Osman Yousefzada at Charleston in Firle
Ahead of his exhibition at next year's Venice Biennale, we visit the multidisciplinary artist's currently-running show...
November 30, 2023
No items found.

‘I’m quick and prolific,’ says Osman Yousefzada, ‘which often proves a problem for the people around me’. It’s true; and a greater problem persists in how others seek to pigeonhole or define the work of this diverse practitioner.

Installation view

Alongside his multidisciplinary practice, Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London, a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and now a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art. Activism permeates his work, including his writing. In 2022, his first book, The Go-Between, considered the upbringing of a child in a closed immigrant community in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s; it was through this book, and Yousefzada’s talk at Charleston Festival 2023 mere months ago, that this exhibition so quickly came to be.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

More recently, Yousefzada has sought to disentangle himself from his near-exclusive association with fashion, in which his designs have been patronised by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Centred around his large-scale textile works and installations, this exhibition skirts reference to his eponymous label altogether.

It is, however, also true that clothing is how many people have so far come to encounter his wide body of work. Even Jonathan Watkins, former director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and the home of Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition, was first introduced to the artist by his partner, an avid enthusiast of his womenswear. Likewise, it is how the artist first came to his craft. As a child, Yousefzada watched and helped his mother, ‘a maker’ of shalwar kameez for his British-Pakistani community in Birmingham; his father, a carpenter, also practised craft.

As a young boy, he was permitted behind the curtain which separated men and women, in what he has previously characterised as an ’ultra-orthodox’ Pashtun Pakistani community, but with age, this access was revoked. This curtain, perhaps the first fabric of his practice, hints at the boundaries constructed within certain religious communities, but also nuances how Islam, a plural faith, is differently practised yet often singularly perceived in Britain. Whilst some communities are incredibly patriarchal and conservative in their attitudes towards gender, contradictorily, Muslim men are still often emasculated within wider society.

Yousefzada’s binary-blurring approach to sexuality works well in the context of Charleston; a closer connection, certainly, than the more obvious link made with Bloomsbury and Fashion, on show in nearby Lewes. Alongside the textile works, we find new prints and works on paper commissioned for the House, partly inspired by characters in the Falnama, a book of omens used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, in which people seeking insight would turn to a random page and interpret the text and colourful drawings to tell their future. Yousefzada’s prints thus serve as talismans or magical objects that heal or protect and guard their viewers.

Rather than confine traditions and spirituality to something historic, Yousefzada also uses them to speak to contemporary Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of migrants in the UK today. These intersex figures also highlight the long history, and plural possibilities, of the Islamic faith, perhaps a nod to the artist’s own movement towards a Sufi, spiritual, ‘expanded’ religious practice.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada’s work also engages with the singular representation - and reimagining - of the working-class migrant experience. His Queer Feet series (2023) features a multitude of media, including Afghan, Balouch and Turkish rugs and tablecloths, and textiles embroidered with found objects, and others topped with what look like black plastic bags, but are in fact reworked ceramics. On the EMPIRE LINES podcast, he explains how this installation takes us into the intimate, domestic space of women, showing an image on his phone of how his mother would wrap items in bags for preservation.

Symbols and media crop up across Yousefzada’s practice. The same long plait runs around An Immigrant’s Room of her Own (2018), recently on show at Whitechapel Gallery’s Life is More Important than Art. He adopts the same black-and-yellow industrial hazard tape as ‘More Immigrants Please’ (2023) in his contribution to No But Where Are You Really From?, a series of public art installations from Artichoke, which speaks to borders (and his interest in the depiction of crime scenes in popular culture). ‘Even if it’s marketed as fiction, it’s all autobiographical,’ he says of his practice; his use of different media, from literature to large-scale installations, presents different perspectives, particularly on the complexities of diasporic communities.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

From Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition at Ikon in 2018, we find collaborations, and two-way flows, have followed. Welcome to the Machine (2018), a film produced with Haroon Mirza for the artist’s own Ikon exhibition, looks at the processes of leather tanning in Bangladesh. He later contributed a costume for year zero, Haroon Mirza, performed at the Lahore Biennale 2020 and online, also via Ikon. The artist’s interest in sustainability, especially with respect to South Asian textile industries, connects with his wider interest in workers’ rights. It is a connection that crosses both continents and cities, a link between his upbringing in the Midlands, and long-term home of London.

Yousefzada is clearly conscious of not capitalising on thin, media interests in this complex community - worth hearing out is this interview in which he traces the long history of Conservative government policies as felt and appropriated by the community in Birmingham, from 1980s Thatcher Britain, to David Cameron’s Big Society. He has also spoken openly about his gradual distancing of references to Asian design history like Islamic geometry, agreeing that ‘legacy equals cash’ when it comes to funding for artists in the diaspora. His practice highlights the difficulties of engaging with tradition without self-orientalising or, in the case of saris, ignoring their current instrumentalisation for nationalist ends by the Indian government.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

While the artist has long challenged the conventions of display - his Infinity Pattern 1 for Selfridges Birmingham was marketed as the ‘largest canvas in the world’ - this exhibition at Charleston is more subtle. Here, he does not directly address the themes often ascribed to his work, and maintains a complex relationship with his art as a form of history-making. ‘I lost a family to write a book,’ he has said of The Go-Between, referring to the fact that it has become a document of a ‘community that wants to remain undocumented’. And still, he is working on a further two texts, one of poetry.

Yousefzada arrives at Charleston fresh from yet another install, of Embodiments of Memory at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, an extension of his recent interests in ceramics. He also shows in group exhibitions across the country, with high fashion runways works at Design Museum’s REBEL, to his Migrant Gods series; these figures, perhaps found at Charleston in his works on paper, feature in simultaneous displays from Claridge’s ArtSpace to Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery, and soon, Camden Art Centre, as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2023.

Importantly, there are more solos to come, and an exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. Yousefzada does deserve the space and attention grand institutions can give, and it will be interesting to see how he engages with these places, and the people who run them. Next year’s exhibition at the V&A in London - with its architecture designed to ‘put you in your place’ - will hopefully see more of his subtle subversion of expectations, rather than efforts to surmount or dominate the space. To do so would be playing by their rules, and thus far he has refused them wherever possible.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada has already achieved what remains, for some, paradoxical: he has managed to maintain, strengthen, and work through his values, whilst becoming ever more prolific in output. He can be sure these questions will only continue to arise throughout his career, but they will never limit his entangled practice.

Osman Yousefzada is on view at Charleston in Firle until 10 March 2024.

Jelena Sofronijevic
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30/11/2023
Spotlight
Jelena Sofronijevic
Osman Yousefzada at Charleston in Firle
Written by
Jelena Sofronijevic
Date Published
30/11/2023
No items found.
Ahead of his exhibition at next year's Venice Biennale, we visit the multidisciplinary artist's currently-running show...

‘I’m quick and prolific,’ says Osman Yousefzada, ‘which often proves a problem for the people around me’. It’s true; and a greater problem persists in how others seek to pigeonhole or define the work of this diverse practitioner.

Installation view

Alongside his multidisciplinary practice, Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London, a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and now a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art. Activism permeates his work, including his writing. In 2022, his first book, The Go-Between, considered the upbringing of a child in a closed immigrant community in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s; it was through this book, and Yousefzada’s talk at Charleston Festival 2023 mere months ago, that this exhibition so quickly came to be.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

More recently, Yousefzada has sought to disentangle himself from his near-exclusive association with fashion, in which his designs have been patronised by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Centred around his large-scale textile works and installations, this exhibition skirts reference to his eponymous label altogether.

It is, however, also true that clothing is how many people have so far come to encounter his wide body of work. Even Jonathan Watkins, former director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and the home of Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition, was first introduced to the artist by his partner, an avid enthusiast of his womenswear. Likewise, it is how the artist first came to his craft. As a child, Yousefzada watched and helped his mother, ‘a maker’ of shalwar kameez for his British-Pakistani community in Birmingham; his father, a carpenter, also practised craft.

As a young boy, he was permitted behind the curtain which separated men and women, in what he has previously characterised as an ’ultra-orthodox’ Pashtun Pakistani community, but with age, this access was revoked. This curtain, perhaps the first fabric of his practice, hints at the boundaries constructed within certain religious communities, but also nuances how Islam, a plural faith, is differently practised yet often singularly perceived in Britain. Whilst some communities are incredibly patriarchal and conservative in their attitudes towards gender, contradictorily, Muslim men are still often emasculated within wider society.

Yousefzada’s binary-blurring approach to sexuality works well in the context of Charleston; a closer connection, certainly, than the more obvious link made with Bloomsbury and Fashion, on show in nearby Lewes. Alongside the textile works, we find new prints and works on paper commissioned for the House, partly inspired by characters in the Falnama, a book of omens used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, in which people seeking insight would turn to a random page and interpret the text and colourful drawings to tell their future. Yousefzada’s prints thus serve as talismans or magical objects that heal or protect and guard their viewers.

