From Lahore to Birmingham and back again

One photographer’s remarkable journey to discover her Pakistani identity while visiting her mother’s childhood home for the first time

Maryam Wahid photo essay Pakistan
Nargis Wahid at the border between India and Pakistan (Wagah) in 2020. Photography by Maryam Wahid

“I am completely different now. I lived in Pakistan between 1962 and 1982. I feel I can’t live there anymore because the atmosphere of the place and people have changed so much. Pakistan will always be in my heart because it is the country I was born in, where my parents were born and where my parents rest in peace. But the UK, this is where I live, this is where my husband is from and it is where my children were born.” — Nargis Wahid, formerly known as Zaibunnisa

Zaibunnisa, an Urdu word meaning “the beauty of women” refers to the birth name of photographer Maryam Wahid’s mother, before she emigrated from Pakistan to the UK in 1982 for an arranged marriage. The word also refers to the title of this photo essay. These photographs tell the story of Wahid’s journey to Lahore with her mother in 2020. The trip was Wahid’s first visit to Pakistan and her mother had not returned for over 20 years.

Wahid documented their time in the country as her mother reconnected with old friends and family. They explored the family home, where Wahid connected with her Pakistani roots and reimagined what her life could have been, had she grown up there. She felt a deep, spiritual connection to both the building and her maternal family, whom she had never met before. These images address themes of loss, memory, displacement, identity and migration while celebrating the lives that her parents built for themselves in Birmingham in the 1980s.

Maryam Wahid photo essay Pakistan
A self-portrait taken in the home of Wahid’s maternal grandmother, Zohra Begum, in Lahore in 2020.
Maryam Wahid photo essay Pakistan
An archive photo of Nargis Wahid, taken at her family home in Nisbet Road in Lahore in 1983.
Maryam Wahid photo essay Pakistan
A self-portrait of Maryam Wahid, exploring her alternate Pakistani identity.
Maryam Wahid photo essay Pakistan
Self-portrait of Maryam Wahid, travelling in Lahore on a motorbike in 2020.
Maryam Wahid photo essay Pakistan
Nargis Wahid holds out jasmine flowers in memory of her mother. Photograph taken in Lahore in 2020.
Maryam Wahid photo essay Pakistan
Nargis Wahid sits outside her parent’s home in Lahore in 2020.
Maryam Wahid photo essay Pakistan
Maryam Wahid’s maternal grandmother and grandfather passed in 1987 and 2012, respectively. Photo of their beds at their home in Lahore.

Special thanks to Midlands Arts Centre, Arts Council England, British Council and Transforming Narratives. Follow Maryam Wahid on Instagram at @maryamwb.

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