Creative Black Country, alongside Multistory and the Nazar Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of Girl Gaze: Journeys Through the Punjab & The Black Country, UK a photographic exploration of the Punjab and diaspora communities in the West Midlands through the voices of young girls and women.

Bringing together newly-commissioned work by four women artists: Jocelyn Allen (UK), Jennifer Pattison (UK), Andrea Fernandes (India) and Uzma Mohsin (India), the exhibition explores diverse themes regarding gender, identity, patriarchy, tradition, culture, memory, place, belonging and difference that shape the lives of women in both countries. 

The project, part of Arts Council England and British Council’s Re-Imagine India cultural exchange programme, was awarded funds to engage with local Indian diaspora communities in Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell, and in cities and villages in the Punjab. 

The Black Country boasts one of the largest Punjabi diasporas outside of India and since their arrival in the 1940s they have created a unique identity in the area, redefining the cultural, economic and social landscape.

Working in partnership with Multistory (UK) & Nazar Foundation (New Delhi), Creative Black Country saw an opportunity to celebrate their exceptional contribution by commissioning four female photographers to create compelling stories about women’s lives and their cultural roots in the Punjab.

Parminder Dosanjh Creative Director of CBC said: “We have strong Indian historical roots here, in business, culture and education, but somehow we’ve disconnected from India today. We’ve used ‘Bollywood films’ and romanticised stories about life in India as a means to connect, and sadly missed an evolution of contemporary culture. This project allows us to stimulate new conversations and reimagine India in the 21st Century.”

With gender inequality at the forefront of political debate in the UK, and a similarly pressing topic in India, the team felt that it was important to support the creation of a body of work about women, by women. The four photographers travelled from Wolverhampton and Walsall to West Bromwich, and from Jalandhar to Patiala, to explore the lives of a diverse set of women. Grandmothers, daughters, family relatives, housewives, professional women, students and young girls in an orphanage, invited the photographers to experience the routine, joy and challenge of their daily lives. 

“Their work reveals interesting synergies and equally compelling divergences regarding the complex nature of migration, and the relationship established between diaspora communities in the Black Country and their origins in the Punjab,” comments Curator, Iona Fergusson. “Each artist brings their individual interests and distinctive narrative styles to the fore.” 

Jocelyn Allen’s You Will Live in This World as A Daughter (image above) is a series of playful portraits of girls and young women that explores what it is to be born a daughter of the Punjab. Behind her playful portrayals is a meaningful enquiry into their visibility within traditionally patriarchal communities.

Andrea Fernandes offers the viewer no documentary truth about the lives of the women she met in the Black Country and the Punjab. Instead, she leaves it open to the viewer to determine their own path through the myriad of photographic impressions and conversations, which she screens in an immersive three-dimensional projection.

Jennifer Pattison’s interest in magical worlds finds expression in the rich traditions of the Punjabi lori. Her fine art photographs are inspired by songs that sing of a mother’s love and of a land of dreams. The artist is interested in how lullabies are passed down the generations from grandmother to daughter to grandchild.

Uzma Mohsin’s rich and textured work seeks to breathe new life into the personal histories of Punjabi women in the Black Country. What emerges in her work is a complex picture of life in diaspora communities and amongst family members in India, that speaks of courage, resilience, bonds of love and friendship but correspondingly of hardship, loneliness, abandonment and depression. 

“We are delighted to be connected to this important new body of work by four women photographers. Their response to the women and girls’ stories, from the Black Country and the Punjab, is a vital challenge to the issue of gender inequality, which prevails in the UK and India.” Said Emma Chetcuti, Director of Multistory.

The exhibits in Girl Gaze paint a layered picture of life for women in the Punjab and the Black Country. They demonstrate the importance women place on family and community but also the impact to themselves and their traditional values that comes with migration and assimilation into different cultures. Equally, the works propose that identity is not defined by place but also by bonds of love and friendship maintained throughout life. 

Girl Gaze: Journeys Through the Punjab & The Black Country, UK will premier in Chandigarh (10-18 March 2018) and will travel to Jalandhar (23-27 March), Delhi, London and Wolverhampton later in the year.

The project is curated by Iona Ferguson with support from Nazar Foundation.


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