Maryam Wahid has been interested in photography since she was a child. The photographer would often spend her weekends perusing galleries with her family, but she was always struck by the lack of diversity on gallery walls. “I saw very little of my community in the art world,” she says. This was a stark contrast to the vibrant multicultural – particularly South Asian – community that surrounded her growing up in Birmingham.
Wahid is profoundly interested in multiculturalism, and uses her work to challenge misconceptions of Islam in the UK. Her photographs focus on the mass integration of migrants in Britain. More specifically, she explores her family’s roots in the Midlands, and their personal, yet arguably universal, experience as immigrants. In her series Archives Locating Home, Wahid positions family photographs from 1950s Pakistan among those taken in Britain decades later.
Using self-portraiture, Wahid draws on her own identity within the UK’s Pakistani diaspora. Her self-portraits pay homage to those taken of her mother at the time she migrated to Britain in the early 1980s. Wahid’s winning Portrait of Britain 2018 photograph employed this same approach. “I was inspired by my family albums,” she explains. “I created this portrait to champion first generation women from my community, and it comes from a wider series that attempts to tell their story in Britain’s history.”
At the time of winning Portrait of Britain, Wahid had just completed a BA in photography. “What appealed to me about Portrait of Britain was the opportunity to be part of a competition celebrating the changing faces of Britain,” she says. Her undergraduate projects, The Niqab and The Hijab, combine aspects of art and fashion photography to celebrate faith, culture and diversity in the UK and beyond. The result is a series of powerful portraits of women, wearing the garments and staring directly into the camera.
In her work, Wahid continues to challenge religious and cultural stereotypes. The photographer is currently working on Transforming Narratives, a project with Arts Council England and the British Council. The project seeks to improve cultural relationships between Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in Birmingham, by improving the exchange of contemporary cultural practices between these groups and their home in the UK. The project will take Wahid beyond the South Asian community in the Midlands, to Pakistan for the very first time: “I’m excited to finally visit my motherland,” she says.