We typically associate GIFs with either lowbrow internet memes or psychedelic net art -- both of which, though wonderful, don't usually carry much of a political message. London-based artist Sofia Niazi's GIFs, however, use the repetition inherent to the medium to create haunting meditations on loneliness and routine.
Her series "Women of the WOT" depicts, in clean lines and bright colors, the daily habits of women whose lives have been irreparably damaged by the effects of the "War on Terror." These are the women the war left behind, whether their husbands were arrested, deported or worse. Each GIF captures a simple domestic motion -- one woman sets the table while another changes the channel -- communicating a continuous loneliness that, like the animated image, loops on forever.
"I was looking at the daily routines that had emerged for some of the women after their family members had been arrested, detained or extradited and was struck by how repetitive and difficult their situations must have been," Niazi explained to The Huffington Post. "I was exploring ways of storytelling through the internet and it felt really appropriate to explore these routines using GIFs. I hope the GIFs and images communicate the everyday reality that people, these women and families, are confronted with and the maddening repetition of their prolonged situations."
In the series "Videos of the WOT," Niazi renders black-and-white drawings of Muslim women talking to the mainstream media. The images all link back to YouTube footage of the original videos, encouraging viewers to digest more information regarding the portrayal of Muslim women. "The drawings of videos I did were about sharing and collating many of the personal accounts of different women and family members. I wanted to create a series of images that showed some of the videos I had seen and I wanted to highlight the fact that many videos and stories are available for people to find out more about the various cases."
Niazi explained the political motivations behind her work to Hyperallergic: "I feel that art has a specific role within activist movements: the ability to articulate the sentiments of a larger group or movement and the ability to communicate and inform people about certain issues. But I think it’s just one link in a much bigger chain. I hope my work makes it clear that the injustices brought about by the 'war on terror' and the suffering of the people affected is not going unnoticed."
Both of Niazi's series subtly raise awareness regarding oft unseen ramifications of war and anti-Muslim sentiments in a post 9/11 world. One doesn't often think of how a global war affects the private goings on of a stranger's living room across the world.
"I’ve known about a lot of the cases for a while, some of the families affected are from my local area so I've seen how relentless their struggles for justice have been and how unfairly the cases are reported in the media," Niazi continued in our interview. "It was after I read Victoria Brittain's book Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror that I realized the extent to which anti-terror laws were eroding civil liberties. Reading about the lives of the women in the book really shed light on aspects of these cases that are rarely revealed in mainstream media; the way families are torn apart, the trauma of having police raids and being under house arrest, the uncertainty of outcomes even when family members have been cleared of all charges."
"Even now, Talha Ahsan, who was extradited to America last year, is still being held by US authorities despite being 'freed' by the court in July and Shaker Aamer, who has spent over 12 years in Guantanamo Bay, endures yet more time in the detention centre despite having been cleared for release years ago. I felt that there was something that illustration could contribute to raising awareness about these issues."
See more of Niazi's work below and let us know your thoughts in the comments.