The Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and the Aga Khan Centre Gallery are delighted to present Football and Religion: Tales of Hope, Play and Passion, an exhibition exploring the relationship between football and religion and how the two often overlap in both expected and unexpected ways. The show celebrates football’s ability to champion social causes, promote marginalised voices, and create opportunities for inclusion and diversity in ways no other sport can.
The exhibition centres around a series of new artworks created by visual artist, illustrator and animator, Ed Merlin Murray. These include a series of short animations presented as an immersive installation across three walls of the gallery. These animations depict interviews with male and female football players, describing their journeys and relationship between football and religion. The players selected are from across the world and at different stages of their careers; from Aska Nasir, a 17-year-old south Asian player in the early stages of her career, to Cheikhou Kouyaté, a Senegalese professional footballer who plays for Premier League club Crystal Palace and Linvoy Primus MBE, an English former professional footballer who played for Portsmouth and Charlton Athletic FC.
Ed Merlin Murray has also created portraits of players in the form of traditional football cards presented as a football team. This unique team also includes portraits of Dr Zafar Iqbal, Head of Medical at Crystal Palace FC, Hannah Finlayson, Club Co-ordinator at Abresham Girls FC and Matt Baker, Director of Sport Chaplaincy UK.
The phenakistiscope offers an interactive element to the exhibition. Developed in 1833 and regarded as the world’s first GIF creator, it is a revolving turntable piece that reveals a moving image when it is filmed. Murray has perfected his use of this unusual technology to present striking moving imagery best appreciated through a camera lens.
Contextual historical and contemporary narrative is provided by important collaborations with a variety of organisations and specialists in the field of football through a selection of books, magazines and newspaper articles, relevant objects, and artefacts. These include the loan of items from the National Football Museum in the form of a song sheet for the FA Cup final including the hymn Abide with me and a cigarette card of a player who was devout Christian and refused to play on Good Friday and Christmas Day throughout his career.
Continuing the link between historical references and modern-day life is archival material on the infamous Netty Honeyball. Also referred to as Nettie J. Honeyball, she was the founder of the British Ladies’ Football Club, the first known women’s association football club, and one of their players until spring 1895. This will be shown alongside A Woman’s Game: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Women’s Football by Suzanne Wrack, published June 2022. As the English women’s football team, the Lionesses, won the Euros in front of one of the largest audiences ever this summer, this exhibition seeks to shine a light on how far women’s football has come internationally.
Dr Mark Doidge Principal Research Fellow in the School of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Brighton has written a short piece on the social history of football and religion, which provides another viewpoint on the exhibition theme.
Other reference material includes the Shire Book on the Jewish Museum’s Four Four Jew: Football, Fans and Faith – a major exhibition in 2014, shown alongside Professor Anthony Clavane book Does Your Rabbi Know You Are Here? and articles on current issues around race, identity and inclusion.
There will be something for everyone; from eye-catching immersive illustrated animations to interactive art and a host of inspirational media that allow visitors to delve into the subject as much as they wish.