Rather than confine traditions and spirituality to something historic, Yousefzada also uses them to speak to contemporary Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of migrants in the UK today. These intersex figures also highlight the long history, and plural possibilities, of the Islamic faith, perhaps a nod to the artist’s own movement towards a Sufi, spiritual, ‘expanded’ religious practice.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada’s work also engages with the singular representation - and reimagining - of the working-class migrant experience. His Queer Feet series (2023) features a multitude of media, including Afghan, Balouch and Turkish rugs and tablecloths, and textiles embroidered with found objects, and others topped with what look like black plastic bags, but are in fact reworked ceramics. On the EMPIRE LINES podcast, he explains how this installation takes us into the intimate, domestic space of women, showing an image on his phone of how his mother would wrap items in bags for preservation.

Symbols and media crop up across Yousefzada’s practice. The same long plait runs around An Immigrant’s Room of her Own (2018), recently on show at Whitechapel Gallery’s Life is More Important than Art. He adopts the same black-and-yellow industrial hazard tape as ‘More Immigrants Please’ (2023) in his contribution to No But Where Are You Really From?, a series of public art installations from Artichoke, which speaks to borders (and his interest in the depiction of crime scenes in popular culture). ‘Even if it’s marketed as fiction, it’s all autobiographical,’ he says of his practice; his use of different media, from literature to large-scale installations, presents different perspectives, particularly on the complexities of diasporic communities.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

From Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition at Ikon in 2018, we find collaborations, and two-way flows, have followed. Welcome to the Machine (2018), a film produced with Haroon Mirza for the artist’s own Ikon exhibition, looks at the processes of leather tanning in Bangladesh. He later contributed a costume for year zero, Haroon Mirza, performed at the Lahore Biennale 2020 and online, also via Ikon. The artist’s interest in sustainability, especially with respect to South Asian textile industries, connects with his wider interest in workers’ rights. It is a connection that crosses both continents and cities, a link between his upbringing in the Midlands, and long-term home of London.

Yousefzada is clearly conscious of not capitalising on thin, media interests in this complex community - worth hearing out is this interview in which he traces the long history of Conservative government policies as felt and appropriated by the community in Birmingham, from 1980s Thatcher Britain, to David Cameron’s Big Society. He has also spoken openly about his gradual distancing of references to Asian design history like Islamic geometry, agreeing that ‘legacy equals cash’ when it comes to funding for artists in the diaspora. His practice highlights the difficulties of engaging with tradition without self-orientalising or, in the case of saris, ignoring their current instrumentalisation for nationalist ends by the Indian government.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

While the artist has long challenged the conventions of display - his Infinity Pattern 1 for Selfridges Birmingham was marketed as the ‘largest canvas in the world’ - this exhibition at Charleston is more subtle. Here, he does not directly address the themes often ascribed to his work, and maintains a complex relationship with his art as a form of history-making. ‘I lost a family to write a book,’ he has said of The Go-Between, referring to the fact that it has become a document of a ‘community that wants to remain undocumented’. And still, he is working on a further two texts, one of poetry.

Yousefzada arrives at Charleston fresh from yet another install, of Embodiments of Memory at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, an extension of his recent interests in ceramics. He also shows in group exhibitions across the country, with high fashion runways works at Design Museum’s REBEL, to his Migrant Gods series; these figures, perhaps found at Charleston in his works on paper, feature in simultaneous displays from Claridge’s ArtSpace to Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery, and soon, Camden Art Centre, as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2023.

Importantly, there are more solos to come, and an exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. Yousefzada does deserve the space and attention grand institutions can give, and it will be interesting to see how he engages with these places, and the people who run them. Next year’s exhibition at the V&A in London - with its architecture designed to ‘put you in your place’ - will hopefully see more of his subtle subversion of expectations, rather than efforts to surmount or dominate the space. To do so would be playing by their rules, and thus far he has refused them wherever possible.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada has already achieved what remains, for some, paradoxical: he has managed to maintain, strengthen, and work through his values, whilst becoming ever more prolific in output. He can be sure these questions will only continue to arise throughout his career, but they will never limit his entangled practice.

Osman Yousefzada is on view at Charleston in Firle until 10 March 2024.

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
Osman Yousefzada at Charleston in Firle
Spotlight
Jelena Sofronijevic
Written by
Jelena Sofronijevic
Date Published
30/11/2023
No items found.
Ahead of his exhibition at next year's Venice Biennale, we visit the multidisciplinary artist's currently-running show...

‘I’m quick and prolific,’ says Osman Yousefzada, ‘which often proves a problem for the people around me’. It’s true; and a greater problem persists in how others seek to pigeonhole or define the work of this diverse practitioner.

Installation view

Alongside his multidisciplinary practice, Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London, a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and now a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art. Activism permeates his work, including his writing. In 2022, his first book, The Go-Between, considered the upbringing of a child in a closed immigrant community in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s; it was through this book, and Yousefzada’s talk at Charleston Festival 2023 mere months ago, that this exhibition so quickly came to be.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

More recently, Yousefzada has sought to disentangle himself from his near-exclusive association with fashion, in which his designs have been patronised by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Centred around his large-scale textile works and installations, this exhibition skirts reference to his eponymous label altogether.

It is, however, also true that clothing is how many people have so far come to encounter his wide body of work. Even Jonathan Watkins, former director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and the home of Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition, was first introduced to the artist by his partner, an avid enthusiast of his womenswear. Likewise, it is how the artist first came to his craft. As a child, Yousefzada watched and helped his mother, ‘a maker’ of shalwar kameez for his British-Pakistani community in Birmingham; his father, a carpenter, also practised craft.

As a young boy, he was permitted behind the curtain which separated men and women, in what he has previously characterised as an ’ultra-orthodox’ Pashtun Pakistani community, but with age, this access was revoked. This curtain, perhaps the first fabric of his practice, hints at the boundaries constructed within certain religious communities, but also nuances how Islam, a plural faith, is differently practised yet often singularly perceived in Britain. Whilst some communities are incredibly patriarchal and conservative in their attitudes towards gender, contradictorily, Muslim men are still often emasculated within wider society.

Yousefzada’s binary-blurring approach to sexuality works well in the context of Charleston; a closer connection, certainly, than the more obvious link made with Bloomsbury and Fashion, on show in nearby Lewes. Alongside the textile works, we find new prints and works on paper commissioned for the House, partly inspired by characters in the Falnama, a book of omens used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, in which people seeking insight would turn to a random page and interpret the text and colourful drawings to tell their future. Yousefzada’s prints thus serve as talismans or magical objects that heal or protect and guard their viewers.

Rather than confine traditions and spirituality to something historic, Yousefzada also uses them to speak to contemporary Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of migrants in the UK today. These intersex figures also highlight the long history, and plural possibilities, of the Islamic faith, perhaps a nod to the artist’s own movement towards a Sufi, spiritual, ‘expanded’ religious practice.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada’s work also engages with the singular representation - and reimagining - of the working-class migrant experience. His Queer Feet series (2023) features a multitude of media, including Afghan, Balouch and Turkish rugs and tablecloths, and textiles embroidered with found objects, and others topped with what look like black plastic bags, but are in fact reworked ceramics. On the EMPIRE LINES podcast, he explains how this installation takes us into the intimate, domestic space of women, showing an image on his phone of how his mother would wrap items in bags for preservation.

Symbols and media crop up across Yousefzada’s practice. The same long plait runs around An Immigrant’s Room of her Own (2018), recently on show at Whitechapel Gallery’s Life is More Important than Art. He adopts the same black-and-yellow industrial hazard tape as ‘More Immigrants Please’ (2023) in his contribution to No But Where Are You Really From?, a series of public art installations from Artichoke, which speaks to borders (and his interest in the depiction of crime scenes in popular culture). ‘Even if it’s marketed as fiction, it’s all autobiographical,’ he says of his practice; his use of different media, from literature to large-scale installations, presents different perspectives, particularly on the complexities of diasporic communities.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

From Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition at Ikon in 2018, we find collaborations, and two-way flows, have followed. Welcome to the Machine (2018), a film produced with Haroon Mirza for the artist’s own Ikon exhibition, looks at the processes of leather tanning in Bangladesh. He later contributed a costume for year zero, Haroon Mirza, performed at the Lahore Biennale 2020 and online, also via Ikon. The artist’s interest in sustainability, especially with respect to South Asian textile industries, connects with his wider interest in workers’ rights. It is a connection that crosses both continents and cities, a link between his upbringing in the Midlands, and long-term home of London.

Yousefzada is clearly conscious of not capitalising on thin, media interests in this complex community - worth hearing out is this interview in which he traces the long history of Conservative government policies as felt and appropriated by the community in Birmingham, from 1980s Thatcher Britain, to David Cameron’s Big Society. He has also spoken openly about his gradual distancing of references to Asian design history like Islamic geometry, agreeing that ‘legacy equals cash’ when it comes to funding for artists in the diaspora. His practice highlights the difficulties of engaging with tradition without self-orientalising or, in the case of saris, ignoring their current instrumentalisation for nationalist ends by the Indian government.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

While the artist has long challenged the conventions of display - his Infinity Pattern 1 for Selfridges Birmingham was marketed as the ‘largest canvas in the world’ - this exhibition at Charleston is more subtle. Here, he does not directly address the themes often ascribed to his work, and maintains a complex relationship with his art as a form of history-making. ‘I lost a family to write a book,’ he has said of The Go-Between, referring to the fact that it has become a document of a ‘community that wants to remain undocumented’. And still, he is working on a further two texts, one of poetry.

