The way we see ourselves

NAE Academic in residence shares his thoughts on Mahtab Hussain’s ‘The Commonality of Strangers’

Artists often say that their works should speak for themselves and with Mahtab’s use of the sitter’s statements the artwork does speak for itself…this is the power in his work. The words of the individuals photographed and the absence of a name (quintessentially about identity and ancestry) channels the viewer into imagining the situation. The backgrounds, which dissociate the subject from any recognisable landmarks allows this imaging to take place.

The use of a limited palette and the limited range of backgrounds allied to expansive and poetic voices makes the portraits all the more powerful.

One of the key issues in racism is the psychology of the ‘other’ – people give their ‘own’ a diversity and richness, but the other becomes homogeneous and one-dimensional…they all become the same. So how do we break through this barrier? I will look at what can be done in later blogs and in my work at NAE. But for the time being we can look at the work of Mahtab and recognise the value of it in providing the essence of humanity, as an antidote to stereotypes.

Harminder Singh

NAE Academic in Residence

University of Warwick

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