Art – Photography

Mahtab Hussain


“The West’s loss of sincerity towards community is having a direct impact on cultural heritage. It is not these young men who are in crisis per sé; they are simply a metaphor for the crisis of British society as a whole.” – Mahtab Hussain

‘You Get Me’ is a photographic exhibi­tion which took four years to complete. It documents the lives of young Muslim men in Birmingham, exploring their changing identity and the evolution of British culture.

Each subject was born into a Thatch­erite Britain promoting the idea of no society in favour of the individual. Hussain believes the emphasis placed upon the individual in Britain since the 1980’s is in direct conflict with the lives and heritage of this youth which are firmly rooted in the concept of a collective society. But these young British Muslims live in a dichotomous vacuum, on the one hand wishing to be westernised and accepted and on the other struggling to maintain the balance of living within a community which is often insular and inherently seen to avoid integration with society at large. Hussain’s portraits are incredibly straightforward, placing emphasis on the sitter and not the artist in order to celebrate the individual. And he believes portraits ‘force a vital interac­tion between the sitter and viewer.’

But there is a hidden depth to Hussain’s work, which beyond the cultural influ­ences and existential prowess, paints a picture of hopelessness within a community brought about through segregation, racial subordination and a resulting trend of failure in education and employment.

Hussain says that this is because anger held by the community towards wider society has imploded giving rise to internal tensions, such as territorial postcode wars and violence against non- Muslims and Muslims alike. The result is a crisis of personal identity, fuelled by simplistic ideologies offered in Western media. Hussain hopes his work will go far to highlight the profound complexi­ties surrounding personal identity and the ongoing evolution of urban culture and create a powerful metaphor addressing the intricacies of Western, multicultural society on a wider level.


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