Yousefzada arrives at Charleston fresh from yet another install, of Embodiments of Memory at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, an extension of his recent interests in ceramics. He also shows in group exhibitions across the country, with high fashion runways works at Design Museum’s REBEL, to his Migrant Gods series; these figures, perhaps found at Charleston in his works on paper, feature in simultaneous displays from Claridge’s ArtSpace to Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery, and soon, Camden Art Centre, as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2023.

Importantly, there are more solos to come, and an exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. Yousefzada does deserve the space and attention grand institutions can give, and it will be interesting to see how he engages with these places, and the people who run them. Next year’s exhibition at the V&A in London - with its architecture designed to ‘put you in your place’ - will hopefully see more of his subtle subversion of expectations, rather than efforts to surmount or dominate the space. To do so would be playing by their rules, and thus far he has refused them wherever possible.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada has already achieved what remains, for some, paradoxical: he has managed to maintain, strengthen, and work through his values, whilst becoming ever more prolific in output. He can be sure these questions will only continue to arise throughout his career, but they will never limit his entangled practice.

Osman Yousefzada is on view at Charleston in Firle until 10 March 2024.

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
30/11/2023
Spotlight
Jelena Sofronijevic
Osman Yousefzada at Charleston in Firle
Written by
Jelena Sofronijevic
Date Published
30/11/2023
No items found.
Ahead of his exhibition at next year's Venice Biennale, we visit the multidisciplinary artist's currently-running show...

‘I’m quick and prolific,’ says Osman Yousefzada, ‘which often proves a problem for the people around me’. It’s true; and a greater problem persists in how others seek to pigeonhole or define the work of this diverse practitioner.

Installation view

Alongside his multidisciplinary practice, Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London, a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and now a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art. Activism permeates his work, including his writing. In 2022, his first book, The Go-Between, considered the upbringing of a child in a closed immigrant community in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s; it was through this book, and Yousefzada’s talk at Charleston Festival 2023 mere months ago, that this exhibition so quickly came to be.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

More recently, Yousefzada has sought to disentangle himself from his near-exclusive association with fashion, in which his designs have been patronised by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Centred around his large-scale textile works and installations, this exhibition skirts reference to his eponymous label altogether.

It is, however, also true that clothing is how many people have so far come to encounter his wide body of work. Even Jonathan Watkins, former director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and the home of Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition, was first introduced to the artist by his partner, an avid enthusiast of his womenswear. Likewise, it is how the artist first came to his craft. As a child, Yousefzada watched and helped his mother, ‘a maker’ of shalwar kameez for his British-Pakistani community in Birmingham; his father, a carpenter, also practised craft.

As a young boy, he was permitted behind the curtain which separated men and women, in what he has previously characterised as an ’ultra-orthodox’ Pashtun Pakistani community, but with age, this access was revoked. This curtain, perhaps the first fabric of his practice, hints at the boundaries constructed within certain religious communities, but also nuances how Islam, a plural faith, is differently practised yet often singularly perceived in Britain. Whilst some communities are incredibly patriarchal and conservative in their attitudes towards gender, contradictorily, Muslim men are still often emasculated within wider society.

Yousefzada’s binary-blurring approach to sexuality works well in the context of Charleston; a closer connection, certainly, than the more obvious link made with Bloomsbury and Fashion, on show in nearby Lewes. Alongside the textile works, we find new prints and works on paper commissioned for the House, partly inspired by characters in the Falnama, a book of omens used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, in which people seeking insight would turn to a random page and interpret the text and colourful drawings to tell their future. Yousefzada’s prints thus serve as talismans or magical objects that heal or protect and guard their viewers.

Rather than confine traditions and spirituality to something historic, Yousefzada also uses them to speak to contemporary Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of migrants in the UK today. These intersex figures also highlight the long history, and plural possibilities, of the Islamic faith, perhaps a nod to the artist’s own movement towards a Sufi, spiritual, ‘expanded’ religious practice.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada’s work also engages with the singular representation - and reimagining - of the working-class migrant experience. His Queer Feet series (2023) features a multitude of media, including Afghan, Balouch and Turkish rugs and tablecloths, and textiles embroidered with found objects, and others topped with what look like black plastic bags, but are in fact reworked ceramics. On the EMPIRE LINES podcast, he explains how this installation takes us into the intimate, domestic space of women, showing an image on his phone of how his mother would wrap items in bags for preservation.

Symbols and media crop up across Yousefzada’s practice. The same long plait runs around An Immigrant’s Room of her Own (2018), recently on show at Whitechapel Gallery’s Life is More Important than Art. He adopts the same black-and-yellow industrial hazard tape as ‘More Immigrants Please’ (2023) in his contribution to No But Where Are You Really From?, a series of public art installations from Artichoke, which speaks to borders (and his interest in the depiction of crime scenes in popular culture). ‘Even if it’s marketed as fiction, it’s all autobiographical,’ he says of his practice; his use of different media, from literature to large-scale installations, presents different perspectives, particularly on the complexities of diasporic communities.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

From Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition at Ikon in 2018, we find collaborations, and two-way flows, have followed. Welcome to the Machine (2018), a film produced with Haroon Mirza for the artist’s own Ikon exhibition, looks at the processes of leather tanning in Bangladesh. He later contributed a costume for year zero, Haroon Mirza, performed at the Lahore Biennale 2020 and online, also via Ikon. The artist’s interest in sustainability, especially with respect to South Asian textile industries, connects with his wider interest in workers’ rights. It is a connection that crosses both continents and cities, a link between his upbringing in the Midlands, and long-term home of London.

Yousefzada is clearly conscious of not capitalising on thin, media interests in this complex community - worth hearing out is this interview in which he traces the long history of Conservative government policies as felt and appropriated by the community in Birmingham, from 1980s Thatcher Britain, to David Cameron’s Big Society. He has also spoken openly about his gradual distancing of references to Asian design history like Islamic geometry, agreeing that ‘legacy equals cash’ when it comes to funding for artists in the diaspora. His practice highlights the difficulties of engaging with tradition without self-orientalising or, in the case of saris, ignoring their current instrumentalisation for nationalist ends by the Indian government.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

While the artist has long challenged the conventions of display - his Infinity Pattern 1 for Selfridges Birmingham was marketed as the ‘largest canvas in the world’ - this exhibition at Charleston is more subtle. Here, he does not directly address the themes often ascribed to his work, and maintains a complex relationship with his art as a form of history-making. ‘I lost a family to write a book,’ he has said of The Go-Between, referring to the fact that it has become a document of a ‘community that wants to remain undocumented’. And still, he is working on a further two texts, one of poetry.

Yousefzada arrives at Charleston fresh from yet another install, of Embodiments of Memory at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, an extension of his recent interests in ceramics. He also shows in group exhibitions across the country, with high fashion runways works at Design Museum’s REBEL, to his Migrant Gods series; these figures, perhaps found at Charleston in his works on paper, feature in simultaneous displays from Claridge’s ArtSpace to Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery, and soon, Camden Art Centre, as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2023.

Importantly, there are more solos to come, and an exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. Yousefzada does deserve the space and attention grand institutions can give, and it will be interesting to see how he engages with these places, and the people who run them. Next year’s exhibition at the V&A in London - with its architecture designed to ‘put you in your place’ - will hopefully see more of his subtle subversion of expectations, rather than efforts to surmount or dominate the space. To do so would be playing by their rules, and thus far he has refused them wherever possible.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada has already achieved what remains, for some, paradoxical: he has managed to maintain, strengthen, and work through his values, whilst becoming ever more prolific in output. He can be sure these questions will only continue to arise throughout his career, but they will never limit his entangled practice.

Osman Yousefzada is on view at Charleston in Firle until 10 March 2024.

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
30/11/2023
Spotlight
Jelena Sofronijevic
Osman Yousefzada at Charleston in Firle
Written by
Jelena Sofronijevic
Date Published
30/11/2023
No items found.
Ahead of his exhibition at next year's Venice Biennale, we visit the multidisciplinary artist's currently-running show...

‘I’m quick and prolific,’ says Osman Yousefzada, ‘which often proves a problem for the people around me’. It’s true; and a greater problem persists in how others seek to pigeonhole or define the work of this diverse practitioner.

Installation view

Alongside his multidisciplinary practice, Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London, a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and now a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art. Activism permeates his work, including his writing. In 2022, his first book, The Go-Between, considered the upbringing of a child in a closed immigrant community in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s; it was through this book, and Yousefzada’s talk at Charleston Festival 2023 mere months ago, that this exhibition so quickly came to be.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

More recently, Yousefzada has sought to disentangle himself from his near-exclusive association with fashion, in which his designs have been patronised by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Centred around his large-scale textile works and installations, this exhibition skirts reference to his eponymous label altogether.

