London South Bank University student–photographer Hassan Al-Mousaoy has opened his award-winning exhibition of photographs by young people in Iraq and young migrants to the UK at the Ovalhouse theatre in south London.
The cross-cultural project, 'My Life in Pictures', presents a visual documentary of the experiences of young people in Iraq and Britain, the similarities and contrasts between lives lived in the two countries. The project saw Hassan this summer visiting Iraq for the first time since he claimed asylum in the UK in 2006.
Hassan was awarded a £15k Rayne Fellowship to fund the project which involved teaching a photography summer school for six young people in Iraq, then repeating the workshops with nine young migrants in the UK on his return. The grant Hassan received is part of a programme designed to support individual refugees to develop a 'big idea' that builds bridges in their community.
"I was 17 when I arrived in the UK as a refugee and I didn't speak any English at all," recounts Hassan. "I learnt photography in the UK through the PhotoVoice charity, I thought I could use the opportunity to make friends and learn English.
"My pictures began as noticing things that British people see everyday. For example, a beggar sitting outside the British Museum amongst the tourists; in Iraq we drink tea with tea leaves but in the UK, with tea bags."
Hassan, now 24, says his life and photography have changed over time.
"It's different now. When I went back to Iraq, two days after my exams, I was British; I was a tourist. It wasn't 'normal' anymore. I had to have a visa to enter the country."
Hassan's award-winning project aims to help others develop, like he did, through the art of photography. Along with his travel expenses, the Rayne Fellowship paid for cameras for each of the young people aged 14 to 18 taking part in the workshops to keep as their own.
"If you don't have a camera, two or three weeks after the workshop you'll have forgotten everything you learnt. With a camera you can keep practising, keep learning.
"I learnt photography with a compact camera and then PhotoVoice gave me an SLR, a Nikon D60. I still remember the model."
Hassan hopes to have given his fifteen amateur photographers something fun to do with their spare time and that it leads to a brighter future.
"Young people in Iraq have to support their family, sorting recycling, living in tents both summer and winter. People in Iraq have the right to change their lives. It looks good for the students to have this exhibition on their CV."
Hassan is in his second year studying towards a Bachelor of Engineering at LSBU, having completed an Access to Higher Education Diploma at Lambeth College. He receives a bursary through LSBU's support scheme for care leavers.
Hassan has featured in eleven exhibitions previously, including at The Photographers' Gallery, Tate Modern and National Theatre. He has also published two books with PhotoVoice, is part of a drama group and has acted at the Young Vic.
His next project is a solo exhibition of pictures taken while in Iraq which he hopes to receive funding for. But, with semester starting, Hassan keeps his study and photography quite separate.
"I have two balls to kick. If I kick both of them at the same time, I fall down!"