Tapestry of Colours Documentary

Filmmaker Zhenia Mahdi-Nau explores the emergence of different cultures in Northern Ireland in new documentary

As an artist based in Northern Ireland for over 20 years, my work has tapped into my interest and experiences in film and photography, painting and illustration, music, fashion, digital art and motion graphics.

In recent years, however, I have become increasingly intrigued and fascinated by the changing face of Northern Ireland and the questions of identity and belonging that shape individual and community life here.

I was born in Iran and, speaking no English and unaccustomed to the ways of the West, I moved to London as a child. Thrown into school life, necessity ensured my total integration into the English culture, which I fully embraced. With limited exposure to my birth culture as I grew up, I have felt less and less affinity with it as an adult.

Living in the Half Light, a ten-minute documentary short that I produced in 2009 with funding from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council, explored the challenges experienced by children and young people living in Northern Ireland from different ethnicities.

The film echoes some of the challenges I faced when I moved to the UK as a child. It highlights the concerns that are invariably added to these children’s typical growing pains as they grow into 'normal' adulthood whilst dealing with issues of race, religion and otherness.

Working with various community groups, focusing on diversity and equality, engaging young people in music workshops, visual arts classes, film and photography, I began to see the potential for positive social change in Northern Ireland through art, and particular through film.

The idea for Tapestry of Colours, my new feature-length documentary funded principally by the Community Relations Council’s Media Fund, began as a follow up to Living in the Half Light. Initially I intended it to be a half-hour documentary exploring the different cultures that make up the new panorama of Northern Ireland. I was concerned with how cultures merge and fuse together to create new cultures.

However, in the eight months of its development, Tapestry of Colours took on a life of its own. It became a labour of love, with a strong emphasis on music. Even some of my own vocals ended up on the film!

What has always fascinated me are personal stories, and using art as a means to portray those stories and create meaningful connections with viewers. Tapestry of Colours became a vehicle for that philosophy. Filming it, I heard stories from musicians, a doctor, a Zumba trainer, a barber, a minister and many others.

The final film, which I will be screening in various venues across Northern Ireland over the next few months, features interviews with 23 different subjects, people of diverse backgrounds, from the two traditional cultures in Northern Ireland and from other backgrounds. Their accounts were interesting, at times very challenging, even funny, often moving and inspiring.

My aim in making Tapestry of Colours was to explore the perception of identity in Northern Ireland as it becomes progressively diverse, multifaceted, probed and challenged, often in unsettling ways. The film poses questions about attitudes toward identity and culture that are commonly asked not just in Northern Ireland but across Europe and in areas around the world where large migrations occur.

It is my hope that Tapestry of Colours will highlight the fact that, despite our differing beliefs and cultural practices, these differences ultimately direct, instruct and enrich our society. The quest to discover who we are, and to achieve a sense of belonging, is not unique to any particular culture. It is that sense of belonging that helps to create the desire to contribute positively to the society we live in.

I am always happy to work with organisations on promoting equality and social change through creative means. To enquire about holding screenings of Tapestry of Colours, please contact me at info@zmncreativestudio.co.uk.

Tapestry of Colours begins a tour of venues across Ireland on February 22 at the Old Court House Arts Centre in Antrim, finishing in the Alley Theatre in Strabane on May 25. Visit the Mahdi-Nau's website for information on forthcoming screenings.