Following on from Mahtab Hussain’s series, The Commonality of Strangers, comes The Martial Race, a body work that focuses on the recently established Gurkha community in Cheriton, Folkestone. The title refers to a designation created by Army officials of British India after the Indian Rebellion of 1857 they classified each caste into one of two categories, ‘martial’ and ‘non-martial’. The ‘martial race’ was typically brave and well-built for fighting such as the Gurkha, who are world-famous for their bravery.
The principle reason for Hussain to undertake the commission was his own family history and its ties to the British Army; fundamentally, his compulsion to make the work was born out of his geographical connection and ancestral past with the community. In addition, this highly respected Nepalese community living on the outskirts of a very British seaside town, fell into Hussain’s themes of race, gender and identity politics.
As Hussain reflects, “My grandfather served in the Second World War for the British Army, stationed in Burma, he was later migrated to the UK after the end of the war, and so I am a product of colonialism in just the same way as the Nepalese community,” indeed, by the 1960’s Hussain grandfather had brought his family over to Britain. Poignantly, the portraits of the young which Hussain creates here, are the same age as his father would have been when he was growing up in England, and this close personal connection becomes eloquently portrayed in the series.
The inevitable contrast between the older generation, the elders, and how their children and grandchildren are the morphing effortlessly into the new global culture is reflected in these portraits. Fascinating still, is the fact that the majority of the community were born in Nepal.