Where are you really from?

There is an immense catharsis when an idea for a work comes to fruition; particularly with works that have only existed as annotated scribbles in my notebook for several years. On completion of this triptych I feel that I have managed to use my draughtsmanship skill as a vehicle to articulate in an artwork, emotions that I have wanted to depict for some time.

There is an underlying ethnocentrism present in modern society, rooted from archaic colonial structures. This ballpoint pen series of self portraits looks to empower people marginalised as a result of structural racial prejudice that I feel is embedded in western society and in some manifestation or another, is perpetually apparent in the day to day lives of minorities. Until recent atrocities of police brutality have gained strong visibility, these issues were not discussed consistently enough for impactful change, this feeling of oppression whether on a macro or micro level can be felt when you are a minority living in the UK.


As a somewhat racially ambiguous young mixed race man, I am made all too aware that I am different; with questioning apropos to my ethnic heritage being a constant. This apparent curiosity of one’s race feels as though judgement is being passed on you solely based on your pigmentation & ethnic heritage. I am immensely proud to be of Sierra Leonean and Lebanese descent, whilst being conscious of being the first generation of my family to be born in the UK and feeling that I must work harder and go further than my white counterparts.

It can become exhausting expecting a line of questioning on your heritage when you meet people - your pigmentation can be used to evaluate what kind of a threat you are. Thus, the narrative of this triptych shows an adherence to certain racial stereotypes by creating three caricatures of myself to convey the nuanced racial prejudice that I have experienced.


These works respectively reflect over-simplified labels of various demographics that lie beneath the veneer of disingenuous tolerance. The Black stereotype drawn on an 1866 map of Africa plays to the notion that black men are inherently aggressive and that black men do not smile in pictures. The white caricature, drawn on an English map from 1907, wears a faux polite smile and is unsettled by the gaze of the two figures situated either side of him. Drawn on an 1866 text of ‘The races of men’, the middle-eastern stereotype looks suspiciously away from the viewer and may be dangerous to the central white caricature.

This work sardonically answers the inquisitive viewer’s question of where I am really from with the use of redundant stereotypes, contextualised by the antique maps; whilst paradoxically showing an antiquated ideological domain that the ignorant few may place me within.

© 2020 Habib Hajallie art. All Rights Reserved.