Cultural displacement refers, broadly, to the uprooting of way of life, and planting it in somewhere that doesn’t adhere to it. It’s a frequent recurring theme in literature, and particularly migrant literature. Why that would be the case is all too obvious, but the commonality of it makes it no less profound.
While a culture isn’t strictly in reference to a religion or location, or solely behavior, it’s all often intertwined. Since those things happen to be life-steering facets for anyone, it stands to reason then that a sense of fragility, wonder, unease, and introspection is common for those living in places where their culture is not the dominant one. It is this idea that photographer Bilo Hussein explores in her photo series ‘Never Home.’
Of Sudanese origin, Bilo then hailed from Saudi. Growing up in Jeddah as an outsider, and a young woman no less, meant for a restricted personal life and segregated matriculation. Sitting by a window, but knowing the glass pane was symbolically more prohibitive than it seemed, led to a constant reminder that she was not at home; that she was not really welcomed in a place that doesn’t truly welcome people from elsewhere. These feelings were the basis for her photo series.
Never Home is an ongoing project driven by the sense of segregation in religion, culture and gender that I experienced as a child in Saudi Arabia. I also express my continuing wish to find a place where I can fit in regardless of belief. Yet, as a third culture individual I often wonder if home is the place where you physically spend the most of your life? Is it a place you feel you belong to? Or is simply a country that you are a citizen of?
The series’ subjects are women who have recently relocated to New York City, and from all different cultures. They are portraits that look much like double exposures, but are layers added in post. The layers are made of of places and patterns close to Hussein’s heart, and the ‘internal’ images are the parts that represent coming to accept a new culture as one’s own.
The women chosen were initially from her friend’s circle and it expanded from there. That she found herself placing them near a window was reflective of her childhood, and it’s interesting how small, seemingly inconsequential habits tend to follow you around, especially from country to country.
I’m no stranger to the concept of it all, and so it was immediately identifiable with. I’ve lived in 4 countries, all very different, with different predominant cultures, and while none were near as restrictive as Saudi, the process of adaptation and adoption is not really subconscious. If you’ve moved around a lot you can probably relate to what’s represented here. The process actually breeds a sense of self-awareness and introspection, possibly by the fact that your displacement has made you either very ok with, or at least accustomed to being alone with your thoughts – even in a crowd. That’s what spoke most clearly to me about this series.
It’s now been selected for an Adobe Design Achievement Award as a semi-finalist, and perhaps will inspire more individual stories from those featured, and those who can relate.