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From UK’s Black Country: Re-imaging Punjabi woman at home and abroad through art

The region in UK has one of the largest Punjabi diasporas which is somewhat disconnected with India today and a photographic project hopes to open a new dialogue.

punjab Updated: Jan 25, 2018 20:44 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjabi woman,Black Country,UK
Parminder Kaur, who lives in Black Country region of the UK that has one of the largest Punjabi diasporas, in Chandigarh(Sanjeev Sharma/HT)

Home for Parminder Kaur (39) is in the Black Country, getting its name in the 19th century from the 30-ft high coal steams in the most industrialised part of UK, stretching 23km from Wolverhampton to Birmingham, and intensely inhabited by immigrants. However, a part of the heart of this second-generation immigrant dwells in her ancestral village of Chahal Kalan near Phagwara.

Caught between two cultures, Parminder evolved an interesting project, a part of 70 years of India’s Independence. A graduate in fine arts and art management from Leicester, she works as the creative director of Creative Black Country, British Arts Council’s three-year campaign to encourage art in the region.

The exhibition will open at the Punjab Kala Bhawan on March 8 (International Women’s Day) and then move to London.

In the city to plan mounting of an exhibition on which she worked for over a year, Parminder tells HT: “We thought Partition stories had been overdone and then we decided to study the evolvement of India as an independent nation through its women, photographing those who immigrated and those who stayed back”. She adds that in fact the project ‘Reimagine India’ can well be described as ‘Reimagine Girls’.

Elaborating the cultural importance of the project, Birmingham-based Parminder says: “The Black Country has one of the largest Punjabi diasporas. We have strong Indian historical roots here, in business, culture and education, but somehow we’ve disconnected from India today. We have used Bollywood films 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.”

As part of the project, two well-known Indian photographers Uzma Mohsin and Andrea Fernandes from India as well as Jennifer Pattison and Jocelyn Allan from the UK in a British Council exchange programme have worked on photographic exploration of India and her women in modern day Black Country and contemporary Punjab.

The exhibition will open at the Punjab Kala Bhawan on March 8 (International Women’s Day) and then move to London. The grand finale will be at the Nazar Foundation’s photo festival in autumn 2018.

Parminder, like many other girls of Indian origin in the UK, earned her freedom through education and is married to French chef Remi Faveu who runs a restaurant in Wolverhampton. However, in her village she is still called ‘Tarsem di kurhi’ and she adds with a laugh, “The village children call Remi ‘Kashmiri phupharh’ (uncle).

When asked if Indian girls are free to marry men of other nationalities, Parminder replies: “Parents are now accepting the fact that educated and independent girls will marry boys of their choice but Punjabi families are still not open to their daughters marrying boys of African and Pakistani origin. The new dictum seems to be that if he is white he is all right!” The new conversations that are beginning now still have a long way to go!

First Published: Jan 24, 2018 11:48 IST