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Osman Yousefzada
OSMAN House Party AW18Courtesy of OSMAN

Designer Osman Yousefzada launches his first solo exhibition

The show explores the link between fashion and migration, and coincides with a four-day ‘migrant festival’ in Birmingham

When you wear a piece designed by Birmingham-born Afghan British designer Osman Yousefzada, you are not only wearing a unique blend of haute couture fabrics and sculptural designs, but a representation of the designer’s identity. Bravely personal and deeply moving, Yousefzada’s work reflects his experiences growing up a son of Afghan migrants in 1980s Birmingham. Since he launched his eponymously named label OSMAN in 2007, he has dressed the likes of BeyoncéKate Moss, and Lady Gaga. Now, the designer is bringing his philosophies to interactive life in his latest project: an exhibition and a coinciding four-day “migrant festival” in Birmingham.

Being Somewhere Else is the designer’s first solo exhibition, running from June 6-29 at Birmingham’s IKON Gallery. The show consists of entirely new commissions considering contemporary fashion’s inherent inequalities, juxtaposed with experiences of immigration. In true Yousefzada style, the show will pose questions about the responsibility of art and fashion in advocating for the safety and freedom of migrants. The show will also coincide with The Migrant Festivalfrom 14-17 June, taking place across Birmingham. This will consist of 17 diverse events, including a fashion parade led by activist Saffiyah Kahn and a Diaspora Disco with sets from Birmingham’s Bollywood drag queens. 

To celebrate the launch of Yousefzada’s latest project, below he recounts what it was like growing up as a second generation migrant in Birmingham, by remembering his favourite candy shop on the city's most multicultural street:

“In many ways, F Allen’s summed up Birmingham in the 1980s. A post-war corner shop on Ladypool Road, it occupied the crossroads of Moseley, Sparkhill, and the red light district of Balsall Heath. One of my after-school chores was to buy liquid paraffin from Ann, the formidable owner of F Allen’s. Whilst her son dispensed the blue liquid I would look, somewhat intoxicated, beyond the wooden counter to the jars of pastel bonbons, cream cakes, custards, and jellies. A cabinet of curiosities, and an insight into a different world to an 11-year-old Muslim boy. The experience further intensified when I stepped out of the shop and into a street awash with colours, smells and a babble of different tongues and dialects. Women in saris of bright hues under dark and khaki trench coats mixed freely with men in tailored blazers over traditional costumes.

“It is this total freedom of movement – between the school and corner shop, mosque and high street, living room and kitchen – that I am celebrating” – Osman Yousefzada

“Yet the women from my community rarely ventured out onto the high street, let alone to shop at F Allen’s. They didn’t do their own shopping. Hence, I would hobble home with the full gallon where it would be used to heat our sitting room, and Jason the cat would lounge in front of it. We all waited whilst my Afghan mother cooked whole aubergines on a low heat on the gas hob, penetrating the house and our handmade polyester clothes with its sweet smell.

“It is this total freedom of movement – between the school and corner shop, mosque and high street, living room and kitchen – that I am celebrating in The Migrant Festival. Whilst this is a call out to the whole of Birmingham to demonstrate its community in providing a city of sanctuary for Migrants and Refugees, I also encourage the simple, solo act of walking down Ladypool Road where a culture of diaspora continues to flourish.”

Being Somewhere Else running from June 6-29 at Birmingham’s IKON Gallery. You can find out more here. The Migrant Festival is on between June 14-17. You can find out more here