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Britishness, Belonging & Migration Maryam Wahid

Award winning photographer Mayram Wahid is a British Pakistani artist, who explores her heritage and culture through household and family experiences, and the mass integration of migrants inside the UK.

Maryam has been commissioned to create images for The Guardian and The Monetary Instances, and was the Portrait of Britain Winner 2018. Most recently she judged the nationwide Hold Still competition, at the National Portrait Gallery, alongside her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge. This was an ambitious community project to create a unique collective portrait of the UK during lockdown.

We talked to Maryam about the role and perception of Muslim women, historical South Asian neighborhoods in Britain and the notion of belonging.

What connected you to photography and why did you choose to specialize in this area?

Photography is an extremely powerful medium. A single photograph can provide evidence, tranquility and hope for life experiences. Though I academically started off studying fine art at school before I pursued photography at A-level and university, picking up a camera to take pictures was always prominent in my life. When I realised how passionate and serious I was in photography I decided to choose it as my career path.

As a second-generation Pakistani Muslim woman who has grown up in Birmingham, how has your identity influenced your practice?

Photographs are really special to me. They have given me access to learning more about people and places but also about my own family history.

As a second generation Pakistani, I feel as though so much family history is lost through migration. Photographs revive and bring life to that history. The feeling of discovering photographs of my late grandmother is priceless. My identity as a British Muslim South Asian Woman has always searched for belonging in the arts in Britain. I feel there is an underrepresentation of Muslim and South Asian women in the arts and so I want my work to resonate with women and young girls who are just like me.

You often use photographs of your mother to tell the story of her experiences of migration, and it is clear she has been a source of strength throughout your life. Why is your mother such a central part of your work and do you think shooting something so personal has helped you in your practice?

My mother is where I feel my story starts. I see my work developing in a very autobiographical way but almost in sections and pieces that come together. When she survived her second cancer in 2015 I felt as though she had been given the chance to live again and I wanted to find all those things great about her to celebrate her life. I could never imagine that I would be the reason to take her back to her house in Lahore in 2019 and see the graves of her parents. Photographing personal things has really engaged my practice. My work reflects my beliefs and experiences and I feel empowered when I control my own narrative.

Can you tell us more about your portraits featured as part of The Hijab (2018)? What do they represent for you?

As a British Hijabi Muslim who has grown up with the Hijab being embraced, styled and fashioned by Muslim women all over Britain- I was tired of seeing us represented and associated with oppression. I own over 90 colours of headscarves and style my scarf in different ways for different occasions! I really wanted this series of portraits to reflect Muslim women today. Muslim women who are liberated, stylish, colourful and celebrate their heritage and Hijab.

How was judging the National Portrait Gallery’s Hold Still 2020 competition?

Judging Hold Still 2020 competition was absolutely phenomenal. I was honoured to be on the judging panel with Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge who was inspiring, extraordinary and great to work with! Thought it was extremely hard to select the winning images, I believe the selection is a true reflection of Britain throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

You’ve also recently been on the BBC’s Great British Photography Challenge, what was that like?

I really enjoy practical ways of teaching and learning. This show was a great way to meet avid photographers, mentor and guide them in exploring social documentary photography. Prior to the contestants joining the show, I judged the initial stage of selecting the contestants. By the end of the show when I saw the results of the work that they were producing and developing with Rankin- I was extremely proud and happy with how they had progressed.

Qamar, from the series Ek Aurat Ka Safar, Maryam Wahid


What is your favourite work you have created and why?

Zaibunnisa— an upcoming body of work which will be premiered in January 2022 at The Midlands Arts Centre. This is my favourite work because it was work that I produced in 2019 when I first visited my motherland, Lahore (Pakistan). I was 23 years old and when I travelled here with my camera I didn’t realise how drastically it would change my life and beliefs. I also felt extremely completed on this journey because prior to this I was longing to discover my mothers life before she migrated to Britain. All my maternal family lives in Lahore and though I never met my maternal grandparents, I felt as though they were with me while I created this work. The work is also being shown at a gallery I went to growing up here in Birmingham. They couldn’t have been a better and prestigious gallery to launch this work.

Zaibunissa, Maryam Wahid


You have achieved a lot in your career, from winning awards to solo exhibitions. What has been the most proud moment for you?

Although these things are lovely, my most proudest moment is when the art makes a change and influences. I’m honoured to say when I receive personal emails and messages from women (and some men) who share their stories and resonate with my stories. That’s my proudest moment…

Sumbhal Mazhar, from the series Ek Aurat Ka Safar., Maryam Wahid


What do you think of the potential of the future of photography in Islamic art?

So much potential!!! I have so many ideas I want to develop. I really hope and want to see in the near future that Islamic art accepts photography. Photographs that are; abstract, documentary, portraiture, fashion and landscape.

Can you share your hopes and aspirations for the future?

I hope that one day when I’m long gone, there is context to an image found of a woman with a Hijab, or a woman who is of South Asian origin. I hope and aspire that my work creates cultural understanding in Britain.

For more information follow Maryam Wahid

The views of the artists, authors and writers who contribute to Bayt Al Fann do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bayt Al Fann, its owners, employees and affiliates.


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