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Indian Diaspora: Cultural Heritage and Representation

A festival outside
A festival outside
Southall Ever After Festival, September 2021. Photo: Gabriele Grigorjeva.

A multi-disciplinary network focusing on the nexus between Indian diasporas, identity formation, cultural heritage and performance.

Project duration: May - December 2021
Funded by: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Project summary

The focus of this multi-disciplinary research network is how performance practices; dance, theatre, storytelling, music and scenography are imagined, embodied and understood across Indian diasporic communities in the UK, and within India, as vital components of cultural heritage.
This study is critically important when a rising tide of nationalisms, as well as racial and religious stereotyping sweeps across the globe, carrying with it an emphasis on identity, culture and heritage as spatially and temporally fixed, leading to reductionist and essentialist conceptions of the ‘other’. To avoid these notions of fixity ‘heritage’ is understood in this project to be coming from the past and associated with place, but not anchored to it, and as still having value in the present.

Project team

  • Professor Jane Collins, Principal Investigator
    School of Performance, Wimbledon College of Arts, University of the Arts London (UAL)
    Transnational Art, Identity and Nation (TrAIN) Research Centre, University of the Arts London (UAL)
  • Professor B. Anandhakrishnan, Co-principal Investigator
    Head of the Department of Theatre Arts, Sarojini Naidu School of Arts & Communication, University of Hyderabad, India
  • Mahenderpal Sorya, Project Coordinator, Researcher and Workshop Leader
    BA Fine Art, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London (UAL)
  • Gabriele Grigorjeva, project administrator

Project aims

  • To investigate to what extent ahistoricised, abstracted, colonial fantasies of India are perpetuated through performative cultural representations in the diaspora and within India itself.
  • To instigate better ways of reading through these fictions and fantasies utilising  practice-led performance research as a mode of knowledge production in relation to cultural heritage.
  • To offer a new critical and analytical lens potentially opening new modes of enquiry for diasporic studies more widely.

Approach

Southall Ever After

The Southall Ever After Festival was a community arts event that took place over four Saturdays during August and September 2021.

The festival was convened by a network of community activists, arts practitioners, academics and volunteers to support the diverse communities of Southall coming out of lockdown to reflect on their personal and collective past, present and future through a range of arts-based activities. These included live theatre performances, mural painting, a pop-up museum, street photography, craft workshops and an interactive exhibition. Over 4 Saturdays the public were invited to participate in these arts-based activities in outdoor settings in Wolf Fields, an urban nature reserve on the edge of Southall with a focus on education and sustainability; and in Southall Park, an extensive green space in the centre of the town.

Partners and participants in the festival then engaged in an online interactive seminar reflecting on the festival, the role of arts-based activities in relation to identity formation, cultural hybridity, and cultural heritage. The next phase of the research will be a series of online performance workshops with the Department of Theatre Arts, Sarojini Naidu School of Arts & Communication, University of Hyderabad, looking at the role and status of Indian cultural heritage in the collective imagination of a selected group of performers in the UK and amongst a group of young arts practitioners in Hyderabad.

Film by David Fenton.

Partners

  • The Southall Community Alliance: based in Southall serves a vibrant and diverse community with a high proportion of British Asians of Indian descent. Their mission statement seeks ‘to address the social, cultural, environmental, religious and local needs of the area’. As well as youth work the Alliance has strong links with elder members of the Indian community in Southall and is keen to capture their experiences before they are lost. This diasporic group, many of whom were activists in the 1970s, were pioneers in the way they negotiated their dual identities as British Indians in an often-hostile environment.
  • Gunnersbury Park Museum: a dynamic museum in the heart of Gunnersbury Park committed to serving its diverse local community as well as engaging with collections of national and international significance. It is part of the Gunnersbury Estate, a non-for-profit community interest company with a remit to advance education through the operation and development of the Gunnersbury Park Museum and the preservation, conservation and interpretation of the Gunnersbury Park Museum collections, and the historical buildings and landscape within Gunnersbury Park.
  • The London Transport Museum, Acton Depot: the Depot in Acton has one of the most comprehensive and important records of urban transport anywhere in the world. The Depot’s main purpose is to act as a working museum store. Curators and volunteers work to catalogue and conserve objects in order to preserve LT heritage for future generations. Artefacts, posters, photographs, newspaper articles and uniforms were on display as part of the festival demonstrating the links between London Transport and the community of Southall past and present.
  • Wolf Fields Urban Nature Reserve: supported by A Rocha UK – a charitable organisation registered in England and Wales committed to sustainability and education. Wolf Fields is a local community resource on the edge of Southall that sustains an orchard, a wild garden and vegetable beds.  It has strong links with local schools and runs arts and craft-based activities for children and young adults as well as workshops on conservation.