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Mahtab Hussain was born in 1981 in Glasgow. He received his first camera at the age of 17 and studied for his photography A Level at college. He went on to undertake a degree in History of Art at Goldsmith College, University of London, before continuing to an MA in Photography at Nottingham Trent University in 2013. A social commentary artist, Hussain’s work explores the relationships between identity, heritage and displacement.
Hussain’s practice addresses the Muslim community in contemporary Britain, bringing to light the political, socio-economic and racial issues involved in the formation of national identity. Made pertinent by the negative media representations of Muslim communities in the aftermath of 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings, Hussain’s work looks at the challenges faced by Muslims living in Britain.
In his series You Get Me, Hussain considers the changing identity of young, British, working class Asian men in Birmingham. Over the course of four years, Hussain made intimate portraits of individuals he had met whilst walking the streets of the city. Emphasising the empowerment of the sitter, Hussain’s portraits force the viewer to confront the individual in the image. The photographs reveal a crisis of personal identity amongst Asian men in Britain who straddle the cultural divides between the ethics of their religion and Western society. Hussain wanted to draw attention to the shame these men are encouraged to feel within larger society for both their religion and heritage.
Hussain has also undertaken a series, Honest with You, which looks at the developing group identity of British Muslim women. The series examines the motivations of those who choose to conceal their femininity by wearing the hijab as well as those who choose to reject it. The veil emerges through the series as a symbol of choice, and a rejection of what is thought of as the over-sexualised culture of Western society. The emergence of “hijabee chic” is documented in the combination of traditional Islamic dress and Western conceptions of fashion and beauty.
Awards and Publications
Hussain has received commissions from the Arts Council of England, the British Council, the Arts Humanities Research Council and Multistory. He has been the winner of the Curators Choice Award, Culture Cloud at New Art Exchange, Nottingham; and of the Format 13 Portfolio Review Award. Hussain’s commission from Multistory was published as The Quiet Town of Tipton by Dewi Lewis in 2015 and currently his You Get Me series is being jointly published by MACK and Autograph ABP with the support of Arts Council England.