It is, however, also true that clothing is how many people have so far come to encounter his wide body of work. Even Jonathan Watkins, former director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and the home of Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition, was first introduced to the artist by his partner, an avid enthusiast of his womenswear. Likewise, it is how the artist first came to his craft. As a child, Yousefzada watched and helped his mother, ‘a maker’ of shalwar kameez for his British-Pakistani community in Birmingham; his father, a carpenter, also practised craft.

As a young boy, he was permitted behind the curtain which separated men and women, in what he has previously characterised as an ’ultra-orthodox’ Pashtun Pakistani community, but with age, this access was revoked. This curtain, perhaps the first fabric of his practice, hints at the boundaries constructed within certain religious communities, but also nuances how Islam, a plural faith, is differently practised yet often singularly perceived in Britain. Whilst some communities are incredibly patriarchal and conservative in their attitudes towards gender, contradictorily, Muslim men are still often emasculated within wider society.

Yousefzada’s binary-blurring approach to sexuality works well in the context of Charleston; a closer connection, certainly, than the more obvious link made with Bloomsbury and Fashion, on show in nearby Lewes. Alongside the textile works, we find new prints and works on paper commissioned for the House, partly inspired by characters in the Falnama, a book of omens used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, in which people seeking insight would turn to a random page and interpret the text and colourful drawings to tell their future. Yousefzada’s prints thus serve as talismans or magical objects that heal or protect and guard their viewers.

Rather than confine traditions and spirituality to something historic, Yousefzada also uses them to speak to contemporary Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of migrants in the UK today. These intersex figures also highlight the long history, and plural possibilities, of the Islamic faith, perhaps a nod to the artist’s own movement towards a Sufi, spiritual, ‘expanded’ religious practice.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada’s work also engages with the singular representation - and reimagining - of the working-class migrant experience. His Queer Feet series (2023) features a multitude of media, including Afghan, Balouch and Turkish rugs and tablecloths, and textiles embroidered with found objects, and others topped with what look like black plastic bags, but are in fact reworked ceramics. On the EMPIRE LINES podcast, he explains how this installation takes us into the intimate, domestic space of women, showing an image on his phone of how his mother would wrap items in bags for preservation.

Symbols and media crop up across Yousefzada’s practice. The same long plait runs around An Immigrant’s Room of her Own (2018), recently on show at Whitechapel Gallery’s Life is More Important than Art. He adopts the same black-and-yellow industrial hazard tape as ‘More Immigrants Please’ (2023) in his contribution to No But Where Are You Really From?, a series of public art installations from Artichoke, which speaks to borders (and his interest in the depiction of crime scenes in popular culture). ‘Even if it’s marketed as fiction, it’s all autobiographical,’ he says of his practice; his use of different media, from literature to large-scale installations, presents different perspectives, particularly on the complexities of diasporic communities.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

From Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition at Ikon in 2018, we find collaborations, and two-way flows, have followed. Welcome to the Machine (2018), a film produced with Haroon Mirza for the artist’s own Ikon exhibition, looks at the processes of leather tanning in Bangladesh. He later contributed a costume for year zero, Haroon Mirza, performed at the Lahore Biennale 2020 and online, also via Ikon. The artist’s interest in sustainability, especially with respect to South Asian textile industries, connects with his wider interest in workers’ rights. It is a connection that crosses both continents and cities, a link between his upbringing in the Midlands, and long-term home of London.

Yousefzada is clearly conscious of not capitalising on thin, media interests in this complex community - worth hearing out is this interview in which he traces the long history of Conservative government policies as felt and appropriated by the community in Birmingham, from 1980s Thatcher Britain, to David Cameron’s Big Society. He has also spoken openly about his gradual distancing of references to Asian design history like Islamic geometry, agreeing that ‘legacy equals cash’ when it comes to funding for artists in the diaspora. His practice highlights the difficulties of engaging with tradition without self-orientalising or, in the case of saris, ignoring their current instrumentalisation for nationalist ends by the Indian government.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

While the artist has long challenged the conventions of display - his Infinity Pattern 1 for Selfridges Birmingham was marketed as the ‘largest canvas in the world’ - this exhibition at Charleston is more subtle. Here, he does not directly address the themes often ascribed to his work, and maintains a complex relationship with his art as a form of history-making. ‘I lost a family to write a book,’ he has said of The Go-Between, referring to the fact that it has become a document of a ‘community that wants to remain undocumented’. And still, he is working on a further two texts, one of poetry.

Yousefzada arrives at Charleston fresh from yet another install, of Embodiments of Memory at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, an extension of his recent interests in ceramics. He also shows in group exhibitions across the country, with high fashion runways works at Design Museum’s REBEL, to his Migrant Gods series; these figures, perhaps found at Charleston in his works on paper, feature in simultaneous displays from Claridge’s ArtSpace to Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery, and soon, Camden Art Centre, as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2023.

Importantly, there are more solos to come, and an exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. Yousefzada does deserve the space and attention grand institutions can give, and it will be interesting to see how he engages with these places, and the people who run them. Next year’s exhibition at the V&A in London - with its architecture designed to ‘put you in your place’ - will hopefully see more of his subtle subversion of expectations, rather than efforts to surmount or dominate the space. To do so would be playing by their rules, and thus far he has refused them wherever possible.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada has already achieved what remains, for some, paradoxical: he has managed to maintain, strengthen, and work through his values, whilst becoming ever more prolific in output. He can be sure these questions will only continue to arise throughout his career, but they will never limit his entangled practice.

Osman Yousefzada is on view at Charleston in Firle until 10 March 2024.

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
30/11/2023
Spotlight
Jelena Sofronijevic
Osman Yousefzada at Charleston in Firle
Written by
Jelena Sofronijevic
Date Published
30/11/2023
No items found.
Ahead of his exhibition at next year's Venice Biennale, we visit the multidisciplinary artist's currently-running show...

‘I’m quick and prolific,’ says Osman Yousefzada, ‘which often proves a problem for the people around me’. It’s true; and a greater problem persists in how others seek to pigeonhole or define the work of this diverse practitioner.

Installation view

Alongside his multidisciplinary practice, Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London, a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and now a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art. Activism permeates his work, including his writing. In 2022, his first book, The Go-Between, considered the upbringing of a child in a closed immigrant community in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s; it was through this book, and Yousefzada’s talk at Charleston Festival 2023 mere months ago, that this exhibition so quickly came to be.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

More recently, Yousefzada has sought to disentangle himself from his near-exclusive association with fashion, in which his designs have been patronised by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Centred around his large-scale textile works and installations, this exhibition skirts reference to his eponymous label altogether.

It is, however, also true that clothing is how many people have so far come to encounter his wide body of work. Even Jonathan Watkins, former director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and the home of Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition, was first introduced to the artist by his partner, an avid enthusiast of his womenswear. Likewise, it is how the artist first came to his craft. As a child, Yousefzada watched and helped his mother, ‘a maker’ of shalwar kameez for his British-Pakistani community in Birmingham; his father, a carpenter, also practised craft.

As a young boy, he was permitted behind the curtain which separated men and women, in what he has previously characterised as an ’ultra-orthodox’ Pashtun Pakistani community, but with age, this access was revoked. This curtain, perhaps the first fabric of his practice, hints at the boundaries constructed within certain religious communities, but also nuances how Islam, a plural faith, is differently practised yet often singularly perceived in Britain. Whilst some communities are incredibly patriarchal and conservative in their attitudes towards gender, contradictorily, Muslim men are still often emasculated within wider society.

Yousefzada’s binary-blurring approach to sexuality works well in the context of Charleston; a closer connection, certainly, than the more obvious link made with Bloomsbury and Fashion, on show in nearby Lewes. Alongside the textile works, we find new prints and works on paper commissioned for the House, partly inspired by characters in the Falnama, a book of omens used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, in which people seeking insight would turn to a random page and interpret the text and colourful drawings to tell their future. Yousefzada’s prints thus serve as talismans or magical objects that heal or protect and guard their viewers.

Rather than confine traditions and spirituality to something historic, Yousefzada also uses them to speak to contemporary Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of migrants in the UK today. These intersex figures also highlight the long history, and plural possibilities, of the Islamic faith, perhaps a nod to the artist’s own movement towards a Sufi, spiritual, ‘expanded’ religious practice.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada’s work also engages with the singular representation - and reimagining - of the working-class migrant experience. His Queer Feet series (2023) features a multitude of media, including Afghan, Balouch and Turkish rugs and tablecloths, and textiles embroidered with found objects, and others topped with what look like black plastic bags, but are in fact reworked ceramics. On the EMPIRE LINES podcast, he explains how this installation takes us into the intimate, domestic space of women, showing an image on his phone of how his mother would wrap items in bags for preservation.

