Imran Perretta (pictured) was one of 10 creatives who received the one-off bursary in place of the 2020 Turner Prize,
which was cancelled due to the Covid-19 crisis (Credit: R Hylton)

Artist Imran Perretta captures Muslim angst in post 9/11 world

by LAUREN CODLING

AN AWARD-WINNING British Asian artist has expressed his delight at receiving a £10,000 prestigious bursary prize, admitting he is “thrilled to be recognised for his work”.

Imran Perretta was one of 10 creatives who received the one-off bursary in place of the 2020 Turner Prize, which was cancelled due to the Covid-19 crisis. Announced earlier this month, the bursary was given to artists for their “significant contributions to new developments in British contemporary art”.

Perretta was applauded by the jury for his most-recent work, the destructors. The film draws upon Perretta’s experience as a young man of Bangladeshi heritage, featuring young Muslim men invited to participate in a series of roundtable discussions about issues affecting them.

In an interview with Eastern Eye, Perretta revealed he was surprised by the announcement – “but thrilled to be recognised for (his) work.” On the destructors, Perretta said he wanted to give an intimate account of Islamophobia from the point of view of someone from a background similar to his own.

“It is so important for people to hear a first-hand account of what it can be like to ‘come of age’ in a post-9/11 world where young men from south Asian Muslim backgrounds, among others, are constantly seen as a threat,” the London-based artist explained. “Coming to terms with this through adolescence into adulthood is a fraught and complicated process and I wanted to create an equally complex work that spoke about this.”

A still from the destructors

Within the film, the faces of the protagonists are hidden. This is a recurring theme within Perretta’s work, known to concentrate on issues related to marginality, state power and identity. For instance, his 2017 film installation brother to brother featured several shots of an individual with their face obscured by a hood.

Keeping the men’s identities hidden in the destructors was a response to the heavy surveillance and overpolicing of British Muslim communities, he explained. He noted the government’s counter terrorism Prevent programme – training courses in schools which aim to stage interventions with vulnerable individuals they believe may turn to terrorism. “(Strategies such as these) forcibly take away people’s privacy and presume them to be guilty until proven innocent,” he said.

Partially hiding the identity of the actors was also a way to give them the anonymity they needed to honestly talk about their lives without fear of being silenced or punished, he added.

Perretta grew up in south London, the son of a Bangladeshi mother and Italian father. Although he said it was a “dream” to grow up in a place where diversity was common, he did experience “intense racism and bigotry” during his childhood. “The destructors is a film that deals with some of these harsh realities,” he said.

the destructors (shown at Chisenhal Gallery) the destructors is shot on location in Tower Hamlets, east London

Asked what the bursary would be going toward, Perretta revealed he would be giving away some of the money to local charities – and to the area where he grew up. “There are many individuals and families that rely on support and solidarity from the community and I want to help where I can,” Perretta said.

However, he is also conscious of saving some money as he predicted 2021 could be a “rough year” for people in the creative sector. Like many others, Perretta has faced challenges during lockdown. In his personal life, his family have dealt with illness during the crisis, and there has been some shifting of care responsibilities. “This has been true for so many families during this time so there is some comfort in knowing that we aren’t alone,” the cinematographer said.

Although he admitted creativity had been quite hard to come by during lockdown, Perretta has used the opportunity to catch up on much needed life admin – working on some DIY in his flat. “It’s been really nice to work with my hands for a bit having spent so much time over the last few years editing films and composing music for long hours in front of a computer screen,” he said.

Asked if he had any exciting projects coming up, Perretta admitted it was hard to look too far into the future at the moment because of the pandemic. However, he is slowly piecing together a new film project. “I also have a couple of exhibitions that will open in different parts of the world in the not too distant future,” he said, “so there is much for me to be thankful for.”

The destructors is produced by Chisenhale Gallery and Spike Island, Bristol, and commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery; Spike Island; the Whitworth, The University of Manchester; and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead.
Feature image: R Hylton