Tell Me 3 Things About Yourself

by Shameelah Khan

When a majority of people think about Cape Town, many things come to mind. The mother city, known for its increasing tourism, lush landscapes, high mountains and exquisite scenery. However, the Cape Town I speak of here is also one that does not come without its layering of nuanced complexities and deeper conversations, sometimes uncomfortable, confrontational and not without rigorous debates. 

Unearthing some of these conversations is a group exhibition at the newly opened Jaffer Modern Gallery ‘Tell Me 3 Things About Yourself’, featuring Abdus Salaam, Aimee Messinger and Sahlah Davids. Curated by Sara Moneer Khan- a British Muslim curator based in Cape Town for the last 5 years, where she has spent a large majority of her time researching Muslim visual literacy and art advocacy for her PHD. 

Khan explains that her intention for the exhibition was to present these three artists as three elements in conversation, three intervals of introspection and retrospection, three moments of pause and three invitations to dialogue and debate. The phrase “tell me three things about yourself”, often used as an ice breaker in conversations,  was a point of inspiration for the exhibition as a way of connecting people in the pandemic. The exhibition brings to light a new artistic disruption, one that invites the public to consider the curatorship of Islamic arts in South Africa, Identity-politics, notions of oneself and what lies beyond us.

Sahlah Davids, is an emerging artist and Michaelas Graduate born and raised in Cape Town and one to keep on your radar. She presents a visionary take on the Cape Muslim community describing “creation” as the product of the blended learning and trades of the Cape Muslim community, specifically the elders within her family.” Rooting her art within the “everyday”, where the personal meets the spiritual. The home space becomes a building space, where Davids’ draws on her lineage, her ancestral heritage, historical struggle and the embodiment of her spiritual connection as a young Muslim woman living in Cape Town, Having grown up with her grandfather who was a tailor and a grandmother, a seamstress, she explains, “The body of work places the viewer amid discussion, dispute, prayer, debate, ritual, a fight for freedom, cries of joy and sadness, dhikr, a march in solidarity, and lulled recitation.”



Similarly, connecting to the theme of spirituality, Aimee Messinger presents a body of work exploring the notion of Oneness. Her work is embedded in the nature of the breath and the grounding of oneself within that which keeps everything connected and alive. Through the grander notion of “The Sublime”, Messinger taps into existential and philosophical questions of feelings of interconnectivity and a sense of feeling “overwhelmed” through her work. In many ways, on her canvas lies a world of extended breathing, meditation, life and death. 



Last, but not least, Abdus Salaam presents a moving tale of minimalism and poetic multimedia praxis. His recent body of work ‘Falls of Abundance’ regards “ the nature of creation as shadows and the singular light from which those shadows are cast.” In contrast to that of Messinger, Salaam presents an explorative journey of “light painting”.  Through an oeuvre of material, Salaam utilizes clay, glass, paint, video and photography to evoke a sense of light and balance. He offers these intersecting materials as a way of connecting the poetic process to the spiritual one.  



The exhibition offers a meaningful and insightful negotiation of space, art and the self. In Islamic Philosophy, there is a theory about the difference between enfolding and unfolding. 

“…unfolding requires a certain force, a desire to bring something into actuality. Some things resist unfolding. To emphasize that resistance- and that images are the manifest, outer layer of a deeply enfolded source – I introduce two terms used in Islamic thought, principally in Shi’ism and Sufism, to describe manifest and latent states: Zâhir and Bâtin. Zâhir implies outer forms, a surface, that which is manifest and explicit; it is used to describe the meanings of the Quran that are available to all. Bâtin  signifies enfoldedness, and the deeper, implicit meanings that may potentially be explicated” (Marks, 2009). 

Here, we have an exhibition that on first glance presents you with an enfolding, however, when you dig a bit deeper, you begin to unwrap the openings as they begin to unfold. What is beneath the surface also swims around inside of you as an ocean of questions. It turns out, Cape Town does present to you, a space of joining rather than separation, a space of unearthing rather than overpriced building, a space of cosmic relief and excavating of the past, the personal and the spiritual. 


The Tell Me 3 Things About Yourself
Thursday 4th March – Saturday 10 April 2021 
View online:
Jaffer Modern, 7th floor Vïb hotel, 181 Main Road, Green Point, Cape Town. 

Gallery opening hours Monday to Friday, between 09h00 and 17h00, and on Saturdays between 09h00 and 17h00. 

For more information contact