Immigration In Britain Laid Bare In Powerful Portrait Photos From The Streets Of Nottingham

19/02/2015 16:28 | Updated 26 March 2015

The reality of being an immigrant in Britain is explored hard-hitting portrait exhibition revealing the complex issues of identity and assimilation for people coming to the UK from abroad.

The portraits, photographed on the streets of Nottingham, aim to counter "scaremongering" around immigration, according to the 33-year-old artist Mahtab Hussain.

Each subject gave their personal account of what it means to live in a multicultural community - for better or worse.

Some came to Britain fleeing from violence, others sought a better life. Some have found their lives to be everything they hoped for - while others merely tolerate it.

marco and his family

"All the Polish children shout ‘Oh, you gypsy, you’re dirty.' And this was the reason why I left," says Marco

The Commonality of Strangers exhibition at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham shows 70 sitters from countries including Poland, Ivory Coast, Uganda and Jamaica.

Hussain took the pictures over five months of exploring three areas in Nottingham. He says he wanted to represent immigrants in "an intimate and honest manner."

“When I was working on this project the media was crazy with immigration and Ukip was grabbing headlines," he explains.

"Debates on immigration were dangerous and very scaremongering. I felt it was the wrong narrative and that we need to empower the migrant community. The conversations sparked by this exhibition should be happening nationally.

“In the journey developing this project I observed that older members of the community talked about segregation, but the younger generation felt the opposite, and that there was a mix of cultures.

"I also found [the word 'multiculturalism'] is loaded and offensive. The Government talks about integration, that's wrong too, it should be assimilation, where people share parts of their culture with others,” Hussain said.

The immigrants from the Commonality of Strangers exhibition, in their own words...

