Osman Yousefzada at Ikon by Sophie Bremner

“One dreams to the extent they can”

Osman Yousefzada’s exhibition is humbling, diverse, and beautiful. The Birmingham-born fashion designer takes a look at the migrant experience in multicultural Britain, the reality of fast fashion and the darker side of male dominance as everyday objects become weapons.

The debut of his eponymous fashion line, Osman, in 2008, was not the beginning for this fashion designer. Born to a conservative Afghan-Pakistani Muslim family and raised in Balsall Heath, Osman was cutting patterns and sewing to help his mother’s dress-making business by secondary school age.

More than anything, the exhibition is a humbling exploration of identity and the experience of migration.

For his first solo art exhibition, you can be forgiven for imagining a gallery room full of his wonderful design pieces on mannequins, as Ikon’s director Jonathan Watkins himself expected when first organising the exhibition. Instead, three gallery rooms have been transformed with newly commissioned art pieces, including the reconstruction of an immigrant’s bedroom and several short films, that explore cultural displacement and another side of fashion.

More than anything, the exhibition is a humbling exploration of identity and the experience of migration. The furniture and contents of the immigrant’s bedroom installation, A Room of One’s Own, are all wrapped in protective plastic, with Osman commenting on the irony of moving your family to start a new life without ever getting the chance to fully enjoy it. It’s also an intimate look into his mother’s private life, with her bedroom a safe environment and the only one she could control.

By far the most striking installation is Her Dreams Are Bigger, which compels the viewer to listen as they enter the exhibition space. Osman travelled to Bangladesh with a suitcase full of charity shop bought clothes to explore the reality of fast fashion. Short films show the industry workers imagining their muses like mythical creatures, as well as trying on the clothes and taking selfies.

With this piece, Osman draws our attention to an underlying issue of labour exploitation in fast fashion. The workers talk of the temporary nature of their muse’s life, with the woman wearing a dress ‘for two weeks / sometimes she will only wear it for a day’. This piece leaves the viewer with poignant statements as they move into the other rooms. “Everyone holds dreams they can afford so I dream within my limit”, one worker says, “she has more money than me, so her dreams are bigger”.

To accompany the launch of his first solo exhibition, Osman has also curated and organised The Migrant Festival in Birmingham this coming weekend (Thursday 14th – Sunday 17th June). The festival is a city-wide celebration and will include discussions with the designer himself, creative workshops, film screenings and concerts. Being Somewhere Else will be shown at Ikon until 29th June. For details on the exhibition or tickets for the festival, head over to Ikon’s website, https://www.ikon-gallery.org

Review by Sophie Bremner for Grapevine Birmingham @sophiebremner_