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Fluid Body: Performances

Ilyas Kassam and Mimi Nicholson

Performances exploring the liquid content of the human body and its theological significance.

On 24 Nov 2023,  Morphē Arts collaborated with Art + Christianity to host, Fluid Body an evening of performance, film and discussion exploring bodily liquids and their theological significance, at St Barnabas Dalston. The evening began with two performances by artists Mimi Nicholson and Ilyas Kassam, followed by a talk by theologian Dr Marika Rose. The evening was chaired by Prof. Ben Quash, a trustee of both A+C and Morphe Arts.

This video is of the performances only. The talk can be found here.

The evening explored the liquid matter of milk, sweat and blood in contemporary performance art and Christian theology. Through the nourishing acts of breastfeeding and prayer we sense the fluid interplay of life and its rhythms: from a mother’s milk for a new life to the sweat, tears and blood of suffering and death, and the fluidity of life in between. In Luke’s account of the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ desperate prayers in the moments before his death manifest in sweat, like drops of blood: an image of anguished life pouring out of the body.

Ilyas Kassam’s process is autonomic, performative, and works through the natural movements of the body. Through a deeply physical live painting performance, Ilyas explored the moment when the body becomes liquid and the liquid finds its fluid counterpart within the body. The fluid inside and outside intertwine in a constant state of reception and excretion.

Mimi Nicholson gave a performance in which she aligned herself with the art historical Maria Lactans tradition and that of the Annunciation: becoming a ‘living icon’. In this painterly tradition the prolonged sharing of milk from breast to mouth to sustain the newborn is a mundane, tiring and possibly even profane image. It provoked questions of motherhood, embodied life, and the dependence of Jesus on another for nourishment.-


Dr Marika Rose is Senior Lecturer in Philosophical Theology. She works at the intersection of systematic theology and continental philosophy of religion. After completing her PhD at Durham University, Marika spent two years working as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Durham before taking up a post at Winchester in 2016. Marika has been a regular contributor to Greenbelt as well as a member of the Ideas team for the past five years.

Born in 1986 in the UK, Ilyas Kassam is an Indian Ismaili Visual Artist and Poet. Drawing from Ismaili, Kufic, and Japanese calligraphic traditions, his works centres around the notion of infinity and the role language plays within the mystical experience. He was an exhibitor at the 2018 International Ismaili Islamic Arts Festival. His film ‘Ligare’ was screened in 2018 at TSS, Time Square, New York. In 2020 His exhibition ‘The Way’ was held at the institution of Port Art and Design Tsuyama, Japan, as part of a joint show with the infamous icon, Misuzu Kaneko. His painted works have gained recent acclaim due to his novel reimagining of ancient techniques. Ilyas is a self-taught artist whose education emerged out of an immersive 5-year period of meditation and self-discovery. In 2009 he visited the Kangra valley, India, where he spent months meditating in the cave of Baba Sant Ram. This experience gave birth to a prolific period of creative and philosophical inquiry. Ever since his work has been rooted in the esoteric, and has paid reverence to mystical traditions across the world. He has since studied under shamans, learning the language of plants at Schumacher College, and journeyed to the Guangxi mountains of China, to learn calligraphy with the Langshi Shifu. His process is autonomic, performative, and works through the natural movements of the body. With roots in Ismaili esoteric thought, he draws inspiration from expressionistic practices including the Bokujinkai and Gutai movements that emerged out of Japan in the 1950s. His practice seeks to create spaces and materials that embody a temple like theurgy, reflecting the inner architecture of his process; Where everything is unknown, emergent and runicaly spontaneous.

Mimi Nicholson graduated from Goldsmith’s BA Fine Art in 2020 and has since been reading for her MPhil in Modern Theology at Oxford. Her work uses limited domestic technology, materials and spaces in order to create performances of self-portraiture, usually in the form of photography or video. She has also worked in set design, installation, writing and painting, both collaboratively and independently. Through the use of persona – often as oblique subversions of well-known icons, characters or actions – Mimi’s work strives to interrogate the interplay of the unified self, before God, and the multiple selves of everyday existence. More recently, she has become concerned with the more explicitly theological implications of performance, especially in relation to the eucharistic body and the act of confession. Making, for Mimi, is a way of revelling in the wonderful breadth of expression available in the living body; with all its contexts, fleshiness, crude directness and nuance.

In 2017, Mimi co-founded Themselves, a multi-disciplinary network providing space for cultural-production and research, with other Goldsmith’s peers. She is currently Associate Editor of The Journal of the Oxford Graduate Theological Society. Mimi now lives with her husband and daughter in rural Buckinghamshire.

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