A Chat With: Kiara Mohamed

As we look at LGBT+ arts in the Liverpool City Region, we catch up with Toxteth-based multidisciplinary artist, Kiara Mohamed, to discuss intersectional identities, using her art as a means to unlearn shame and how the city region can better support Black and other minority artists.

So Kiara, for those who don’t know you, tell us a bit about yourself…

“Hello! My name is Kiara Mohamed and I am a multidisciplinary Muslim Queer artist based in Toxteth. I work with photography, filmmaking and poetry. I am primarily concerned with addressing the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and care, particularly in relation to forms of community and social responsibility.” 

Your work often focuses on underrepresentation and marginalisation of minority groups. How has your personal experience as a Queer, Black, Muslim woman influenced this?

“The intersectionality of my identities mean that I experience different types of discrimination, sometimes all at once! Navigating the world has always been difficult because of the multilayered discrimination a person like me would face and to be honest it wears down on you. 

“Every day there’s a new fight to fight, or you continue to fight the old fight; sexism, racism, homophobia, islamophobia. Experience white supremacy in every aspect of my life and still find ways to continue to be soft and not hardened by a life of constant personal and collective discrimination. 

“And the world expects you to almost be hard because you’re perceived as “strong”. So my daily question is always “how do I find joy today?” And actively find it within my day to continue to be radically soft, loving and grounded and use this as a vehicle to create my art, in whatever medium it is in and tell the stories of people like me, living at the intersectional cross roads.”

On social media you talk quite openly about mental health and healing from your past experiences. Do you use art as a means of healing or making sense of the past?

“Unfortunately like many Queer Black people my story of trauma is not exceptionally different. I have a lot of intergenerational trauma to let go of, a lot of conditioning to unlearn. I am a great believer in being the chain breaker of trauma, it is difficult and painful work to undertake but it is not only for me, it is for my children and other Queer young  Black folks to show that healing is not only possible but we owe it to ourselves. We deserve to heal because we are worthy of healing. Trauma and shame come hand in hand, and for a long time I was ashamed of my trauma and I’ve learned shame holds us back. Through my art I unlearn shame bit by bit.”

In your recent film Home you reflected on the impact of the pandemic and how ‘home’ is not safe for all. Can you tell us a bit more about the project?

“I grew up in houses that were not a home to me; I grew up in houses that were battlegrounds, they were places that the most horrific abuse happened to me. I became homeless at 19 when I left home because I ran away from a forced marriage. 

“I now thankfully live in a house that is a loving home to me and the pandemic reminded me that was not always the case. And so naturally my thoughts wondered to all the people who I used to live like – days in and out experiencing honour based abuse, domestic abuse or are homeless. I created this film as a reminder that we need to think about people who are vulnerable, who we might personally know and even if they are not able to reach out, we need to reach out to them.

“We all have a duty of care to one another because we are all interlinked. We live in a society that is capitalistic and individualistic that the idea of community care almost seems foreign. But thankfully we can see that the pandemic has brought communities together and hopefully this care will continue beyond it.”

Where can people find more of your work to explore and what else are you working on at the moment?

“You can watch my films Home, Black Flowers and my latest film Founding Mother through my linktree via my social media. Founding Mother is a film about me being the future Black Queer foremother for my children and future generations to come. This is a commissioned work for The Royal Standard, which will be showing from 6th July- 26th July.

“I am also currently collecting stories of being Black and sick for a documentary. A lot of Black people experience racism whilst dealing with medics and from speaking to friends and family we all seem to know about it. Coupled with the fact that COVID is most likely to be caught by and kill Black and brown people the most shows that there’s a correlation here that needs to be explored. If you want to reach out, you can DM me on either twitter or Instagram.”

There have been many major events over the past few months, lockdown/COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and Pride month under lockdown. How have you coped with these and other events?

“My honest answer is I am tired and raw. I am reminded that I don’t actually know what life without racism looks like, personally. I have always experienced racism, some subtle and some not. I wonder what it would feel like to go to the doctors and they believe me when I tell them that I am in pain. I wonder what it would be like to work and no one make fun of my accent, ask me what country *am I really from* and that because I am Somali, I must be a terrorist. Or they call me Al Shabab. I wonder what it would feel like for white LGBTQ community members to not fetishise me because of my skin or to tell me that the racism I experience is the same as the homophobia they experience.

“Then the father of my children and I spend an afternoon debating whether to tell our kids about the uprising. Our oldest 10, already knows about racism, this would be the first time our youngest has The Racism Talk. Is five too young? Are we going to scare her? We don’t know but we want her to understand and perhaps it might protect her when she eventually experiences it because racism is the inevitable. We need to give them the tools and language in handling it when it arises.”

How have you approached those conversations with them?

“We sit the children down and tell them what the BLM uprising is and deeply talk about racism and how they too will experience what their parents and many Black people experience. Their dad then holds their small hands and looks them in the eyes and tells them he will always protect them. He then tells them there’s a reason why he’s not out riding his bike later in the night even though he loves riding as a hobby and that’s because he’s most likely to be stopped by police or harassed by people as they perceive him as a threat. 

“We watch them quietly try to absorb this information and visibly see their hearts sinking as they then tell us about all the times at school that the white kids made fun of their hair and their skin colour. My five-year-old then tells us that because she is a darker complexion than me and her sister, she is treated differently. Our hearts sink. We should have had this talk sooner with our five-year-old. We have failed her. We then talk about colourism in a way that a five-year-old could understand. We hug and repeat affirmations that we have taught them since they were small babies learning to talk. They are worthy. They are kind. They are smart. They are beautiful. They are loved. We hear these affirmations and we hope that this builds armour to protect them from racism, sexism and other possible isms. 

“We talk about my sexuality and my gender. How I don’t necessarily feel like a woman all the time and that I’m gender fluid. They ask if this means more people would be mean to me. I reply, I don’t know. After these talks, I return to my work more determined to tell the stories of the vulnerable and the hurting. This is how I am coping. Plus weekly therapy so I can cry, let go, rebuild my sense of self for another week of resisting and doing abolitionist work.” 

What more do you think can be done to support artists from minority and marginalised groups in the Liverpool City Region? 

“Money and opportunity. It’s that simple. Big art galleries do not hire enough Black, Queer artists from Liverpool. It’s so shameful. So many artists that I know that are based in Liverpool are either looking to leave for London or have already left. Liverpool is such a thriving city of talent and they’re not truly being shown care. That needs to change. And hire Black artists outside of Black History Month.”

This year LCR Pride Foundation’s theme is ‘Young At Heart’, which promotes the right for LGBT+ people to live happy, healthy lives, regardless of how they identify. Do you believe that art plays a part in wellbeing and overall health?

“When the world closed down we all turned to art to seek solace, wonder, reflection and inspiration. Art was the vehicle that helped process and relieve the pressure of our new realities and so it absolutely plays a big part in our well-being because art tells stories and those stories lead to a connection to our deeper self.”

What does Pride mean to you and how will you be celebrating this year, with many physical events cancelled?

“I’ve never gone to a Pride event and the start of this year I had promised myself I would but COVID happened. Thankfully I’ve been connecting online to groups such as the LGBTQ Somali community and Imaan LGBTQI and I’ve found somewhere where I feel like I belong 🙂 I’ll be tuning in to their virtual Pride events.”

You can follow Kiara on Instagram (kiaramohamed) and twitter (kiaramohamed1) and she has an online print shop here

Lead Image: “Black Lives Matter” by Kiara Mohamed