Symbols and media crop up across Yousefzada’s practice. The same long plait runs around An Immigrant’s Room of her Own (2018), recently on show at Whitechapel Gallery’s Life is More Important than Art. He adopts the same black-and-yellow industrial hazard tape as ‘More Immigrants Please’ (2023) in his contribution to No But Where Are You Really From?, a series of public art installations from Artichoke, which speaks to borders (and his interest in the depiction of crime scenes in popular culture). ‘Even if it’s marketed as fiction, it’s all autobiographical,’ he says of his practice; his use of different media, from literature to large-scale installations, presents different perspectives, particularly on the complexities of diasporic communities.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

From Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition at Ikon in 2018, we find collaborations, and two-way flows, have followed. Welcome to the Machine (2018), a film produced with Haroon Mirza for the artist’s own Ikon exhibition, looks at the processes of leather tanning in Bangladesh. He later contributed a costume for year zero, Haroon Mirza, performed at the Lahore Biennale 2020 and online, also via Ikon. The artist’s interest in sustainability, especially with respect to South Asian textile industries, connects with his wider interest in workers’ rights. It is a connection that crosses both continents and cities, a link between his upbringing in the Midlands, and long-term home of London.

Yousefzada is clearly conscious of not capitalising on thin, media interests in this complex community - worth hearing out is this interview in which he traces the long history of Conservative government policies as felt and appropriated by the community in Birmingham, from 1980s Thatcher Britain, to David Cameron’s Big Society. He has also spoken openly about his gradual distancing of references to Asian design history like Islamic geometry, agreeing that ‘legacy equals cash’ when it comes to funding for artists in the diaspora. His practice highlights the difficulties of engaging with tradition without self-orientalising or, in the case of saris, ignoring their current instrumentalisation for nationalist ends by the Indian government.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

While the artist has long challenged the conventions of display - his Infinity Pattern 1 for Selfridges Birmingham was marketed as the ‘largest canvas in the world’ - this exhibition at Charleston is more subtle. Here, he does not directly address the themes often ascribed to his work, and maintains a complex relationship with his art as a form of history-making. ‘I lost a family to write a book,’ he has said of The Go-Between, referring to the fact that it has become a document of a ‘community that wants to remain undocumented’. And still, he is working on a further two texts, one of poetry.

Yousefzada arrives at Charleston fresh from yet another install, of Embodiments of Memory at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, an extension of his recent interests in ceramics. He also shows in group exhibitions across the country, with high fashion runways works at Design Museum’s REBEL, to his Migrant Gods series; these figures, perhaps found at Charleston in his works on paper, feature in simultaneous displays from Claridge’s ArtSpace to Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery, and soon, Camden Art Centre, as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2023.

Importantly, there are more solos to come, and an exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. Yousefzada does deserve the space and attention grand institutions can give, and it will be interesting to see how he engages with these places, and the people who run them. Next year’s exhibition at the V&A in London - with its architecture designed to ‘put you in your place’ - will hopefully see more of his subtle subversion of expectations, rather than efforts to surmount or dominate the space. To do so would be playing by their rules, and thus far he has refused them wherever possible.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada has already achieved what remains, for some, paradoxical: he has managed to maintain, strengthen, and work through his values, whilst becoming ever more prolific in output. He can be sure these questions will only continue to arise throughout his career, but they will never limit his entangled practice.

Osman Yousefzada is on view at Charleston in Firle until 10 March 2024.

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
Written by
Jelena Sofronijevic
Date Published
30/11/2023
No items found.
30/11/2023
Spotlight
Jelena Sofronijevic
Osman Yousefzada at Charleston in Firle

‘I’m quick and prolific,’ says Osman Yousefzada, ‘which often proves a problem for the people around me’. It’s true; and a greater problem persists in how others seek to pigeonhole or define the work of this diverse practitioner.

Installation view

Alongside his multidisciplinary practice, Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London, a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and now a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art. Activism permeates his work, including his writing. In 2022, his first book, The Go-Between, considered the upbringing of a child in a closed immigrant community in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s; it was through this book, and Yousefzada’s talk at Charleston Festival 2023 mere months ago, that this exhibition so quickly came to be.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

More recently, Yousefzada has sought to disentangle himself from his near-exclusive association with fashion, in which his designs have been patronised by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Centred around his large-scale textile works and installations, this exhibition skirts reference to his eponymous label altogether.

It is, however, also true that clothing is how many people have so far come to encounter his wide body of work. Even Jonathan Watkins, former director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and the home of Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition, was first introduced to the artist by his partner, an avid enthusiast of his womenswear. Likewise, it is how the artist first came to his craft. As a child, Yousefzada watched and helped his mother, ‘a maker’ of shalwar kameez for his British-Pakistani community in Birmingham; his father, a carpenter, also practised craft.

As a young boy, he was permitted behind the curtain which separated men and women, in what he has previously characterised as an ’ultra-orthodox’ Pashtun Pakistani community, but with age, this access was revoked. This curtain, perhaps the first fabric of his practice, hints at the boundaries constructed within certain religious communities, but also nuances how Islam, a plural faith, is differently practised yet often singularly perceived in Britain. Whilst some communities are incredibly patriarchal and conservative in their attitudes towards gender, contradictorily, Muslim men are still often emasculated within wider society.

Yousefzada’s binary-blurring approach to sexuality works well in the context of Charleston; a closer connection, certainly, than the more obvious link made with Bloomsbury and Fashion, on show in nearby Lewes. Alongside the textile works, we find new prints and works on paper commissioned for the House, partly inspired by characters in the Falnama, a book of omens used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, in which people seeking insight would turn to a random page and interpret the text and colourful drawings to tell their future. Yousefzada’s prints thus serve as talismans or magical objects that heal or protect and guard their viewers.

Rather than confine traditions and spirituality to something historic, Yousefzada also uses them to speak to contemporary Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of migrants in the UK today. These intersex figures also highlight the long history, and plural possibilities, of the Islamic faith, perhaps a nod to the artist’s own movement towards a Sufi, spiritual, ‘expanded’ religious practice.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada’s work also engages with the singular representation - and reimagining - of the working-class migrant experience. His Queer Feet series (2023) features a multitude of media, including Afghan, Balouch and Turkish rugs and tablecloths, and textiles embroidered with found objects, and others topped with what look like black plastic bags, but are in fact reworked ceramics. On the EMPIRE LINES podcast, he explains how this installation takes us into the intimate, domestic space of women, showing an image on his phone of how his mother would wrap items in bags for preservation.

Symbols and media crop up across Yousefzada’s practice. The same long plait runs around An Immigrant’s Room of her Own (2018), recently on show at Whitechapel Gallery’s Life is More Important than Art. He adopts the same black-and-yellow industrial hazard tape as ‘More Immigrants Please’ (2023) in his contribution to No But Where Are You Really From?, a series of public art installations from Artichoke, which speaks to borders (and his interest in the depiction of crime scenes in popular culture). ‘Even if it’s marketed as fiction, it’s all autobiographical,’ he says of his practice; his use of different media, from literature to large-scale installations, presents different perspectives, particularly on the complexities of diasporic communities.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

From Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition at Ikon in 2018, we find collaborations, and two-way flows, have followed. Welcome to the Machine (2018), a film produced with Haroon Mirza for the artist’s own Ikon exhibition, looks at the processes of leather tanning in Bangladesh. He later contributed a costume for year zero, Haroon Mirza, performed at the Lahore Biennale 2020 and online, also via Ikon. The artist’s interest in sustainability, especially with respect to South Asian textile industries, connects with his wider interest in workers’ rights. It is a connection that crosses both continents and cities, a link between his upbringing in the Midlands, and long-term home of London.

Yousefzada is clearly conscious of not capitalising on thin, media interests in this complex community - worth hearing out is this interview in which he traces the long history of Conservative government policies as felt and appropriated by the community in Birmingham, from 1980s Thatcher Britain, to David Cameron’s Big Society. He has also spoken openly about his gradual distancing of references to Asian design history like Islamic geometry, agreeing that ‘legacy equals cash’ when it comes to funding for artists in the diaspora. His practice highlights the difficulties of engaging with tradition without self-orientalising or, in the case of saris, ignoring their current instrumentalisation for nationalist ends by the Indian government.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

While the artist has long challenged the conventions of display - his Infinity Pattern 1 for Selfridges Birmingham was marketed as the ‘largest canvas in the world’ - this exhibition at Charleston is more subtle. Here, he does not directly address the themes often ascribed to his work, and maintains a complex relationship with his art as a form of history-making. ‘I lost a family to write a book,’ he has said of The Go-Between, referring to the fact that it has become a document of a ‘community that wants to remain undocumented’. And still, he is working on a further two texts, one of poetry.

Yousefzada arrives at Charleston fresh from yet another install, of Embodiments of Memory at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, an extension of his recent interests in ceramics. He also shows in group exhibitions across the country, with high fashion runways works at Design Museum’s REBEL, to his Migrant Gods series; these figures, perhaps found at Charleston in his works on paper, feature in simultaneous displays from Claridge’s ArtSpace to Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery, and soon, Camden Art Centre, as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2023.

