Interview: The Women’s Interfaith Network – 10 Years On 18 November 2013

As part of our interfaith special, we speak to Rosalind Parker from the Women’s Interfaith Network about their work over the past 10 years, and their upcoming exhibition celebrating their decennial.

Following 9/11, many interfaith organisations were set up in response to the event’s negative impact on community relationships. The Women’s Interfaith Network (WIN) is one example of such an organisation. Next year, they will be celebrating their 10th anniversary with a unique exhibition titled The Spirit of Womanhood. We spoke to Rosalind Parker from WIN about their work and the upcoming exhibition.

OR: Could you tell me a bit about your work over the past ten years?

RP: WIN is essentially an umbrella network for specific regional groups; a group is formed with the assistance of External Relations and Group Liaison Officer, Jackie Goymour, who networks interested people in the same area, brings them into contact with each other and helps maintain steady contact until the individuals are empowered to recruit more people to form an embryonic group. From here, WIN assists the group with small financial and secretarial input so they can start to become self-sufficient, and from then they maintain their own events, financed by a small contribution from each of their members, and usually organised by a chairperson or a few core team members.

OR: Where do you feel interfaith, and WIN, will be heading in the next 10 years?

RP: This touches my area of research more broadly. I think that the issue of how interfaith dialogue can be negotiated in the arts is an extremely timely one. Whilst academic developments in interfaith dialogue concerning theological leaders and research based institutes is thriving, I have found that there is much needed for conversation between this and work being done at a practical, grassroots level. I am concerned to bridge this gap – hence why we are running education programmes alongside the exhibition itself involving school children from deprived and local boroughs of London at KS 4 age, as well as running seminars with undergraduate theologians in various universities and holding open the debate wider into post-graduate higher education in research institutes.

I think the key thing to retain is that at this stage valuable lessons are to be had from exploring what exactly is meant by ‘inter-faith dialogue’ practically in terms of objectives for any arts or grassroots project that it is engaged with. It can mean a number of different things, and play out in a number of different ways, and often I find confusion in not being clear what exactly people mean by it – it’s often an area which gets very woolly. As far as I’m concerned, when engaged in arts projects, interfaith dialogue can serve a very valuable purpose in simply bridging that initial step where arts can be used to broker relationships. Leading on from this, but with a slightly separate objective is an interfaith dialogue which continues to sustain those ties threading initial contact into a fuller exchange of ideas and practices. There is also a very valuable role that the arts can play in providing a vehicle for expression, and a forum for that expression to be encountered which in this way challenges pre-existing conceptions of otherness, and can permeate certain ideas and stereotypes which can be harmful and misleading. I think it’s crucial to delineate these objectives as separate, though perfectly compatible in the same project, to be clear about what precise form your interfaith dialogue is to take.

OR: The Spirit of Womanhood exhibition seems a very unique and interesting fusion of artistic expression and interfaith dialogue. Where did the idea come from?

RP: The idea is something that has been in an embryonic stage within the organisation for a few years, as although this is the first specifically art-exhibition-geared project, the visual arts have been a great coming-together point for women across the organisation to meet. Creating art together is an extremely healthy environment for people to express their own individuality. It also serves a crucial function in inter-faith dialogue because the essentially subjective nature of the arts allows women to agree and disagree in a healthy environment, expressing opinions which may differ from each other in an entirely acceptable forum.

OR: What do you hope will be an outcome of the exhibition?

RP: One of the aims of the exhibition is to serve as a 10-year anniversary of WIN – a celebration of the organisation for the members themselves and also to raise the profile of the organisation and create awareness of what it is working to do.

A primary aim of the exhibition resonates with WIN’s broader aim: to bring women together, to form a network which connects grassroots to grassroots where individuals can then, informed by these new meetings, return to their communities and share this influence through wider society.

Practically, then, this can be broken down into two, more concrete aims: to provide a platform for women to exhibit their work, and from this to challenge and surprise expectations associated with faith-based and cultural communities.

The exhibition is an opportunity to raise the profile of the importance of creativity for women, the value of which is often overlooked, or not prioritised, especially in certain faith-based communities. Several women who I’ve come across working in this field are simply not recognised in their independent, expressive and creative potentials because (despite considerable talent and output in some cases!) it simply isn’t acknowledged as part of their daily routine.

By celebrating work that is being done in homes, studios and education centres across the UK we hope to give a chance, and a platform for recognition, to women who wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to exhibit their work.
In turn, we hope for this to surprise and uproot certain expectations, and correct some misrepresentations that are associated with particular faith-based and cultural communities living in the UK.

OR: Are you looking for pieces from professional artists or amateur artists or both?

RP: This exhibition is a celebration of female creativity. As such it is a platform for established and emerging artists alike. Whilst there is no specific judgment criteria on which artists will be selected beyond the merit of the individual pieces submitted, it would be wonderful if the exhibition celebrates established artists alongside women who have never had their work exhibited, and perhaps wouldn’t even necessarily call themselves an ‘artist’ per se, despite producing creative work of an extremely high standard.

The Spirit of Womanhood exhibition will be held in March 2013 at gallery@oxo at the South Bank, London. Details on submitting a piece of work can be found on event’s website – the deadline for submission is 30th November 2013.

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About On Religion Team

On Religion's editorial team is made up of postgraduate students and researchers of religion and across the UK.

all, Feminism, Interfaith, Interview