YOU GET ME?
At the center of Mahtab Hussain’s work is
the struggle that young, culturally Muslim
men face to develop an identity while
growing up in modern-day Britain. The
project title—You Get Me?—simultaneously
invites and deflects. In long form, the
same question could be: Do you care to
understand who I am, what I am about,
and where I come from? While much news
attention is given to the subject of Muslim
men in Britain, and more broadly in Western
society, the media’s reductionist approach
to these and other nuanced issues leaves
such questions better explored in the
realm of art.
As we look to Hussain’s photos to learn
something about Muslim men in Britain,
we must necessarily question the men’s
exaggerated expressions of masculinity.
Their outward displays of strength are
extreme enough to suggest that they
“protest too much.” The bulging muscles,
restrained attack dogs, and bling may
present as symbols of wealth and power,
but they also lead us to suspect an
In addition to photographing his subjects,
Mahtab conducted extensive interviews
with them. These conversations reveal
similar concerns. “Muslims in segregated
areas, who are trying to live out their lives
with white folks, they are going to be
struggling because they are going to be
looked upon as terrorists,” says Ahmed.
The idea of being perceived as a threat
comes up many times throughout the
interviews and is frequently followed with
expressions of alienation and feeling like
an outsider. “What is funny is that when
they are here in England, they say, ‘We are
Pakistani. We’re proud to be Pakistani,’”
says Darnish. “But when you talk to them
about back home, they will say fuck that, we
ain’t going there. That country is bullshit, we
ain’t fucking Pakistani, we’re British. So they
The confusion created by feeling
excluded from the country of their birth
and disconnected from their heritage is
a significant barrier to the formation of a
sense of self. Combine this with youth’s
susceptibility to the influence of popular
culture, amplified by the powerful need to
belong, and the impulse to overcompensate
is intensified. In Hussain’s photos of Muslim
men, the display of strength and power is
blatant, but it is not yet evident in his images
of the younger boys. Their developing
bodies, constructed appearance, and
identities are still being defined.
Maggie Blanchard, Director, Twin Palms Publishers, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Born in 1981, Mahtab Hussain is an award-winning social commentary artist. Working mainly in portraiture, he sees his practice as an exchange between artist and sitter, placing considerable emphasis on the empowerment of the latter. The portraits that result force a vital interaction between sitter and spectator.
Hussain earned a B.A. in art history at Goldsmiths, University of London, specializing in fine art photography, and he received an M.A. in photography from Nottingham Trent University with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
His You Get Me? series is being jointly published by arts agency Autograph ABP and Dewi Lewis Publishing, with the support of Arts Council England; essay contributors include Charles Guice, Dr. David Dibosa, and Dr. Les Back. Dewi Lewis Publishing also recently published The Quiet Town of Tipton, which was a commission by Multistory.
Hussain has been the recipient of grants from the Arts Council England and Arts and Humanities Research Council; won the Curators Choice Award for his work in Culture Cloud at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham; received a FORMAT 13 Portfolio Review Award; and was selected as the 2015 Light Work + Autograph ABP Artist-in-Residence. In 2016 the artist will be exhibiting You Get Me? in London at Autograph ABP, curated by Mark Sealy, and the series will then tour to Impressions Gallery, Bradford, England, later that year.