Importantly, there are more solos to come, and an exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. Yousefzada does deserve the space and attention grand institutions can give, and it will be interesting to see how he engages with these places, and the people who run them. Next year’s exhibition at the V&A in London - with its architecture designed to ‘put you in your place’ - will hopefully see more of his subtle subversion of expectations, rather than efforts to surmount or dominate the space. To do so would be playing by their rules, and thus far he has refused them wherever possible.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada has already achieved what remains, for some, paradoxical: he has managed to maintain, strengthen, and work through his values, whilst becoming ever more prolific in output. He can be sure these questions will only continue to arise throughout his career, but they will never limit his entangled practice.

Osman Yousefzada is on view at Charleston in Firle until 10 March 2024.

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
Osman Yousefzada at Charleston in Firle
30/11/2023
Spotlight
Jelena Sofronijevic
Written by
Jelena Sofronijevic
Date Published
30/11/2023
No items found.
Ahead of his exhibition at next year's Venice Biennale, we visit the multidisciplinary artist's currently-running show...

‘I’m quick and prolific,’ says Osman Yousefzada, ‘which often proves a problem for the people around me’. It’s true; and a greater problem persists in how others seek to pigeonhole or define the work of this diverse practitioner.

Installation view

Alongside his multidisciplinary practice, Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London, a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and now a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art. Activism permeates his work, including his writing. In 2022, his first book, The Go-Between, considered the upbringing of a child in a closed immigrant community in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s; it was through this book, and Yousefzada’s talk at Charleston Festival 2023 mere months ago, that this exhibition so quickly came to be.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

More recently, Yousefzada has sought to disentangle himself from his near-exclusive association with fashion, in which his designs have been patronised by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Centred around his large-scale textile works and installations, this exhibition skirts reference to his eponymous label altogether.

It is, however, also true that clothing is how many people have so far come to encounter his wide body of work. Even Jonathan Watkins, former director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and the home of Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition, was first introduced to the artist by his partner, an avid enthusiast of his womenswear. Likewise, it is how the artist first came to his craft. As a child, Yousefzada watched and helped his mother, ‘a maker’ of shalwar kameez for his British-Pakistani community in Birmingham; his father, a carpenter, also practised craft.

As a young boy, he was permitted behind the curtain which separated men and women, in what he has previously characterised as an ’ultra-orthodox’ Pashtun Pakistani community, but with age, this access was revoked. This curtain, perhaps the first fabric of his practice, hints at the boundaries constructed within certain religious communities, but also nuances how Islam, a plural faith, is differently practised yet often singularly perceived in Britain. Whilst some communities are incredibly patriarchal and conservative in their attitudes towards gender, contradictorily, Muslim men are still often emasculated within wider society.

Yousefzada’s binary-blurring approach to sexuality works well in the context of Charleston; a closer connection, certainly, than the more obvious link made with Bloomsbury and Fashion, on show in nearby Lewes. Alongside the textile works, we find new prints and works on paper commissioned for the House, partly inspired by characters in the Falnama, a book of omens used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, in which people seeking insight would turn to a random page and interpret the text and colourful drawings to tell their future. Yousefzada’s prints thus serve as talismans or magical objects that heal or protect and guard their viewers.

Rather than confine traditions and spirituality to something historic, Yousefzada also uses them to speak to contemporary Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of migrants in the UK today. These intersex figures also highlight the long history, and plural possibilities, of the Islamic faith, perhaps a nod to the artist’s own movement towards a Sufi, spiritual, ‘expanded’ religious practice.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada’s work also engages with the singular representation - and reimagining - of the working-class migrant experience. His Queer Feet series (2023) features a multitude of media, including Afghan, Balouch and Turkish rugs and tablecloths, and textiles embroidered with found objects, and others topped with what look like black plastic bags, but are in fact reworked ceramics. On the EMPIRE LINES podcast, he explains how this installation takes us into the intimate, domestic space of women, showing an image on his phone of how his mother would wrap items in bags for preservation.

Symbols and media crop up across Yousefzada’s practice. The same long plait runs around An Immigrant’s Room of her Own (2018), recently on show at Whitechapel Gallery’s Life is More Important than Art. He adopts the same black-and-yellow industrial hazard tape as ‘More Immigrants Please’ (2023) in his contribution to No But Where Are You Really From?, a series of public art installations from Artichoke, which speaks to borders (and his interest in the depiction of crime scenes in popular culture). ‘Even if it’s marketed as fiction, it’s all autobiographical,’ he says of his practice; his use of different media, from literature to large-scale installations, presents different perspectives, particularly on the complexities of diasporic communities.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

From Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition at Ikon in 2018, we find collaborations, and two-way flows, have followed. Welcome to the Machine (2018), a film produced with Haroon Mirza for the artist’s own Ikon exhibition, looks at the processes of leather tanning in Bangladesh. He later contributed a costume for year zero, Haroon Mirza, performed at the Lahore Biennale 2020 and online, also via Ikon. The artist’s interest in sustainability, especially with respect to South Asian textile industries, connects with his wider interest in workers’ rights. It is a connection that crosses both continents and cities, a link between his upbringing in the Midlands, and long-term home of London.

Yousefzada is clearly conscious of not capitalising on thin, media interests in this complex community - worth hearing out is this interview in which he traces the long history of Conservative government policies as felt and appropriated by the community in Birmingham, from 1980s Thatcher Britain, to David Cameron’s Big Society. He has also spoken openly about his gradual distancing of references to Asian design history like Islamic geometry, agreeing that ‘legacy equals cash’ when it comes to funding for artists in the diaspora. His practice highlights the difficulties of engaging with tradition without self-orientalising or, in the case of saris, ignoring their current instrumentalisation for nationalist ends by the Indian government.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

While the artist has long challenged the conventions of display - his Infinity Pattern 1 for Selfridges Birmingham was marketed as the ‘largest canvas in the world’ - this exhibition at Charleston is more subtle. Here, he does not directly address the themes often ascribed to his work, and maintains a complex relationship with his art as a form of history-making. ‘I lost a family to write a book,’ he has said of The Go-Between, referring to the fact that it has become a document of a ‘community that wants to remain undocumented’. And still, he is working on a further two texts, one of poetry.

Yousefzada arrives at Charleston fresh from yet another install, of Embodiments of Memory at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, an extension of his recent interests in ceramics. He also shows in group exhibitions across the country, with high fashion runways works at Design Museum’s REBEL, to his Migrant Gods series; these figures, perhaps found at Charleston in his works on paper, feature in simultaneous displays from Claridge’s ArtSpace to Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery, and soon, Camden Art Centre, as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2023.

Importantly, there are more solos to come, and an exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. Yousefzada does deserve the space and attention grand institutions can give, and it will be interesting to see how he engages with these places, and the people who run them. Next year’s exhibition at the V&A in London - with its architecture designed to ‘put you in your place’ - will hopefully see more of his subtle subversion of expectations, rather than efforts to surmount or dominate the space. To do so would be playing by their rules, and thus far he has refused them wherever possible.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada has already achieved what remains, for some, paradoxical: he has managed to maintain, strengthen, and work through his values, whilst becoming ever more prolific in output. He can be sure these questions will only continue to arise throughout his career, but they will never limit his entangled practice.

Osman Yousefzada is on view at Charleston in Firle until 10 March 2024.

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Collect your 5 yamos below
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Osman Yousefzada at Charleston in Firle
Written by
Jelena Sofronijevic
Date Published
30/11/2023
Ahead of his exhibition at next year's Venice Biennale, we visit the multidisciplinary artist's currently-running show...
30/11/2023
Spotlight
Jelena Sofronijevic

‘I’m quick and prolific,’ says Osman Yousefzada, ‘which often proves a problem for the people around me’. It’s true; and a greater problem persists in how others seek to pigeonhole or define the work of this diverse practitioner.

Installation view

Alongside his multidisciplinary practice, Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London, a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and now a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art. Activism permeates his work, including his writing. In 2022, his first book, The Go-Between, considered the upbringing of a child in a closed immigrant community in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s; it was through this book, and Yousefzada’s talk at Charleston Festival 2023 mere months ago, that this exhibition so quickly came to be.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

More recently, Yousefzada has sought to disentangle himself from his near-exclusive association with fashion, in which his designs have been patronised by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Centred around his large-scale textile works and installations, this exhibition skirts reference to his eponymous label altogether.

It is, however, also true that clothing is how many people have so far come to encounter his wide body of work. Even Jonathan Watkins, former director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and the home of Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition, was first introduced to the artist by his partner, an avid enthusiast of his womenswear. Likewise, it is how the artist first came to his craft. As a child, Yousefzada watched and helped his mother, ‘a maker’ of shalwar kameez for his British-Pakistani community in Birmingham; his father, a carpenter, also practised craft.

As a young boy, he was permitted behind the curtain which separated men and women, in what he has previously characterised as an ’ultra-orthodox’ Pashtun Pakistani community, but with age, this access was revoked. This curtain, perhaps the first fabric of his practice, hints at the boundaries constructed within certain religious communities, but also nuances how Islam, a plural faith, is differently practised yet often singularly perceived in Britain. Whilst some communities are incredibly patriarchal and conservative in their attitudes towards gender, contradictorily, Muslim men are still often emasculated within wider society.

