Interview: Maryam Wahid

As part of The Migrant Festival 2023

Redbrick Culture Editor, Ilina Jha interviews Maryam Wahid about her upcoming exhibition Dreams of Brum, which will be presented at Ikon Gallery as part of The Migrant Festival 2023.

Reproduced with kind permission from Redbrick.

Maryam Wahid’s Dreams of Brum is an exhibition of photographic portraits taken at Handsworth Library during a series of creative community workshops with printmaker Haseebah Ali. The exhibition runs at the Ikon Gallery from 31 August – 3 September 2023 as part of The Migrant Festival, and will later tour to Handsworth Library throughout autumn and winter 2023. I interviewed Maryam Wahid to find out more about her project.

Hi Maryam, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

“I am an award-winning British Photographer with a passion for exploring identity, migration, and the concept of home and belonging. Using photography, I aim to capture and convey the profound and often complex emotions associated with these topics, offering unique perspectives to my audience. I hope my art can inspire and provoke thoughtful reflections.”

Tell us more about your upcoming exhibition at the Migrant Festival, Dreams of Brum. What inspired it? What are the ‘dreams of Brum’ that you discovered through doing this project?

“The inspiration for this project came from my interest in themes of identity, migration, and belonging, and my desire to delve deeper into the dreams that individuals had when they migrated to the UK. I was invited by the Ikon Gallery to work on this project. With Haseebah Ali, I worked closely with the local community, particularly those who frequented the Handsworth Library and engaged with its residents. One of the key groups we connected with was the “Fit for Over 50s Club,” organised by Mr. Hector Pinkney, which consisted of great characters photographed in the series. As well as this, a retired group of gentlemen from the Punjabi community who were everyday visitors to the library. It was truly inspiring to witness how these individuals not only embraced the library as a significant part of their lives but also opened up about the lives they once had when they first migrated to the UK.

Through our interactions with the community members, we discovered a diverse range of aspirations that were tied to their experiences of migration and the pursuit of a better life. These dreams included ambitions for personal growth, success, cultural preservation, and a sense of belonging in their new home.

The exhibition, Dreams of Brum, aims to present these captivating stories and dreams through the medium of photography, capturing the essence of the individuals. These portraits offer a glimpse into the lives and dreams of the Handsworth community, celebrating their resilience and enriching understanding of the broader themes of migration and belonging.”

What inspired you to take up photography and pursue it as a career?

“Taking up photography and pursuing it as a career was driven by my belief in the power of photography to bring about change. The power photographs have in society and how we are influenced as a society through photographs is what pushed me to pursue it. I wanted to use photography to tell stories, to showcase the underrepresented faces in Britain, and to create cultural understanding. Through my photography, I aim to showcase the diversity of the country, capturing the essence of individuals and communities that often go unnoticed or misunderstood.”

The Migrant Festival is all about celebrating Birmingham as a place of refuge and migration – a place where people from all over the world can come to forge new lives for themselves and their descendants. How important is this Festival right now, given the increasingly hostile rhetoric from the Government towards refugees and migrants in this country?

“The Migrant Festival holds immense importance, particularly given the increasing hostile rhetoric from the government towards refugees and migrants in the country. In the face of ongoing issues related to migration and racism, projects like this festival play a crucial role in celebrating Birmingham as a place of refuge and migration. By highlighting the stories and experiences of those who have come from all over the world to build new lives, the festival promotes cultural exchange, and a deeper understanding of the contributions migrants make to the country.”

What do you hope people will take away from Dreams of Brum?

“With Dreams of Brum, I hope people will take away a sense of connection to the portraits and see themselves or their communities represented in some way. I aim to show a feeling of community and shared experiences among the viewers.”

What’s next for you after this exhibition?

“I am currently working on a photography series featuring the diverse faces of the NHS workforce in collaboration with the Birmingham Community Healthcare (BCHC) Charity. This project, titled Faces of NHS: Celebrating Diversity and Illuminating Inclusion, will be exhibited across various West Midlands hospitals and health centres. Additionally, I am photographing Birmingham City University’s star alumni (one of which is me), and these portraits will be displayed across the University campuses and featured in the University’s publication.”



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Maryam Wahid
Dreams of Brum
Ikon presents Dreams of Brum, an exhibition of photographic portraits by Birmingham-based photographer Maryam Wahid, taken at Handsworth Library during a series of creative community workshops with printmaker Haseebah Ali.

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