"people keep saying we are making progress"
With creativity at an all-time high, there are important British Asian men impacting numerous industries.
These innovative, skilful and artsy characters are not just promoting talent. They are challenging cultural ideas and redefining the male British Asian identity.
Certain figures such as Riz Ahmed, Steel Banglez and Humza Arshad have broken down barriers beforehand.
However, the celebration of individuality is what is most poignant with these trailblazers.
From giving men’s fashion a new South Asian face to shining a light on the sporty youth of Desi communities.
The importance of these British Asian men is noteworthy.
Their vision, belief and creativity have given a spotlight to the hidden expertise of British South Asians.
So, it is only right to acknowledge their strides by looking at five British Asian men empowering change.
Mahtab Hussain is an incredible photographer who was born in Glasgow, Scotland.
His parents were first-generation Muslim immigrants but divorced in 1987 when they all relocated to Birmingham, England.
At just seven years old, the decadent artist was now surrounded by the very foundations of his later work.
Engrossed in the violent racism of Druids Heath, Mahtab suffered intense abuse by the predominantly white area.
However, when the icon was aged 17, he moved back in with his mother and started to attend Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College.
Again, Mahtab was ridiculed by mostly Muslim and Pakistani peers who thought he was too British. This resulted in a vicious identity crisis.
Interestingly, he noticed this same crisis within art.
Whilst working at the National Portrait Gallery in London, Mahtab failed to see portraits that represented the British Asian experience.
Therefore between 2008-2017, the artist created his magnificent first body of work, You Get Me?
The title is evocative in itself.
“You get me?” is a street term similar to phrases like “do you know what I mean” or “do you know where I’m coming from?”
The aggressive, vulnerable and uncertainty of the saying represents the feelings of British Asians.
The collection of portraits represented the dynamic landscape of working-class Muslim British Asians. Autograph Gallery describe it:
“The contested political terrain of race and representation, respect and cultural difference.”
“The men portrayed in Hussain’s portraits identify as Muslim and expressed that they felt culturally ridiculed by the constant flow of derogatory media representation of their lives.”
The portraits represent poverty, hopelessness and a sense of belonging within a western world.
You Get Me? was received extremely well and illustrates how Mahtab captured the nuances of a clash of cultures.
Although, he persisted with this theme of identity in his subsequent projects.
Going Back Home to Where I Came From (2017) dives into the togetherness and warm serenity of life in Pakistan.
Whereas, Honest With You (2017), shows the changing faces and evolution of identity for British Muslim women.
His creative insight is intriguing and thrilling.
So, it comes as no surprise that Mahtab has won numerous awards.
Amongst his catalogue is the ‘Discoveries Award’ in 2016 and the ‘Light Work Photobook Award’ in 2017.
He also has tremendous recognition from the likes of Vanity Fair, New York Times and The Guardian.
This makes Mahtab a formidable British Asian redefining photography.
British Indian footballer, Yan Dhanda, is another character who is advocating for more South Asian representation.
Born in 1998, Yan’s father is British Indian whilst his mother is white British. However, the young sportsman embraces his Desi culture with pride.
Although Yan’s career is just beginning, his club history is extremely impressive.
He started off in the West Bromwich Albion ranks before joining megaclub Liverpool in 2013.
Although he spent five years in the youth academy impressing the coaches, he eventually moved to Swansea City in 2018.
Having already achieved over 45 appearances and four goals for the Welsh side, Yan’s superb performances are unsurprising.
However, Yan’s noble maturity has enabled him to fight for more players like himself.
Interestingly, the footballer was already aware of the racism and discrimination within football.
As a British Asian, he’s faced many remarks about his skin colour and heritage. But, this has just motivated Yan’s intentions even more.
In 2020, Yan told Sky Sports News:
“Let’s be honest, it’s bad, and people keep saying we are making progress and getting better but the reality of it is we are not.”
