In September 2016, Mahtab Hussain travelled to Kashmir; to the place where his parents had once called home. He was able to meet members of his family for the first time, including his great grandmother, and to witness the kind of life he may have lived, had history taken a different turn.
“I wanted my work to encapsulate this profound feeling of having returned home, to a place where close members of my family lived whom I’d met for the first time, familial strangers who had made me feel so incredibly welcome, people my parents had left behind. Our conversations were long and wonderful. I began to speak my mother tongue and increasingly conversed fluently in Urdu. We discussed my parents, in particular my mother as a child and I seized the chance to wander through the corn fields she would have run through, retracing some of the paths she would have taken, even sitting on the same well she once described to me. I also had the opportunity to see our old home, an enormously transformative experience which will stay with me forever.”
Whist the artist’s story is intensely personal, it resonates with notions of both displacement and discovery that many across the world will identify with.
“I had always firmly believed I wouldn’t be able to find a connection, that Kashmir would not be my home, that I would always feel like a tourist and outsider, a person lost between two worlds, but once again I was mistaken. I felt a profound connection to the land in a way that I will never truly be able to describe; it just felt right, even my body adjusted effortlessly to the heat and humidity. The food had a taste I had never experienced before, so meals were extraordinary, all the more so since they were decorated with laughter and great discussion, with my cousin proudly speaking about Azad Kashmir, the land of the free. I was beginning to fall in love with my motherland and was slowly letting myself fall under its charm, but as I began to fall, I was pulled back to reality, with a voice telling me that Kashmir would never be mine, that England was my home. My bubble had burst. Though I tried to hold back feelings of disappointment and anger, the hurt and the feeling of being cheated were overwhelming since I knew I would never be able to claim a part of Kashmir for myself, it would never be my home; a familiar feeling of loss, disorientation and emotional fragmentation was re-released, the same feeling I’d felt for years growing up in England. I was a lost boy, living among lost generations, who are not able to call any place home.”