Yousefzada’s binary-blurring approach to sexuality works well in the context of Charleston; a closer connection, certainly, than the more obvious link made with Bloomsbury and Fashion, on show in nearby Lewes. Alongside the textile works, we find new prints and works on paper commissioned for the House, partly inspired by characters in the Falnama, a book of omens used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, in which people seeking insight would turn to a random page and interpret the text and colourful drawings to tell their future. Yousefzada’s prints thus serve as talismans or magical objects that heal or protect and guard their viewers.

Rather than confine traditions and spirituality to something historic, Yousefzada also uses them to speak to contemporary Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of migrants in the UK today. These intersex figures also highlight the long history, and plural possibilities, of the Islamic faith, perhaps a nod to the artist’s own movement towards a Sufi, spiritual, ‘expanded’ religious practice.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada’s work also engages with the singular representation - and reimagining - of the working-class migrant experience. His Queer Feet series (2023) features a multitude of media, including Afghan, Balouch and Turkish rugs and tablecloths, and textiles embroidered with found objects, and others topped with what look like black plastic bags, but are in fact reworked ceramics. On the EMPIRE LINES podcast, he explains how this installation takes us into the intimate, domestic space of women, showing an image on his phone of how his mother would wrap items in bags for preservation.

Symbols and media crop up across Yousefzada’s practice. The same long plait runs around An Immigrant’s Room of her Own (2018), recently on show at Whitechapel Gallery’s Life is More Important than Art. He adopts the same black-and-yellow industrial hazard tape as ‘More Immigrants Please’ (2023) in his contribution to No But Where Are You Really From?, a series of public art installations from Artichoke, which speaks to borders (and his interest in the depiction of crime scenes in popular culture). ‘Even if it’s marketed as fiction, it’s all autobiographical,’ he says of his practice; his use of different media, from literature to large-scale installations, presents different perspectives, particularly on the complexities of diasporic communities.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

From Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition at Ikon in 2018, we find collaborations, and two-way flows, have followed. Welcome to the Machine (2018), a film produced with Haroon Mirza for the artist’s own Ikon exhibition, looks at the processes of leather tanning in Bangladesh. He later contributed a costume for year zero, Haroon Mirza, performed at the Lahore Biennale 2020 and online, also via Ikon. The artist’s interest in sustainability, especially with respect to South Asian textile industries, connects with his wider interest in workers’ rights. It is a connection that crosses both continents and cities, a link between his upbringing in the Midlands, and long-term home of London.

Yousefzada is clearly conscious of not capitalising on thin, media interests in this complex community - worth hearing out is this interview in which he traces the long history of Conservative government policies as felt and appropriated by the community in Birmingham, from 1980s Thatcher Britain, to David Cameron’s Big Society. He has also spoken openly about his gradual distancing of references to Asian design history like Islamic geometry, agreeing that ‘legacy equals cash’ when it comes to funding for artists in the diaspora. His practice highlights the difficulties of engaging with tradition without self-orientalising or, in the case of saris, ignoring their current instrumentalisation for nationalist ends by the Indian government.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

While the artist has long challenged the conventions of display - his Infinity Pattern 1 for Selfridges Birmingham was marketed as the ‘largest canvas in the world’ - this exhibition at Charleston is more subtle. Here, he does not directly address the themes often ascribed to his work, and maintains a complex relationship with his art as a form of history-making. ‘I lost a family to write a book,’ he has said of The Go-Between, referring to the fact that it has become a document of a ‘community that wants to remain undocumented’. And still, he is working on a further two texts, one of poetry.

Yousefzada arrives at Charleston fresh from yet another install, of Embodiments of Memory at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, an extension of his recent interests in ceramics. He also shows in group exhibitions across the country, with high fashion runways works at Design Museum’s REBEL, to his Migrant Gods series; these figures, perhaps found at Charleston in his works on paper, feature in simultaneous displays from Claridge’s ArtSpace to Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery, and soon, Camden Art Centre, as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2023.

Importantly, there are more solos to come, and an exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. Yousefzada does deserve the space and attention grand institutions can give, and it will be interesting to see how he engages with these places, and the people who run them. Next year’s exhibition at the V&A in London - with its architecture designed to ‘put you in your place’ - will hopefully see more of his subtle subversion of expectations, rather than efforts to surmount or dominate the space. To do so would be playing by their rules, and thus far he has refused them wherever possible.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada has already achieved what remains, for some, paradoxical: he has managed to maintain, strengthen, and work through his values, whilst becoming ever more prolific in output. He can be sure these questions will only continue to arise throughout his career, but they will never limit his entangled practice.

Osman Yousefzada is on view at Charleston in Firle until 10 March 2024.

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
Osman Yousefzada at Charleston in Firle
Written by
Jelena Sofronijevic
Date Published
30/11/2023
No items found.
30/11/2023
Spotlight
Jelena Sofronijevic
Ahead of his exhibition at next year's Venice Biennale, we visit the multidisciplinary artist's currently-running show...

‘I’m quick and prolific,’ says Osman Yousefzada, ‘which often proves a problem for the people around me’. It’s true; and a greater problem persists in how others seek to pigeonhole or define the work of this diverse practitioner.

Installation view

Alongside his multidisciplinary practice, Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London, a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and now a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art. Activism permeates his work, including his writing. In 2022, his first book, The Go-Between, considered the upbringing of a child in a closed immigrant community in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s; it was through this book, and Yousefzada’s talk at Charleston Festival 2023 mere months ago, that this exhibition so quickly came to be.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

More recently, Yousefzada has sought to disentangle himself from his near-exclusive association with fashion, in which his designs have been patronised by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Centred around his large-scale textile works and installations, this exhibition skirts reference to his eponymous label altogether.

It is, however, also true that clothing is how many people have so far come to encounter his wide body of work. Even Jonathan Watkins, former director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and the home of Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition, was first introduced to the artist by his partner, an avid enthusiast of his womenswear. Likewise, it is how the artist first came to his craft. As a child, Yousefzada watched and helped his mother, ‘a maker’ of shalwar kameez for his British-Pakistani community in Birmingham; his father, a carpenter, also practised craft.

As a young boy, he was permitted behind the curtain which separated men and women, in what he has previously characterised as an ’ultra-orthodox’ Pashtun Pakistani community, but with age, this access was revoked. This curtain, perhaps the first fabric of his practice, hints at the boundaries constructed within certain religious communities, but also nuances how Islam, a plural faith, is differently practised yet often singularly perceived in Britain. Whilst some communities are incredibly patriarchal and conservative in their attitudes towards gender, contradictorily, Muslim men are still often emasculated within wider society.

Yousefzada’s binary-blurring approach to sexuality works well in the context of Charleston; a closer connection, certainly, than the more obvious link made with Bloomsbury and Fashion, on show in nearby Lewes. Alongside the textile works, we find new prints and works on paper commissioned for the House, partly inspired by characters in the Falnama, a book of omens used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, in which people seeking insight would turn to a random page and interpret the text and colourful drawings to tell their future. Yousefzada’s prints thus serve as talismans or magical objects that heal or protect and guard their viewers.

Rather than confine traditions and spirituality to something historic, Yousefzada also uses them to speak to contemporary Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of migrants in the UK today. These intersex figures also highlight the long history, and plural possibilities, of the Islamic faith, perhaps a nod to the artist’s own movement towards a Sufi, spiritual, ‘expanded’ religious practice.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada’s work also engages with the singular representation - and reimagining - of the working-class migrant experience. His Queer Feet series (2023) features a multitude of media, including Afghan, Balouch and Turkish rugs and tablecloths, and textiles embroidered with found objects, and others topped with what look like black plastic bags, but are in fact reworked ceramics. On the EMPIRE LINES podcast, he explains how this installation takes us into the intimate, domestic space of women, showing an image on his phone of how his mother would wrap items in bags for preservation.

Symbols and media crop up across Yousefzada’s practice. The same long plait runs around An Immigrant’s Room of her Own (2018), recently on show at Whitechapel Gallery’s Life is More Important than Art. He adopts the same black-and-yellow industrial hazard tape as ‘More Immigrants Please’ (2023) in his contribution to No But Where Are You Really From?, a series of public art installations from Artichoke, which speaks to borders (and his interest in the depiction of crime scenes in popular culture). ‘Even if it’s marketed as fiction, it’s all autobiographical,’ he says of his practice; his use of different media, from literature to large-scale installations, presents different perspectives, particularly on the complexities of diasporic communities.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

From Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition at Ikon in 2018, we find collaborations, and two-way flows, have followed. Welcome to the Machine (2018), a film produced with Haroon Mirza for the artist’s own Ikon exhibition, looks at the processes of leather tanning in Bangladesh. He later contributed a costume for year zero, Haroon Mirza, performed at the Lahore Biennale 2020 and online, also via Ikon. The artist’s interest in sustainability, especially with respect to South Asian textile industries, connects with his wider interest in workers’ rights. It is a connection that crosses both continents and cities, a link between his upbringing in the Midlands, and long-term home of London.

