The Southall Story, at Exeter Uni, photos of cultural creativity and political activism in Little India

A photographic exhibition at the Exeter University’s Drama Department will be exploring the cultural life of Asian communities living in Southall during the unique period of cultural creativity and political activism flourished among the British Asians in Southall, London, following the race riots and Blair Peach murder 30 years ago.

It is the first public exhibition of art work to be shown in the Drama Department’s Alexander Building.

The Southall Story photographic display connects with the university’s recently completed Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) project on British Asian Theatre. A commitment to further the contacts made with some of the themes and artists on the project, such as the internationally renowned tabla musician and composer Kuljit Bhamra, was ensured to develop new projects.

Dr Jerri Daboo, a senior lecturer in Drama at Exeter, told Arts+Culture: “When people heard about the AHRC British Asian project happening within the Drama Department, we were often asked: ‘Why Exeter?’ But it is for this very reason that both the project, and the new partnership with the Southall Story, can happen in a region which is not known for its ethnic diversity. Also, we have the academic expertise to lead this important area of research.”

Kuljit suggested the Southall Story as a powerful example of a diaspora community through the photographs that examine the history of cultural celebration and political resistance. The overall project looks at looks at theatre, music, film and dance, so taking a step beyond the original AHRC project by focusing in detail on one location, and broadening the research from purely theatre.

Dr Daboo added: “It will be a great pleasure to host Ammy Phull’s dynamic photographs, and will hopefully act as a draw to local people interested in the subject matter.”

One of the photographs was taken during the miners’ strike, when some of Southall’s community travelled to Nottingham to stand on the picket lines with the miners. They’d collected food parcels which they gave to the striking miners, which included samosas and bhajis.

Kuljit said: “The Southall of today, affectionately known as Little India has long become popular with tourists from all corners of the world. The bustling south Asian stores offer a wide range of goods from samosas, jalebies, fruit and vegetables, jewellery, Bollywood DVDs, Indian music CDs to the latest designer saris and salwar kameezes. Loud Bhangra music can often be heard from the kiosks of street stallholders interspersed with the hustle and bustle of large Asian communities and families lining the streets to do their weekly shopping.’

He added: “I feel that Southall’s contribution to music, poetry, film and theatre is under acknowledged. People sometimes forget that Bhangra is a British creation along with Fish ‘n’ Chips, pop music and Chicken Tikka Masala!”

The exhibition is supported by the University’s Arts and Culture strategy, and by the Link Fund. It is also part of the University’s Black History Month and One World Week programme of events.

The photographic exhibition is on until Wednesday, November 25 and is free and open to members of the public weekdays 9am till 6pm at the University’s Drama department situated in the Alexander Building, Thornlea, New North Road, Exeter.

(image: Members of Southall community supporting Nottingham miners, during the miners strike, by Ammy Phull)