Selfridges unveils Osman Yousefzada art installation wrapped around store

Landmark in Birmingham is wrapped in a 10,000-square-metre canvas while it undergoes renovations

UK department store Selfridges has shunned typical builders hoardings while renovating its landmark store in Birmingham's Bullring, instead opting for a giant installation by fashion designer-turned-artist Osman Yousefzada.

Nearly 20 years ago, the space-age building took centre stage in Birmingham’s city centre giving new life to the UK’s second-largest city. Designed by Future Systems, the ground-breaking structure became home to the famous Selfridges store and a lauded landmark.

Now, the shimmering futuristic building has undergone another bold, albeit temporary, makeover.

Once shimmering with the reflection of the 15,000 silver discs adorning the building, Birmingham’s skyline will now reflect a punchy pattern of black and pink tiles that represent connectivity.

Multi-disciplinary artist Yousefzada was commissioned to do the major public artwork, Infinity Pattern 1, after being selected by Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery from an international shortlist and has been praised by the retail giant for its "optimism and transformation" of the city.

The 5-tonne design will cover the store while the works are under way, due to be complete before the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

The Selfridges business is also set to get a shake-up after its billionaire owners, the Weston family, launched a formal auction to sell the historic department store brand. The company, valued at as much as £4 billion ($6bn), has 25 stores worldwide, including the Birmingham site within the city’s Bullring.

Infinity Pattern 1 is the first piece of public art from the fashion designer who has expanded his practice since launching his eponymous label in 2008. Over the next decade, Birmingham-born Yousefzada made his mark on the fashion world with elegantly tailored architectural pieces that were worn by famous names including Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift.

Resident in London, the designer aged 44 is now weaving messages of wider universal importance into his handiwork. Son of Afghani-Pakistani immigrants, Yousefzada says his giant canvas addresses issues of race, labour and migration which have shaped the city’s past and present.

“The work is entrenched in autoethnographic elements of migration, community formation and how they happen, interact and settle. The work reflects my personal story and more widely my ethnic history and some of the symbolisms inherent to my culture,” says Yousefzada.

The giant canvas is meant to convey a "deep sense of optimism, connectivity and hope" conveyed by the endlessly tessellating pattern, to conceptualise a world without borders.

“The infinity pattern is a space without borders. You have that idea in mosques, in Islamic tiles, in churches where the arches feel like they’re never-ending. It’s hopeful,” said Yousefzada.

His is a hopeful story of overcoming limitations and expectations to chase one’s calling. Born and raised in a strict Muslim household within a working-class Pashtun community, Yousefzada’s parents didn’t allow him to draw and he used to hide non-religious books in his bedroom to read.

Defying the standard road many first-generation immigrants are ushered down by their parents towards a "good, stable job", Yousezada read anthropology at SOAS University of London before studying fashion at Central Saint Martins, an MPhil at University of Cambridge and then setting up his own label in 2008. After a decade in the business, the designer – who now refers to himself as a garment-maker – held his first solo art show, Being Somewhere Else, at Ikon Gallery in 2018 in which he explored the links between fashion and migration.

Infinity Pattern 1’s concept sprung, according to Yousefzada, from his 2019 film Her Dreams Are Bigger, in which Bangladeshi garment makers imagine the lives of the women wearing the clothes they make. “The structural infinity built within the design of this installation is a direct and contrasting response to the garment factory worker’s statement of the limitation within their life’s horizon. Instead, I’m proposing this antidote that conjures up an endless connectivity, new possibilities, countless new journeys,” he said.

An in-store art exhibition including additional pieces by Yousefzada and other Birmingham artists opened alongside the design’s unveiling, part of what Selfridges says is their ongoing relationship with Ikon Gallery. The new works by Yousefszada, developed through a residency at the Birmingham School of Art in Fine Art printmaking and sculpture, will expand on some of the topics raised by Infinity Pattern 1 with a series challenging "The Model Migrant" stereotypes.

Updated: July 26th 2021, 1:25 PM