Hussain’s starting point for the project was the question, ‘what does it mean to be a British Muslim male today?’ Over a nine-year period, he photographed in Birmingham – where he grew up – stopping individuals in the street and starting conversations as he took their portrait. He later expanded the project to London and Nottingham.
The men depicted in his portraits identify as Muslim, and expressed they felt ridiculed by the constant flow of negative media representation of their lives. The title of the exhibition is a phrase that Hussain repeatedly heard in his conversations with the young men. ‘You get me?’ is an urban street expression that can sometimes be used in an aggressive way, but also expresses vulnerability and uncertainty: Do you understand me? Do you know where I’m coming from?
Presented with quotes in the voices of the young men themselves, each of the 24 large-scale portraits in the exhibition tells a unique story of boyhood and manhood. Together, they present a collective picture on how these young men negotiate masculinity, self-esteem, social identity and religion in a multi-cultural society.
Mahtab Hussain said, ‘These young men face unemployment, discrimination, and racism. Yet, they identify with Britain and have a strong sense of Britishness. I didn’t want to make portraits that made you feel sorry for these young men. I wanted to show that despite the pressures, these men have still found a way to hold themselves up as proud and dignified people, albeit with complex and often conflicting identities’.
You Get Me? is curated by Dr Mark Sealy at Autograph ABP. Supported using public funding by Arts Council England.