Osman Yousefzada is an artist, designer and change-maker. Founding his eponymous womenswear label in 2005, the Afghan-Pakistani designer who grew up in Birmingham is known for making more than just the beautiful gowns and jumpsuits worn on the red carpet by the likes of Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. He says that today his multidisciplinary work focuses on the 'socio-political issues of today, of migration, its rupture, its ritual and exclusion'. From fashion to film to installation artworks, Yousefzada makes statements about the world we live in and how we treat our communities; a film in 2019 highlighted the disconnect between garment worker and consumer, and in recent years he has transformed his supply chains to have a more positive ethical and environmental impact. On Monday 26 July 2021, he returned to his hometown to unveil a monumental new artwork for the storefront of Selfridges Birmingham.
Chosen as the winner of an international competition organised by the Birmingham art gallery IKON on behalf of Selfridges, a joyful pink and black tessellated pattern designed by Yousefzada wraps round the iconic, futuristic curved facade of the building. The public artwork will remain part of the city's skyline until the end of the year, whilst the store undergoes renovation work. Measuring 125 ft x 180 ft, the colossal design reflects Yousefzada's fearless nature when it comes to speaking about migration and race. Titled Infinity Pattern 1, the repeating 'endless' design is intended to represent a utopian world without borders. Drawing from the aforementioned 2019 film Her Dreams Are Bigger, where female garment makers in Bangladesh visualised the lives of the women wearing the clothes they make for a living, Yousefzada says that this new artwork is an 'antidote' to the contrasting limitations on these women's lives. So, can the borderless nation exist in the modern world in its current state?
'Such a big question...Europe tried it and then we left as a nation via Brexit… a member of a borderless nation that we ruptured… however this norm of borderless states is very much a developed world phenomena, for the first world, for the Global North. And within it becomes a fortress. I can’t begrudge anyone to travel half way round the world legally or illegally to create a new life for themselves. My parents did it. So yes, borderless nations exist, but they are the privilege of the Global North. An 18 year old from America/Europe can travel around the world on a gap year, normally visa free... however for an 18 year old from the Global South, it’s another story', says Yousefzada.
The work is autobiographical, as it speaks to the artist's personal upbringing in the city. 'It was an amazing honour to be chosen in the city of my birth. Kind of a homecoming. You can see the building from the streets of Balsall Heath where I grew up. The wrong side of the tracks and then there my work is, bang in the heart of town. It’s a bit like Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy - a working class guy who dreams of becoming something more.' Returning to the place of his birth, the artist is currently undertaking a residency at the School of Art at Birmingham City University, where he says he is expanding his own artistic practice through fine art printmaking and sculpture. An in-store exhibition, shop and art trail co-designed and co-curated with IKON Birmingham will accompany the artwork, where further works by Yousefzada as well as Birmingham artists Hira Butt, Farwa Moledina and Maryam Wahid will feature.
Infinity Pattern 1 also speaks to the modern history of Birmingham itself, which today is lauded as the most multicultural city in the UK after London. 'This new work by Osman Yousefzada is uplifting but also meaningful and deeply connected to the fabric and culture of the city. By changing the skyline - at a time when the city itself is changing - we hope to make the world brighter through creative expression, and the people of Birmingham even prouder of their iconic city', Selfridges Creative Director, Hannah Emslie, said in a statement to press.
The collaboration cements Selfridges' on-going work with artists and dedication to making themselves a must-see destination in a post-pandemic world. Yousefzada follows in the footsteps of artists such as Sam Taylor-Johnson and Richard Wilson who have previously created work for the store, and as consumers return to in-store shopping after over a year of getting used to online retail experiences, department stores must pivot towards providing unmissable IRL and URL experiences relevant to modern shoppers. Long before COVID-19, Selfridges were already leading the charge in creating innovative in-store experiences, such as pop-ups with Prada and their on-going Project Earth series which promotes sustainable practice in fashion. This all resulted in revenues having doubled over the past decade. Their latest venture illustrates how Selfridges pride themselves in making each of their stores distinct and special to local shoppers, with Yousefzada put forward as the apple of Birmingham's eye.