In 2014 New Art Exchange, Nottingham commissioned artist Mahtab Hussain to capture the diverse community residing in its locality through portraiture. Hussain spent five-months walking the streets, connecting with people from across the globe and listening to their experiences.
What emerged from this research is The Commonality of Strangers, a collection of portraits and interviews which address the impact of multiculturalism in Britain today. In doing so The Commonality of Strangers humanises the migrant’s story, demystifying who these individuals really are, while confronting the viewer with the reality of their experience and why they came to live in the UK.
Their personal accounts are displayed alongside their portrait. Often deeply shocking in their content, the stories speak of poverty, persecution, violence and the hope for a better life. What unfolds therefore is a body of work which challenge stereotypes and assumptions in a current political environment in which immigration is a major issue. Hussain hopes that in bringing these individuals to the fore and allowing their voices to be heard will empower minority cultures by giving a deeper context to their existence in the UK.
The collection also presents the voices of the established and longstanding residents. Here Hussain tests if the lived experience of a multi-cultural neighbourhood indeed marries with the problems and challenges often emphasised in the political arena.
Despite the enormity of the subject matter, Hussain has chosen to present the portraits with an everyday lightness; we see young people ‘hanging out’, communities gathering to socialise, people going about their daily work. By presenting scenarios we can all relate to, Hussain is asking the viewer to consider the commonality of mankind’s wants and needs whilst emphasising that the veneer of everyday life can easily veil the immense struggles and deeper contexts in which people live, and have lived.
The Commonality of Stranger by Mahtab Hussain is a touring exhibition produced by New Art Exchange, Nottingham, UK.