Hidden Islam - Introduction by Martin Parr, 2014
CONSIDER THESE FACTS. In Italy the right to worship, without discrimination, is enshrined within the constitution. There are 1.35 million Muslims in Italy and yet only eight official mosques in the whole country. Despite being the second largest religion after Catholicism, Islam is still not formally recognised by the state.This shortage of places to worship is particularly acute in north east Italy as the right wing Lega Nord party campaigns on an anti-Islamic platform. In this region, consent to build a new mosque is never granted. Being a rather prosperous part of Italy, there is a lot of demand for migrant workers. The people who take up this slack are very often Muslims.
One consequence of all of this is that the Muslim population have accumulated a huge number of makeshift and temporary places of worship. These are housed in a variety of buildings including lock ups, garages, shops, warehouses and old factories. Over the last five years, Nicoló Degiorgis has been exploring and photographing this unique feature of the region. One fascinating aspect of photography is that it can tell us about places and ideas that we would otherwise never experience. Degiorgis scores very highly on this front, as you could drive past many of these makeshift mosques without knowing they existed.
So, having discovered such a phenomenon, and determined to document this, the photographer had to try and gain access to the sites. In this case, access was all the more difficult because of the fragile relationship between local and Muslim communities.
After negotiating access, Degiorgis returned when prayers were in full swing, as he wanted to show the mosques in full use. Friday lunchtimes prayers being the best bet. He then had to find a good image. All of this is never as easy as it sounds, and Degiorgis has painstakingly pursued his task to the resolution we see within this book.
He then photographed the outside of as many of the temporary mosques as was possible. These photographs, shot in black and white, look like dreary images in a commercial estate agent’s brochure. Then, Degiorgis methodically categorised the buildings, from gyms to garages, into different groups according to their original or overlapping function.
In his book, the dull images of the many and diverse buildings that house the makeshift mosques are printed on folded pages. You open up the gate fold to reveal the scenes inside the mosques, shot in full colour. The size of the gatherings varies, from large crowds who sometimes pray outside, a small room full to bursting or intimate groups of two or three Muslims.
The contrast between the two styles of image cleverly conveys the central point of this body of work. I like the simplicity of this project. I also appreciate the rigour and anthropological nature of the work. Postcodes are given for every site, together with a detailed analysis of the types of building used.
Degiorgis provides a fascinating glimpse of hidden world and leaves the conclusions about this project entirely in our own hands.