Masculinity and Representation: Do you really get me? Autograph ABP review


Discussion, spoken word and photography exploring how young, working class, British Muslim men are reclaiming their identities from the mainstream media

A young boy stares from under a hood, two men eat fast food on the street corner sauces dripping from exposed brick onto grey concrete. 3-piece suit, coiffed hair, sharp cut and chains. These are just some of the images of diversity of the male British Muslim community; the sort of diversity that appears only to be a virtue of the white British majority. Mahtab Hussain gives us the opportunity to see these representations shift, no longer the terrorist, the bomber, he calls to a vibrant and diverse humanity.

I would like to start with stating the obvious; that ethnic minorities are not a monolith. As a black-british person I felt a connection to this exhibition; it reminded me of the images of black femininity/masculinity that are often screwed and twisted in the media for the benefit of entertainment, profit and in extreme cases state murder. What is different from the often hypersexualised and hyper violent images we see as “representations” of black people is that for the Muslim community there are similar stock character stereotypes. However these stereotypes combine what is often the oppressive “othering” by the white gaze  with a religious dimension. Anti-muslim sentiment reeks from the tabloids as films and media reproduce the stock terrorist 1 in our multibillion selling blockbusters and TV shows. Shout the racially biased name of terrorist as we witness spikes in hate crimes, including a recent attack in Finsbury Park. How do we seek to value a community if they are constantly shrouded in fear, misunderstanding and regarded with suspicion and hate?

Mahtab Hussain’s exhibition demonstrated the vibrancy and diversity of what we call Muslim masculinity, for wider society and for many people who gather their understanding of the world from mainstream media and our incessant culture of fear, these images could possibly even be revolutionary. It appears that when there is a gap in self-representation there is ample opportunity for others to write your story. As Sabah Choudrey points out “popular culture lacks an Asian presence” this becomes clear when  Zia Ahmed poet, stunned the crowd with his effortless exploration into what it could mean to be  muslim, Asian, brown and a man not only introspectively but also what others may consider him..“I am your gap year” he says.

What also came out of the night’s discussion was a theme of adaptation, the way in which we are forced to change ourselves to suit different environments. To camouflage, or to disguise is to not be true to yourself. What I found uplifting is that no panellist had thought that journey was an easy one, or that they had truly come to the end of it, rather they emphasised that it is hard to accept yourself when society and even friends and family refuse to let you be who you want to be. When there is no representation that exists outside of your personal view you are forced to construct another or relate to other experiences, namely as one of the panellists commented “the black experience” was the closest minority ethnic representation that gave them an opportunity to connect to something other than mainstream whiteness.

What’s next? We wonder, apparently Mutahb is planning to endeavour on the same exploration but with Muslim women, I look forward to learning more and exploring the intersects between art and politics. Congratulations Autograpah ABP.

Ends 1st July, Free Entry


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