Yousefzada is clearly conscious of not capitalising on thin, media interests in this complex community - worth hearing out is this interview in which he traces the long history of Conservative government policies as felt and appropriated by the community in Birmingham, from 1980s Thatcher Britain, to David Cameron’s Big Society. He has also spoken openly about his gradual distancing of references to Asian design history like Islamic geometry, agreeing that ‘legacy equals cash’ when it comes to funding for artists in the diaspora. His practice highlights the difficulties of engaging with tradition without self-orientalising or, in the case of saris, ignoring their current instrumentalisation for nationalist ends by the Indian government.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

While the artist has long challenged the conventions of display - his Infinity Pattern 1 for Selfridges Birmingham was marketed as the ‘largest canvas in the world’ - this exhibition at Charleston is more subtle. Here, he does not directly address the themes often ascribed to his work, and maintains a complex relationship with his art as a form of history-making. ‘I lost a family to write a book,’ he has said of The Go-Between, referring to the fact that it has become a document of a ‘community that wants to remain undocumented’. And still, he is working on a further two texts, one of poetry.

Yousefzada arrives at Charleston fresh from yet another install, of Embodiments of Memory at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, an extension of his recent interests in ceramics. He also shows in group exhibitions across the country, with high fashion runways works at Design Museum’s REBEL, to his Migrant Gods series; these figures, perhaps found at Charleston in his works on paper, feature in simultaneous displays from Claridge’s ArtSpace to Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery, and soon, Camden Art Centre, as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2023.

Importantly, there are more solos to come, and an exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. Yousefzada does deserve the space and attention grand institutions can give, and it will be interesting to see how he engages with these places, and the people who run them. Next year’s exhibition at the V&A in London - with its architecture designed to ‘put you in your place’ - will hopefully see more of his subtle subversion of expectations, rather than efforts to surmount or dominate the space. To do so would be playing by their rules, and thus far he has refused them wherever possible.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada has already achieved what remains, for some, paradoxical: he has managed to maintain, strengthen, and work through his values, whilst becoming ever more prolific in output. He can be sure these questions will only continue to arise throughout his career, but they will never limit his entangled practice.

Osman Yousefzada is on view at Charleston in Firle until 10 March 2024.

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
30/11/2023
Spotlight
Jelena Sofronijevic
Osman Yousefzada at Charleston in Firle
Ahead of his exhibition at next year's Venice Biennale, we visit the multidisciplinary artist's currently-running show...

‘I’m quick and prolific,’ says Osman Yousefzada, ‘which often proves a problem for the people around me’. It’s true; and a greater problem persists in how others seek to pigeonhole or define the work of this diverse practitioner.

Installation view

Alongside his multidisciplinary practice, Yousefzada is a research practitioner at the Royal College of Art, London, a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, and now a Professor of Interdisciplinary Practice at Birmingham School of Art. Activism permeates his work, including his writing. In 2022, his first book, The Go-Between, considered the upbringing of a child in a closed immigrant community in Birmingham in the 1980s and 1990s; it was through this book, and Yousefzada’s talk at Charleston Festival 2023 mere months ago, that this exhibition so quickly came to be.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

More recently, Yousefzada has sought to disentangle himself from his near-exclusive association with fashion, in which his designs have been patronised by the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. Centred around his large-scale textile works and installations, this exhibition skirts reference to his eponymous label altogether.

It is, however, also true that clothing is how many people have so far come to encounter his wide body of work. Even Jonathan Watkins, former director of Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and the home of Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition, was first introduced to the artist by his partner, an avid enthusiast of his womenswear. Likewise, it is how the artist first came to his craft. As a child, Yousefzada watched and helped his mother, ‘a maker’ of shalwar kameez for his British-Pakistani community in Birmingham; his father, a carpenter, also practised craft.

As a young boy, he was permitted behind the curtain which separated men and women, in what he has previously characterised as an ’ultra-orthodox’ Pashtun Pakistani community, but with age, this access was revoked. This curtain, perhaps the first fabric of his practice, hints at the boundaries constructed within certain religious communities, but also nuances how Islam, a plural faith, is differently practised yet often singularly perceived in Britain. Whilst some communities are incredibly patriarchal and conservative in their attitudes towards gender, contradictorily, Muslim men are still often emasculated within wider society.

Yousefzada’s binary-blurring approach to sexuality works well in the context of Charleston; a closer connection, certainly, than the more obvious link made with Bloomsbury and Fashion, on show in nearby Lewes. Alongside the textile works, we find new prints and works on paper commissioned for the House, partly inspired by characters in the Falnama, a book of omens used by fortune tellers in Iran, India and Turkey during the 16th and 17th centuries, in which people seeking insight would turn to a random page and interpret the text and colourful drawings to tell their future. Yousefzada’s prints thus serve as talismans or magical objects that heal or protect and guard their viewers.

Rather than confine traditions and spirituality to something historic, Yousefzada also uses them to speak to contemporary Hindu-Muslim relations, and the status of migrants in the UK today. These intersex figures also highlight the long history, and plural possibilities, of the Islamic faith, perhaps a nod to the artist’s own movement towards a Sufi, spiritual, ‘expanded’ religious practice.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada’s work also engages with the singular representation - and reimagining - of the working-class migrant experience. His Queer Feet series (2023) features a multitude of media, including Afghan, Balouch and Turkish rugs and tablecloths, and textiles embroidered with found objects, and others topped with what look like black plastic bags, but are in fact reworked ceramics. On the EMPIRE LINES podcast, he explains how this installation takes us into the intimate, domestic space of women, showing an image on his phone of how his mother would wrap items in bags for preservation.

Symbols and media crop up across Yousefzada’s practice. The same long plait runs around An Immigrant’s Room of her Own (2018), recently on show at Whitechapel Gallery’s Life is More Important than Art. He adopts the same black-and-yellow industrial hazard tape as ‘More Immigrants Please’ (2023) in his contribution to No But Where Are You Really From?, a series of public art installations from Artichoke, which speaks to borders (and his interest in the depiction of crime scenes in popular culture). ‘Even if it’s marketed as fiction, it’s all autobiographical,’ he says of his practice; his use of different media, from literature to large-scale installations, presents different perspectives, particularly on the complexities of diasporic communities.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

From Yousefzada’s first solo exhibition at Ikon in 2018, we find collaborations, and two-way flows, have followed. Welcome to the Machine (2018), a film produced with Haroon Mirza for the artist’s own Ikon exhibition, looks at the processes of leather tanning in Bangladesh. He later contributed a costume for year zero, Haroon Mirza, performed at the Lahore Biennale 2020 and online, also via Ikon. The artist’s interest in sustainability, especially with respect to South Asian textile industries, connects with his wider interest in workers’ rights. It is a connection that crosses both continents and cities, a link between his upbringing in the Midlands, and long-term home of London.

Yousefzada is clearly conscious of not capitalising on thin, media interests in this complex community - worth hearing out is this interview in which he traces the long history of Conservative government policies as felt and appropriated by the community in Birmingham, from 1980s Thatcher Britain, to David Cameron’s Big Society. He has also spoken openly about his gradual distancing of references to Asian design history like Islamic geometry, agreeing that ‘legacy equals cash’ when it comes to funding for artists in the diaspora. His practice highlights the difficulties of engaging with tradition without self-orientalising or, in the case of saris, ignoring their current instrumentalisation for nationalist ends by the Indian government.

Untitled, Osman Yousefzada (2020) - mixed media on paper

While the artist has long challenged the conventions of display - his Infinity Pattern 1 for Selfridges Birmingham was marketed as the ‘largest canvas in the world’ - this exhibition at Charleston is more subtle. Here, he does not directly address the themes often ascribed to his work, and maintains a complex relationship with his art as a form of history-making. ‘I lost a family to write a book,’ he has said of The Go-Between, referring to the fact that it has become a document of a ‘community that wants to remain undocumented’. And still, he is working on a further two texts, one of poetry.

Yousefzada arrives at Charleston fresh from yet another install, of Embodiments of Memory at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, an extension of his recent interests in ceramics. He also shows in group exhibitions across the country, with high fashion runways works at Design Museum’s REBEL, to his Migrant Gods series; these figures, perhaps found at Charleston in his works on paper, feature in simultaneous displays from Claridge’s ArtSpace to Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery, and soon, Camden Art Centre, as part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2023.

Importantly, there are more solos to come, and an exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale in 2024. Yousefzada does deserve the space and attention grand institutions can give, and it will be interesting to see how he engages with these places, and the people who run them. Next year’s exhibition at the V&A in London - with its architecture designed to ‘put you in your place’ - will hopefully see more of his subtle subversion of expectations, rather than efforts to surmount or dominate the space. To do so would be playing by their rules, and thus far he has refused them wherever possible.

Untitled from the Queer Feet series, Osman Yousefzada (2023)

Yousefzada has already achieved what remains, for some, paradoxical: he has managed to maintain, strengthen, and work through his values, whilst becoming ever more prolific in output. He can be sure these questions will only continue to arise throughout his career, but they will never limit his entangled practice.

Osman Yousefzada is on view at Charleston in Firle until 10 March 2024.

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