For immediate release, 15 April 2020. Contact for images: firstname.lastname@example.org
Leeds-born artist makes film on streets of Leeds to inspire art about Muslim childbirth
The inspiring and cinematic short film shows a little girl running in the streets of Harehills, East Leeds, as she watches pregnant Muslim women, played by models, walking past the Jamia Masjid Bilal Mosque on Harehills Lane.
A drone gives spectacular views as we fly over the rooftops of Harehills and surrounding areas, and St James’ hospital cinematically looms between the redbrick Victorian buildings of Bexley Road.
As it continues, we learn she is the daughter of the artist behind the film, 33-year old Natalie Lennard, who was born in Harehills and reflects on her memories of growing up in a multicultural community - in a quest to make a new radical art photo.
Natalie, who lived in Leeds from 1986 to 2005, is a fine-art photographer with international acclaim, and now lives in Sussex. The film was made as part of her 3-year long project, Birth Undisturbed, which aims to explore birth through history and culture, creating staged photographic scenes such as of the Virgin Mary, the Queen and Calamity Jane.
Inspired by her childhood in Leeds, she embarked on research of the Pakistani Muslim community of Leeds last December, and went on to photographically recreate a Muslim birth scene at West London Film Studios in February.
The final photo shows a Muslim father, played by actor Belal Sabir, whispering the Adhan prayer into the ear of his newborn baby, as his wife (played by Sweta Gupta) throws her head back in relief and exhaustion. The midwife, played by NHS midwife Rebekah Bookless, holds the cord until white and drained. Whilst their family pray around them, a doctor peeks in round the curtain. The Qu'ran plays on a speaker; there is bottled zam-zam (holy water), dates, and a small coiled twig - called the Flower of Maryam - which opens and blooms in water through the labour.
Natalie wanted to make the art piece to celebrate the Islamic ritual of the Adhan prayer, and show how it helps “inscribe family space within a clinical setting of a hospital birth”, as well as “help the protocol of delayed cord clamping, leading to it optimised iron levels, blood pressure and neurodevelopment in an infant.”
For Natalie, who has staged images of women giving birth in varying environments for her project, it occurred to her that no one has ever created a scene of a Muslim birth, and that to do so “goes behind the veil into an unseen mystery”.
As Islam itself prohibits the display of art featuring people, allowing only patterns and lettering, the piece is unprecedented in its presentation of a culturally intimate scenario.
But Natalie believes that the piece will educate and inform, as well as inspire both Muslims and birthing families universally, to “honour peace at birth”.
The making of the film spanned four months in total, and the picture itself was shot in one day, after weeks of research.
“I wanted to make sure to build a positive and fair representation of Muslims in my image,” says Natalie, who spoke to many Muslim women and midwives through her research to learn about the religious customs and how to depict them.
“In the final photo I had five Muslims in my team on set, who were able to advise and make suggestions on how to place the props, and what Muslims would or wouldn’t do. I was also keen not to show nudity.
“It is Islamic practice to recite the Adhan call to prayer into the ear of every newborn baby, as the first indication of Islamic belief, and is said to wards off ‘shaytan’ (the devil) who is believed to be present everywhere, immediately upon birth.
“For many Muslims the Adhan prayer is said in the hours following, when the baby is cleaned and wrapped. But I was interested to learn that some Muslims choose to do it immediately, as soon as the baby comes out, with the cord attached. Not only does it mean the Islamic ritual is honoured as soon as possible, but it serves as a useful device to keep the cord attached to a baby for longer, to ensure all the blood flows from the placenta to the baby.”
Midwife Amanda Burleigh, of Wait for White and Optimal Cord Clamping initiatives (twice Midwife of the Year in Yorkshire Evening Post 2012 and British Journal of Midwifery 2015) spoke of her intrigue in the project.
“For 50-60 years we have interrupted the natural physiological process of placental transfusion by implementing immediate cord clamping, an intervention which has no evidence base to say this is safe and on the contrary deprives the baby of approximately 30% of their intended blood volume, including red blood cells, white blood cells, stem cells and other unknown benefits.
“Research shows that early clamping can cause iron deficiency anaemia which impacts on neurological development and social skills, which in turn impact on each child's long term health and future prospects."
Natalie’s end aim was to make art that converges science, nature, and religion. Through the lens of her childhood memory, she said she is delighted with the result and the positive feedback from her 32k audience followers on Instagram and on her website, Birth Undisturbed.
Her wider series Birth Undisturbed has received acclaim from awards and press worldwide.
For more information see www.birthundisturbed.com