In 2014 Mahtab Hussain was commissioned by NAE to explore the socio-political context of its local neighbourhood. He spent his time exploring the streets and talking to those that live here. Hussain's immediate observation was the incredible diversity of communities living in Hyson Green. Over time individuals from these communities volunteered to sit for a portrait, to share their reflections on the local area and the issues important to them.
Whilst diverse in their cultural heritage, what emerged from Hussain's research with these individuals was a shared experience of living as a migrant community. Regardless of their culture or country of origin, when Hussian's sitters described what brought them to the UK, they presented a collective account that often spoke of poverty, persecution, violence and the hope of a better life.
These voices and stories have come together to form The Commonality of Strangers, and in stark contrast to the negative image of the migrant painted by certain politicians, the collection serves to contextualise and humanise the migrant story, urging viewers to move beyond widely held stereotypes and assumptions.
The Commonality of Strangers also brings to the fore the voices of the established and longstanding residents of Hyson Green. Here Hussain tests if the lived experience of a multi-cultural society indeed marries with the problems and challenges of multiculturalism often emphasised in the political arena.
Despite the enormity of the subject matter, Hussain has chosen to present the portraits with an everyday lightness. Through the collection we see young people 'hanging out', communities gathering to socialise, people going about their daily work. By presenting everyday scenarios we all can easily 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 the deeper, hidden contexts in which people live and have lived.
NAE will deliver a range of events to explore the important subject matter stimulated by The Commonality of Strangers.