Back To Motherland

A bridge between fashion, art, culture and identity

Back To Motherland is a photographic and journalistic series that portrays how immigrants from diverse backgrounds use fashion and artistic manifestations to connect themselves with their own cultural background. Throughout this series, presented below, four immigrants based in the UK explore, through garments, accessories and personal objects, their connection to what they call ‘motherland’.

Get to know their stories below.

Brazilian Mosaic by Guilia Gravia

I moved to London in 2017, and my story as an immigrant starts way before that. My entire life I moved back and forth, and had to adapt to new ways of living and seeing the world. From Brazil to the United States, to Canada, and later to the United Kingdom, a place where I never thought I would feel at home.

There is also this sense of duality, in which I feel that I belong to many places, as these places shaped who I am today. It’s like I am a mosaic composed of different pieces from every person, place, language, and experience I had throughout my life.

Fashion and art have always been fundamental tools of connection between my identity and motherland. The 2000s resonates a lot with me, especially in terms of music (hip hop in the US and funk in Brazil), along with the Y2K aesthetic. The combination of those things brings me such an immense amount of joy because it is a way I have to honour my roots through music and dancing, but also express myself through the way I dress.

Throughout the years apart from some family members and close friends, fashion, art, and beauty gave me the possibility of connecting with memories and people that I no longer have constant access to. Through my makeup and hair, I choose to honour my grandmother, a person that means a lot to me, and who I shared beautiful moments with by doing our makeup and hair together.

I wouldn’t constantly feel at home if it wasn’t for my mother. Me and my mom are literally best friends. We joke alike. I think the absence of my father brought me and my mother together. I feel she knew I needed a mother and father figure and she made herself both. Through her jewellery I celebrate the unbreakable connection I have with the person I love, admire, and respect the most in this world.

My mother is not a materialistic person, however, her jewellery was always something immune to time and places, accompanying us in every stage of our lives. In the end, I was made in Brazil, but most importantly, I am made of the people who I proudly call home.

Giulia Gravia wearing her mother’s necklace. Image courtesy of Melissa Limon

Imagined Memories of a Persian Rug by Sufia Ferdos

The duality of not being British enough or Iranian enough always accompanied me throughout the course of my life. I was born in London, however, I am also Iranian, as I was born and raised by Iranian immigrants. I have never actually been an immigrant, but more of a ‘third-space citizen’, never truly belonging anywhere.

Iran is a place I have never been to, but that vividly lives in my imagination as one of my motherlands. As my family moved to the UK a couple of years after the Iranian Revolution, the place that lives in my family memories is an imagined version of my motherland, as this place no longer exists in the real world.

Fashion and art have always been a form of connection to these past memories and imagined place through elements such as paisley prints, evil eye, and dark black eyeliner. Whenever I see one of these elements, even in places that are not Iranian I still get to create this bridge between the British version of me and Iran.

This bridge is what I call home because home is wherever my family is; the place where I feel safe and accepted, as British or Iranian, or as British-Iranian. Belonging from afar and not belonging anywhere made me create a space of hybridisation, where I combined the beauty of British and Iranian culture in subtle, however meaningful, ways.

A strong representation of my identity comes from prints, especially Persian rugs. I believe every Iranian home, at least every home I lived in always had a Persian rug, and, in juxtaposition, something from a completely different culture, such as our Christmas tree standing on top of our rug. Those little things comprised not only my individual understanding of myself, but also a deeper sense of belonging within this new culture; British-Iranian.

The ability to transit between different cultures also gave me the tools to create my unique understanding of culture. I am the shared memories of my family and simultaneously I am the present memories I made from being a ‘third-space individual’.

Sufia Ferdos wearing her grandparent’s shirt, sitting on her family Persian rug. Image courtesy of Melissa Limon

From Odisha To The World by Shristi Sahoo

Being born and raised in one of the ancient nations in the world gave me the beautiful life experience of immersing myself in an extremely rich and diverse culture. I was born in Odisha, East India, however, throughout my life I moved back and forth within the country, which turned out to be a gift. 

India is a lot of things but, above all, it is the place I consciously chose to call the motherland and, no matter where I go, I bring my Indian culture with me. My background allowed me to experience the multiculturality of Indian culture and through my values, I was taught to seek beauty in every culture I ever had the opportunity to experience. 

When I moved to the UK, I came primarily for education. I was about to start my masters of arts degree in Fashion Journalism at London College of Fashion, and I didn’t know what to expect in terms of being an immigrant in this country.

Two things that I got from my motherland are the wholesomeness and peacefulness of Indian culture. We are a vibrant, peaceful, and loving country, and you see that being reflected in our relationship with nature, animals, food, and clothing. Everything is handpicked, organic and handmade. There isn’t an incessant quest for material things because our daily spiritual practices and cultural beliefs are strongly based on seeking connection within ourselves.

Fashion has always been something major in Indian culture and I see fashion as a primary means of self-expression; as a direct conductor of values, emotions and beliefs. When I use my Sambalpuri Silk Handloom Jacket (Ikat Weaving and hand-stitched in an Angaraka silhouette), I celebrate my culture but also honour my parents, as this was a gift from them for my 18th birthday. 

Art and music are strong tools of connection. My bamboo speaker is a means of spiritual practice. Through it I play Bhajans, Indian prayers that are part of my meditation ritual. Spirituality is everything to me; my religion is a strong representation of who I am, what I believe, and how I present myself to the world. It doesn’t matter if I am in the UK or in a completely different part of the world. I am and will always be proudly Indian.

Shristi Sahoo, wearing Sambalpuri Silk Handloom Jacket, a gift from her parents. Image courtesy of Melissa Limon 

The World is a Windmill by Marina Zuquim

I lived in other places before moving to the UK, so the experience of immigrating is something that I felt before, but I must say, it is never the same. I am from Brazil, to be precise, from Brasília, a unique place, with exquisite architecture. As an architect, I believe culture can be cultivated through generations and as a result, culture becomes a collective of identities. 

My physical appearance is the story of generations of immigrants that came to Brazil and made their story mine and also made that place, which I call home, their home too. I know my roots very well. Motherland will always be Brazil, the place that gave birth to who I am; to everything I know and love.

As a Brazilian, I was raised with an engrained sense of culture and from my education I learned from an early age to honour my roots, to celebrate life, and to always have my family close to me. I can’t have them physically with me, however, throughout the years I learned ways of connecting with the motherland, especially through music and fashion.

Whenever I hear any song from the Brazilian singer Cartola, I am automatically in my dad’s arms. He introduced me to this artist when I was young, and the first song I listened to was “O mundo é um moinho” (The World is a Windmill). The song talks about life and how at a young age we know nothing about it. Whenever I hear this song, it is like hearing my dad’s voice and the softness of his words advising me on how to navigate this messy, complicated, and beautiful thing we call life. 

In my personality and in the way I dress, I see glimpses of my mother. She gave me a belt with metal applications that belonged to her when she was 15 years old. The accessory itself is destroyed, but even so, I feel this urge to wear it almost every day, not only because it reminds me of her, but because every time I wear it I always get a lot of compliments.

Those compliments make me think of my mother when she was younger. It makes me think about her personality, and how from such an early age she always had a strong sense of self. It makes me proud to think that I have such a strong and unique mother and that I can be across the ocean, but the sense of braveness and love that I inherited from my family resides within me. It is who I am, and who I will always be. A mix of all things that make me feel alive and free.

Marina Zuquim wears her mother’s leather belt. Image courtesy of Melissa Limon

Photos: Melissa Limon 

Edit: Rachel Sabino 

Creative direction: Rachel Sabino and Sufia Ferdos

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