Distraught at how South Asians get racially targeted as both players and fans, Yan asserted silence is the biggest factor to change:
“If you’re an Asian person and you’re getting interviewed, and you’re asked if there are problems, don’t sugar-coat it.
“Just be honest and tell the truth, and that’s what I am doing.”
True to his words, the superstar joined Kick It Out’s Player Advisory Group.
This is a team dedicated to improving the footballing landscape for ethnic minorities, with a focus group, especially for South Asians.
Accompanying Yan in the group are the likes of Punjabi footballer Mal Benning and Aldershot Town assistant manager, Anwar Uddin.
The fame, bright lights and luxuries of professional football have not deterred Yan from making a difference.
At such a youthful age, he has sparked a massive conversation within the industry.
Additionally, his strides have set the benchmark for British Asian personalities to thrive within football and other sports.
Future generations are able to see the likes of Yan and Mal within stadiums and know their dreams are achievable.
This is a vital aspect in securing the diversity of football and appreciating the capabilities of British Asian sportspeople.
Aaron Christian is a magnificent writer, director and producer from Newham, London.
Born to Indian Malaysian parents, the decorated British Asian wants to broaden the horizon for budding creatives.
Growing up in one of the most diverse boroughs intensified the various cultures in Britain. It showed Aaron how limited these backgrounds were in the mainstream world.
Graduating from Kingston University in film and media and cultural studies, Aaron found it difficult to enter the film industry.
Therefore he joined his brother doing freelance styling.
Although it must have been frustrating at the time, this hurdle allowed the fashionista to create his blog, Individualism.
This was the turning point within Aaron’s career. The creative collective built a huge following for its showcase of ethnic minority models.
The empowering importance of this was to promote the South Asian image within fashion.
The blog led the fashion mogul to a successful stint between 2010-2014 as a filmmaker for the fashion brand, Mr Porter.
However, it was the creation of the digital community, The Asian Man, after this which transcended Aaron’s name.
The blog celebrates South Asian men’s fashion and the stunning elegance of this diaspora.
In a 2021 interview with the media company, It’s Nice That, the icon revealed The Asian Man “was born out of my frustration of not seeing enough South Asian men on the catwalks of the shows during my fashion week trips with Mr Porter”.
So, this newfound portrayal of Desi men was refreshing for many creatives.
Not only does Aaron beautifully capture the ambience of British Asian men but he displays the emotion and richness of the culture.
This relentless narrative of the British Asian identity resulted in Aaron co-founding the podcast, What is This Behaviour? in 2020.
This thrilling and inquisitive show emphasises South Asian stereotypes, career paths and cultural expectations.
With this, Aaron confirms he wants “to actually shape the dialogue” and continue to shine a light on South Asian ideologies.
His work ethic, insightful aura and dedication is a treat to see for many British Asians.
Aaron has even gone on to produce award-winning short films such as The Life of Pitti Peacocks (2017) and The Internship (2019).
The unique platform Aaron has managed to create is astounding and promotes an original community of talent.
His conception of style and cultural pride will surely impact aspiring British Asian men within filmmaking and fashion.
Dancer and choreographer Raheem Mir is an exceptional character amongst British Asian men.
The decorative, flamboyant and empowering figure is challenging gender norms through the charm of Kathak dance.
The British Indian artiste was born in London and wants to demolish the rigid boundaries surrounding gender fluidity.
Raheem hopes to achieve his mission through his culturally-rich choreography.
The dancing star has achieved a masters degree in contemporary performance and practice from Royal Holloway, University of London.
Having an impressive foundation of skill and knowledge, it was still the Desi vibrancy of kathak that Raheem loved as he expresses:
“It has the grace and the pirouettes and the storytelling of ballet.
“Then, it has the fast footwork and the passion that is flamenco dance.”
The kathak style is extremely airy, emotive and spiritual. However, it is also a storytelling style of dance.
This is where Raheem is gaining massive traction as he takes up the roles in performances that are traditionally reserved for women.