  • George
    I’m from Romania, Bucharest and have been in this country for four years. I like this country. There’s no racism. My country, too much racism: ‘You gipsy!’ Racism bad in Bucharest, lots of fighting, people killed. Here I work, it’s very good. No work, no good. It’s nice, you pay your house, you pay the electric, the cars, the water; it’s very nice. The Romanian government is racist - is big mafia. All the money put in the pocket, no pay the children, no pay the house, no pay nothing; it’s big mafia. England is nice. I no like another country. No Germany, no Francais. Here not any problem; it’s very good people. And the government is very good government here, very clever. The government help every people; Pakistani, Indian, Romanian, Polish, English, very good. This is my country. This is my children’s country, they speak very nice English, speak very good. I no speak very good English; I speak little bit. I work scrap metal. I have own van. I have license for van. I clean rubbish from streets and pay tax. Well for me, it’s good - for my family it’s very good. Not too much money, but I can pay all. I have four children. I hope maybe they work in hospital, another one for government. I have big plans. Every day I working for my children. I’m going for school. I pay food, I pay all they are doing; university - everything. I explain to them, this no good, no going for street, no drink. You understand?
  • Dan Dan
    Communities don’t mix; they just stick together. It’s like they walk to one side. It’s all the Asians together, then it’s all Polish. It is just how people are. There’s not one big society. People don’t mix how they should. When they’re young, they mix, but the elders, they don’t really mix, they like to keep themselves to themselves and their own kind. I like to mix. But it won’t change like that. Us younger people, I think we’ll stick to how we are now and it will change like that. Everyone will start mixing a lot more.
  • Ali
    Imagine yourself. You live in a camp in your own country for eight years and get fed by international organisations like Save the Children or Oxfam. Ten years ago you had your own house; you had your own farm. You had a couple of cows, camels or goats, living a normal African villager’s life. Today, there are no villages. They’ve been burned, bombed, people have been displaced, fleeing to neighbouring countries, fleeing to massive internal camps, relying on aid from outside, this is the kind of life they live in now in Darfur. At the end of the day, if all this settled down, I would prefer to live in Sudan rather than be in England, because life here, I know it’s peaceful, I know it’s safe and I know everything is available - modern life, modern technology - but it’s not enough for me this, is not what I’m seeking. I’m not seeking technology and this kind of life; I’m seeking to be in my big family and to be myself. The children who were born here, in this country or any other European country, will never go back to stay or to live in their original countries where they come from, because that is just hell to them. When they go back there, they don’t like it. I wouldn’t take my children to Sudan in this kind of situation now, never, ever, because within two weeks, they will hear and they will see atrocities and I don’t want them to see that; I don’t want my children to see what’s going on in Sudan.
  • Kafilat
    I am from Abidjan [Ivory Coast], West Africa. I came over here to England for salvation. There is a lot of problem back in Abidjan as there was a war, named the Second Ivorian Civil War, which started in 2002. They would kill anyone. I didn’t really want to leave, but because of the problems I had no choice. I lost my parents from this war. I lost my dad, then my brother and my sister. It was Christian against Muslims. If they find out that you are a Muslim, they will kill you, or someone find out you are a Christian, they’ll kill you; that is why I came here. It was all to do with the president in power and his reluctance to step down - his people began killing civilians. The Christians killed my family. A lot of people died, including my friends; they all died in that war and I was 21 when this happened. That was 10 years ago.
  • Marco (back right)
    I came for work as in my country it is hard to get a job. I’m from Poland. There’s a lot of Polish people don’t like gypsies, because I’m half dark skinned and they don’t like that. The old Polish and gypsy Polish kids go to school together and have problem because of the dark skin. All the Polish children shout ‘Oh, you gypsy, you’re dirty.’ And this was the reason why I left. Because I’m gipsy, a lot of people don’t give me the work... It is why I didn’t finish school as well, because I’m gypsy, people fighting with me, saying I’m black, I’m dirty, it was hard. And this problem has been going on for such a long time. I remember my grandfather telling me, saying the same thing, he had the same problem: black skin, you are dirty; just all the time and this problem is coming stronger, I think it has something to do with hard times, the recession and no opportunities. Now I have a wife and three children and the future for my kids is better than Poland. We want them to have an education and when they get older its their choice what they want to do for work. I want them to do what they want, they are living in UK; so they will be like English people. I only just want them to know they are gypsy, because his family is, all family is gipsy. I just will tell to them, ‘Yes, continue with this: but you are gypsy. Your father is gypsy, your grandfather gypsy,’ all like that. They can’t just live it like UK people.
  • Emmanuel
    I’m from Malawi and got here when I was 18 years. It’s the good life here; you have everything at your disposal without suffering, without having to seek more to have the very basics. It’s just hard back home, you need to have good monies, you need to be well educated, you need to come from a good family, to lead a good life and that’s not for everyone. You always see it on TV as the best country in the world, England, so we had to come. And it has really has lived up to my expectations. This is the best place anyone could be. When they say sky is the limit, they talk about this place, for real and you are your own limit; you can go as far as you want, but not back home. I work in a mail shop: mail sorting and bagging. I do not have any further ambitions in my life, I’m done; I just want to make money. If someone was to ask where my home is, it is still more back home; that’s my home, man. That’s where I was raised, that’s where I stayed for 18 years of my life. I’ve only been here for like what, eight or nine years. When I stay here for 18 years ago, it’s balanced; 19 years, then I’ll call this home, you know? Yeah, you know, I’ll call this place home.
  • Diane
    I came back five years ago after being away for 40 years. I never thought such a change would ever happen. It was a big shock to walk actually on Radford Road and not hear anybody who spoke English – even walking through to ASDA, nobody was talking English and I wondered what was happening. Because before, it was mainly Caribbean on Radford Road, you know, and now you’ve got Polish, Turks and a lot of Romanians now. Some people have moaned that they’ve brought the area down, but they do try and make their own living, because they’ve got a lot of scrap vans. But the change doesn’t bother me. I’ll stay here now because my son bought the house where I live. I still love the area, for all the shops and all the different cultures. But my experience, every shopkeeper knows you, everybody’s so friendly in all the shops. Sometimes, you get a better service than actually from British shopkeepers. It’s a one-to-one service and you’re made to feel welcome and you’re treated with respect.
  • Kelo
    I was born in [South Africa] a place where white people did not mix with black people. You go to the park, you had two chairs written ‘black people’ or ‘white people’. It wasn’t racist, that was the life. I’ve seen children getting killed, white and black people getting burned alive in the streets and police doing nothing. I was in my 20s when I decided to move to United Kingdom. I came here looking for a job but it was difficult. Don’t ever think that migrating to another country can change your life. It can’t. If you have the chance to change your life wherever you are, just change it.
  • Muklis
    I came from Kurdistan, north Iraq. Saddam didn’t like Kurdish people; he just want to like destroy us. He killed a lot of people and did not allow us to speak in our own language, Kurdish; you have to speak Arabic. And he liked to say you don’t have army, you don’t have flag, you have nothing; you’re just existing here. My dad and my granddad, they stayed in the mountains called Pashmerga. Fighting since 1991 they finally kicked out Saddam, back to the Arabic side, but in 2003 when America and the UK came in, he’s gone. Now we have all our rights, we’re happy and everyone is happy. My business is going well. I’ve got a partner to help and when I came here my family sent me money to help start this shop, so I had their support and I worked very hard to get to where I am today. I have married here to my Pakistani wife. I have a baby. I’m happy. We do go back sometimes, and my wife has been with me. If I had no choice but to go home I’d go but I don’t what to, I have both passports, Kurdish and British and I could not make that choice. I enjoy both sides of my life, I’m happy for both sides. I can go back when I want but my life is here, my family is here.
  • Mahamud, Hassan and Norman
    We are proud of our diverse up-bringing. We have all come from Somalia, two of us are from Mogadishu and one from Djibouti. Living in Hyson Green and Forest Field is good, it’s a diverse area, we have friends who are Polish, Romanian, Pakistani and Caribbean.
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