Artist, illustrator and zine-maker Mohammed Zaahidur Rahman’s commissioned series of paintings, titled Unfurnished, is both a visual folk history and a dreamscape of migrants making homes in Britain. Through six allegorical rooms, Rahman explores belonging through the lens of love and relationships, horticulture and agriculture, art, the act of crossing borders, resistance and food. In these paintings, sterile interiors evoking erasure and uprootedness are made hospitable with a cast of histories, figures, flora and domestic objects.
The dream-like scenes deal with a sense of placelessness, speaking to the possibility of falling to forces that negate migrant histories in the UK. In doing so, Rahman reflects on the impact this erasure can have on one’s sense of self, identity, politics and sanity. Rahman’s research for Unfurnished drew on local Brent histories as touchpoints, including the Grunwick dispute, Kuo Yuan (the first Pekingese restaurant in the UK, which opened on the Willesden High Road in 1963), soundsystem culture, statistical migration resources from Brent Council and the produce sold in Kilburn Market. The imagery riffs on unsung figures and histories to celebrate mutual aid and care in the communities that are represented, whilst also alluding to past and present struggles and systemic challenges that migrants face; most recently through the Covid-19 pandemic, the cost of living crisis and the Hostile Environment policy.
The artist also applied this research to produce a series of illustrations for the visual identity of the Brent Biennial 2022, where people are shown in various individual and collective states of being “held by love”. Unfurnished offers a response and an antidote to the Minister of State for Equalities Kemi Badenoch’s 2020 speech, which the artist interpreted as a call to subdue critical histories of migrants and racialised people in both education and public discourse. Through the work, Rahman presents a way of telling history that is willing to celebrate the joys of migrant life, acts of compassion and the historical, political and cultural contributions of migrants to life in the UK—whilst addressing ongoing legacies of colonialism, the UK’s ties to armed conflict abroad, the 7/7 attacks, the Essex 39, the Windrush scandal and xenophobia in a post-Brexit UK, where racial and class divides persist amid inconsistent and insufficient government responses.
Mohammed Z. Rahman is a British-Bengali painter, zinemaker and illustrator based in London. His work tackles food, migration and gender, often from domestic perspectives. With a background in social anthropology, Mohammed approaches his practice as both an intimate and political force. Drawing on dreams, globality, queerness, biography and socio-historical perspectives Mohammed’s work celebrates his communities’ internationalist dreams, disrupts violent power structures and makes peace with unspeakable chaos.
Access key: wheelchair accessible, audio-description (below).
Click here to access a recorded audio-description of Unfurnished.
Click here to access Pavement Flowers, a zine-making and colouring activity illustrated, written and designed by Mohammed Zaahidur Rahman