Soul in the Machine
A Visual Arts Exhibition by Khyle Alexander Raja
@ The Hubb Gallery, Birmingham, 2012.
In December 2011, Khyle Alexander Raja exhibited his Soul In The Machine collection for the first time at the Hubb in the UK’s second city, Birmingham.
With visual arts collaborations with renowned graffiti artist Mohammed Ali, and a launch night supported by poet David J Pugilist and percussionists Daniel Waples & Andy Mason, Soul In The Machine transported the audience on a spiritual journey to vast landscapes of technology, architecture and vivid science fiction.
Chris Shannahan, Methodist Minister & Researcher at the University of Birmingham:
“…there is a multifaith soul still beating, alive and kicking in the machine…It wasn’t a Muslim event or a Christian event or a Sikh event or a Hindu event or a Buddhist event or a Jewish event….It was a moment of shared spirituality in the city, a moment of clarity, shared journeying towards dialogue and justice, a witness to our common humanity and to the multiflavoured, multicoloured, multifaith, multicultural soul in the urban machine.”
Rev. Ray Gaston of the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, Birmingham:
“It is an expression of a dialogical Islam, an emerging Islam, engaging openly with a variety of spiritualities, cultures and art forms…”
Below, the Soul City Arts’ blog entry for Soul In The Machine guides you through the nights journey:
You have entered Birmingham, England’s second largest city. Take a bus to Sparkbrook, get off outside the Aldi supermarket on Stratford Road and walk towards the large, blue building on the right. On its walls is solely written the word ‘Hubb’. From the outset a strange visitor to an otherwise unremarkable tarmac floor court. A small door sits at the foot of the building, once opened leading you up a narrow and steep staircase. Some incense is burning and the noises of the bustling street outside make way for a steady hum of activity within. Opening the door reveals a totally different world.
Its true what they say, the Hubb is a unique gallery. Unique in its location in the heart of Birmingham’s ethnic communities, in its vision to bring arts to the every day lives of people, and with its artists, always pushing the boundaries of their respective fields be they poetic, musical or visual.
Within these white up-‐lit walls are many different people. Teachers, Architects, Artists, Students and families with small children. Young and old are here to experience a very different kind of launch. Adorning the walls as soon as you enter are the words ‘Soul in the Machine a journey of the soul through a technological world’. Besides it, the lexicon; a set of key words describing the theories and language behind the work. The artwork itself is by Khyle Alexander Raja, an Architect and Artist based in London with Blackstone Architects.
Our guests are forming a large circle around the edge of the gallery. Within the centre are two men with a collection of various exotic drums. Mohammed Ali enters the centre of the circle. Artist, co-‐founder of the gallery and creative director of Soul City Arts, he explains briefly that this is not your normal exhibition of calligraphy, Mosque design or ‘Islamic ‘Art’ as we know it. To explain this requires more than words, academia or treatise.
In steps David J, a spoken word poet dressed in a suite and sharp hat to match. He begins, pacing the floor, looking into the eyes of the guest, speaking of the pen and ink; the soul in the heart and the soul in the pen. The Soul in the Machine. The rebellious and discontented organism. Our undisputed Origin. The refining of oils, chemicals and these mixtures that bring together new life, new and unexpected reactions and elements. The Spiritual meets the lyrical as Daniel Waples, Hang Drummer, slowly taps his brushed steel orb with his fingertips. Andy Mason, fellow percussionist, joins him as hands strike leather, chimes breath softly, the Hand Drum resonates deeply and David’s voice climbs in intensity.
Khyle Alexander Raja enters the ring. He explains that again, this is probably not what we were expecting. The words Architecture, Art and Metaphysical all featured heavily in the language of this launch. But we find no domes or minarets, no steeples, no arabesque geometries or Arabic calligraphy. No explicit gestures we recognize or which fit to our pre conceived notions of what is Islamic artistic expression. What does this mean, as British Muslims in the 21st Century? It doesn’t mean a departure from our Origins, our direction towards the creator. Neither does it mean a heedless and repetitive replication of these forms and archetypes that have evolved across the word for over 1400 years. Instead, it is an expression that is deeply rooted in the words of our Origin, the revealed scriptures that brought the metaphysical and unworldly, into the worldly, consequently and fundamentally altering the course of humanity. A spiritual direction, a sacred geometry that cannot be so easily cut and pasted into place without deep, considered thought.
Why technology? To frame these complex notions in something we can engage with. Here, we see the machine, mindlessly replicating, exposed to a radicalizing force that alters the path, alters production, alters the outcome, steering it toward seeing the world in a new light; the light of faith blossoming within a world of thick, heavy and blinding matter.
Daniel Waples holds high the Hang Drum. There are only 400 in the whole world, an innovative instrument brushed smoothly to a dull silver; an unidentified disk of resonating sound. To acquire one means to write personally to its inventors in Switzerland, and even then there are no guarantees. It is an instrument to be respected. You can only know this by hearing its tones. Ghanaian maracas in one hand, the Hang Drum beating in the other, a beat achieved by the tapping of fingers across its surfaces and pits. A glance across to Andy Mason and the sounds become denser, stronger, evocative. David J re enters the ring, pulled in by this new rhythm. He begins to remind us of the path of the soul, breathed into the child, centered into the world, blown effortlessly from the body at its death. The soul flows through the pens and the hands, the tools, the techné, the technology. To sever it from the soul is to sever it from its creative artificer, the craftsman that inspires and drives it.
The sounds cease, the drums are hung, David recedes into the crowd which, having taken a breath, begins to murmur and confer thoughts, reactions and sensations after it’s journey. The sounds gather pace, the guests move amongst the work, watching as the Dawn over the Desert, a collaboration between artists Khyle Alexander Raja & Mohammed Ali, climbs outside of its frame and across
the walls of the Hubb. Cards, words and theories are passed between the visitors, who take away with them their experience. Daniel’s incense greets them as they descend the stairs. The cold December night air hits them as they approach the door. The Aldi carpark greets them with the sounds of Sparkbrook as they leave the Hubb.
The Soul in the Machine has no intention of leaving.