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Graffiti artists see the light

We recently invited Mohammed Ali, a high-profile graffiti artist, to work with pupils to challenge their assumptions about the place of graffiti in their society. Many schools have graffiti on walls and in toilets, and our school, an 11 to 18 technology college, is no different. Graffiti often conjures up images of disaffected youth, vandalism and urban decay; our school is indeed in one of the most deprived areas of the UK, in Birmingham's inner city. The school, however, has been described as "an oasis" and has an enviable academic record of which we are very proud.

A group of pupils who were caught drawing graffiti took part in a series of graffiti art workshops, as part of our mentoring programme. Mohammed takes graffiti from walls to canvas, using the Arabic script as his art form.

These sessions were groundbreaking and we are not aware of any similar project elsewhere. The aim is also to promote peace and harmony through art within a multicultural environment.

Mohammed explained to pupils - including two in Year 7 who were caught "tagging" that morning - that when he was younger he indulged in the same practices. He also explained that vandalising property wasn't the way forward and showed them how to create art, using spray paint, on canvas.

Pupils later described the chance to work with Mohammed as "inspirational".

He fuses two different artistic forms by drawing on his faith and the energy of the streets to create a style that is western and Islamic. His inspiration is the Arabic script in the Qur'an, and he believes that mixing the street art of graffiti with religion is a more successful way for young people to connect with their faith. His aim is to inspire people by presenting Islamic calligraphy in a different form. By mixing Arabic and graffiti, he is experimenting with a new kind of Islamic art, which he calls Urban Spiritual Art.

l www.aerosolarabic.com

Richard Riley Senior tutor, Small Heath School, Birmingham

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