Wearing women clothing as well, Raheem is unapologetic in the way he powerfully glides across the stage.
He has a certain thrill about him where he incorporates intricate movements against a western backdrop.
The superb dancer is portraying dance and culture in a truly innovative way.
Although, Raheem still wonders how inclusive the South Asian community can be:
“I’ve received judgement and been associated with stereotypes and assumed to be the ‘woman’ of a relationship, especially because I’m more feminine.
“It highlights people’s insecurities within our community which are then projected onto others.”
This shows how Raheem is trying to open the discussion between South Asians and promote individuality.
Mainstream avenues acknowledge this formidable stance. For example, Raheem’s Tedx talk in 2017 did wonders in defining gender fluidity.
As a homosexual man, Raheem displays certain bravery when sharing his message.
He is well aware of certain cultural shuns but persists in showing South Asians that being yourself is the most important thing.
The gracious dancer is a household name amongst British Asian men.
Although, his innovation of using classical South Asian dance to promote modern forms of identity is poignant.
The splendid artiste is certainly empowering the change for British Asian men.
Photographer and director, Vivek Vadoliya is a British Indian who is challenging the ideas of South Asian masculinity.
The talented artist is based in London and is a well-renowned name in the creative industry.
Vivek loves personifying the definition of a man. Whether it’s stereotypical or original, his insight into South Asian gender roles is contemporary.
Vivek’s intrigue defines his relation to Desi culture.
He is not simply capturing men for attraction but rather presenting different identities of what a British Asian man is.
Whether Vivek emphasises a homosexual lawyer, transgender bodybuilder or straight sportsman, he wants to highlight the importance of all of them.
Too often, South Asian communities unfairly enforce traditionalist views and outdated viewpoints.
But, Vivek’s showcase and acceptance of different pathways is the exact lesson we need in igniting a change in British Asian communities.
This was the focal theme of his 2018 collection, Brotherhood.
The portraits excellently grasp the essence of British Asian men and carefully detail the emotions of belonging.
Each photograph is a recollection of history and a craving for inclusion. This is why Vivek is a master in storytelling through pictures.
Describing the importance of this artwork, Vivek told It’s Nice That in 2020:
“Often these people are overlooked; it’s easy to miss them but I feel like some of the most inspiring characters can often be sitting right next to us.
“We just need to slow down and take the time to talk to each other.”
Vivek continued his coverage of South Asians with his magnificent collection, Sisterhood (2020).
Interestingly, the photographs focused on women in Bradford, a formidable place for South Asians.
However, the reason for this focus was the media’s negative portrayal of the city.
Instead, Vivek wanted to show how northern cities thrive within the UK due to the impact of South Asian females.
The women within his storyboard highlight the calmness and purity of British Asian women. Speaking about the shoot, Vivek states:
“It was one of those beautiful shoots where everything was really organic.”
“We had the chance to spend the time with the girls to really get to know them.
“The light was really beautiful and everyone was naturally having fun. Nothing was overly constructed, the moments were really a collaboration.”
This exemplifies how dedicated Vivek is to his craft.
He appreciates the artistry within photography but does not lose sight of what his art is trying to portray.
His collections have challenged the perception of places and people which become stereotyped on a regular basis.
In addition, his constant submissions of the South Asian and British culture is truly fascinating.
Not only does Vivek’s work represent the Desi importance but he also highlights why diversifying the landscape is vital for knowledge and growth.
The range of British Asian men succeeding in different industries is truly inspiring.
Not only are these figures evolving the landscape of artistic avenues, but they are exemplifying how daring British Asians should be.
Outdated traditions are always relevant in South Asian communities, but these trailblazers are trying to eradicate that.
From fashion to film to sport, the ‘typical’ British Asian is no more.
These British Asian men are innovative, imaginative and dedicated.
Their delight in showcasing their culture but also opening the doors for the future generation is paramount.
Undoubtedly, the barriers they have challenged and broken is creating a more inclusive state around the UK and worldwide.