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Q&A with Haleema Ali

We sat down with Haleema Ali to talk about why she got involved with Green Space Dark Skies

Tell us about your work and how it connects with nature

I’m an ‘artivist’ – I use art and creativity as a form of activism. I tackle issues such as climate justice by curating workshops, exhibitions and art to highlight the problem and galvanise the community to work together to forge solutions. I also love looking out for ways to incorporate nature in my art – whether that’s by creating pretty floral henna designs, decorating pebbles with my youngest siblings during lockdown or using leaves as a canvas. I also try to think of ways to create art more sustainably. I am nowhere near perfect in that regard, but it’s something I’m working on. One of my favourite workshops is where I ask young people to create collages of the earth to highlight issues of climate change, by using torn pieces of old magazines – a great way of repurposing things!

 

Why did the Green Space Dark Skies project interest you?

It sounded like such a magical experience! I watched the short films made of the previous events and they looked breathtaking. It’s a great way to bring people from different backgrounds together. Just as art is a universal language, so is nature! I think there’s something quite profound about going on a journey across land which has been walked upon throughout history.

The Green Space Dark Skies project also ties in with my faith, as there are many spiritual aspects to immersing ourselves in nature. In Islamic history, there are countless examples of Muslims who treated the earth as sacred – it is said that the entire earth is a prayer mat. Prophets would meditate in nature spaces such as caves. Muslims are taught the concept of stewardship – being caretakers of the earth and ensuring it is taken care of for future generations. Across many religions, we also find that natural landmarks like mountains are where pilgrimages take place

Haleema sitting in the sun
Haleema standing in an open field

What are you hoping to get out of Green Space Dark Skies personally?

Apart from being spiritually connected with the countryside, I love the refreshing feeling of exploring different areas. I haven’t explored all of The Chilterns yet, so to be able to do that as well as lighting up the space as a ‘Lumenator’ is exciting! Also, as I’m an artist, I’m hoping the experience provides me with inspiration for creating some art.

 

Why do you think it’s important to encourage diversity in landscapes?

I pondered on the journeys our ancestors made, trekking across foreign lands, migrating here.

They were connected with nature in their day to day lives, but when they left their homelands, that was often lost. Unfortunately they had to switch their priorities to survival and that coupled with the fear of racism, meant that many left their traditions of spending time in nature. Children of immigrants and diaspora communities are often viewed as strange. It made me remember a term, “Ghuraba”, which is the idea that Muslims are perceived as strangers. But being strange or weird doesn’t have to be a bad thing – in fact, I think that’s what makes life interesting! We should embrace our strangeness and what better way to do that than to explore beautiful lands together? I would hope that we stamp out discrimination and racism and have a world where people like me are able to explore nature, without the fear of safety.

What does the countryside mean to you and why do you want other young people to get into nature?

The pandemic opened my eyes to the world around me. My little brother has a rare life threatening liver disorder, so my family were told to shield for the first 3 months of the pandemic. We weren’t allowed to do daily walks like others, but were lucky enough to have a garden. I was craving the outdoors and eventually when we were allowed out for socially distanced walks, I noticed the natural beauty all around me. Despite the devastation and lives lost, being forced to walk in our local area meant that I accidentally stumbled upon stunning natural spots right under my nose. From bluebell woods creating a breathtaking carpet, to wondrous hills and fairy gardens to spot in the trees to my sheer delight. It was an unexpected surprise. I hope I can unearth more surprises in the Green Space Dark Skies event!

Being in the countryside makes me feel like I’m going back to my roots. It’s a place to see the great wonders of the world and find hidden treasures in the form of plants, dotted around the earth, like gemstones. Taking time to think, reflect and breathe in the fresh air is so important to our health and wellbeing, especially in unprecedented times, where lives are often taken up by technology.

I’m in my 20s so my message to young people is don’t wait for a pandemic to see what’s out there! Switch off from digital life. Let sharing stories over a campfire be your TikTok and soaking in glorious landscapes be your Instagram.

What are you doing next?

I hope to embark on more adventures exploring as many areas of natural beauty as possible, as well as creating art to document my journeys.

 

You can also follow Haleema on social media:

twitter.com/contacthaleema

instagram.com/contacthaleema