
Balanced, fair, and ultimately uplifting, Hingley’s work is refreshing in its unreverential, but nonetheless warm, treatment of religious life and modern communities. She is also opening Spiritual Object Portraits at Trongate 103, Glasgow, on 1 June.
Liz Hingley: Gods: Stories from the Soho Road, until 28 July, St Mungo’s Museum, Glasgow.
1. Courtesy of Liz Hingley, Sikh wedding, Soho Road Gurdwara.