Manchester-based textile designer Usarae Gul describes herself as “Unglish”, a self-coined portmanteau created to convey her experience as a British Pakistani woman who grew up speaking both Urdu and English. Her paintings are a celebration of that identity and of the small businesses set up by first generation immigrants across the UK — the neon-lit restaurant fronts on Wilmslow Road’s “Curry Mile”, a busy market street in Pakistan, sweet shops, extreme floods in Pakistan, her parents celebrating their honeymoon in the Lake District. “I am particularly fascinated by pockets of immigrant culture within Manchester. I like to explore the experience of dual identity amongst first generation immigrants in the UK,” Usarae explains.
Not easily pigeonholed, Usarae’s work varies from energetic, highly-coloured paintings to neatly executed repeating line-drawn patterns. For South Asian-centred art and opinion magazine Kajal, Usarae produced a poem titled Desi Queen accompanied by illustrations of Pakistani jewellery and cooking utensils (including tins of “Gul’s Pure Desi Ghee”).
“In my painted artwork I like to mix objects from both sides of the world I identify with,” Usarae says of her work. “I work with paint and found objects to create striking images, full of colour and pattern heavily influenced by my Pakistani roots. Within my painting I hope to clarify my identity, to confirm it is okay to be muddled, to be part of two separate clashing cultures, and to celebrate myself, as a British Pakistani woman. As the daughter of Pakistani immigrant parents I have loved the rich heritage and diversity I have grown up with. I am so thankful for it — my paintings are a celebration of it.”