More than three decades of Punjabi family life feature in a new exhibition exploring migration to Wolverhampton.
The Apna Heritage Archive Exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery draws on 2,000 family photos alongside present-day portraits from within the Punjabi community.
Daily life is recorded in all its ups and downs – photos of people arriving in the UK are set alongside births, weddings, work, and home life. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and at times emotional, says Anand Chhabra, Founder and Director of Black Country Visual Arts, the award-winning archive behind the exhibition.
‘We’ve had an astonishing response, and I personally felt an intense responsibility to get everything right,’ he says.
‘I watched a couple go round the exhibition, really taking their time, and when they realised I was one of the two people behind it, she came over and hugged me and said she’d just found her brother in a photo. He died twenty years ago.
‘It’s that impact, that meaning, and seeing tiny prints from photo albums projected 50 times larger and at the highest resolution that has meant the most to me.’
The archive is set to become a vital community resource, as old photographs and documents recording Punjabi migration are added and digitised.
Anand considers the pièce de résistance of the exhibition to be the archival wall of projected images, which provides a visual commentary on the socio-political forces at work through the decades.
‘You can see social movements, subcultures, and how society progressed as a historical timeline from the 60s to the end of the 80s.
‘The intention was to fuse art and archive and encourage people from the Punjabi community to get involved, to interact with the curation.’
The archival wall takes the visitor on a historic journey through all the chapters in the Punjabi Black Country story. It also offers insights into the progression of home photography through the decades.
‘We have black and white 35mm shots, through to polaroids, passport pictures, negatives with ‘handle at edges’ written on the packs, and, of course, the cameras and photo albums themselves.’
To the younger generation, the concept of sticking pictures in an album is entirely alien. ‘They seem captivated by the archival images and are shocked to see tiny two-inch square photos in an album,’ Anand adds.
‘These are valuable heirlooms, and it’s great we have interest from universities, so that younger people can come and study at the exhibition, and maybe bring images of their own families along.’
There’s a serious message behind the exhibition. ‘Words can never fully articulate what it was like for Asian families in the 60s and 70s here. But you see the images, and they speak to you what a thousand words cannot.
‘We were determined that all the participants who gave us their albums would be represented, and the present-day portraits have their own power, in catching up with people years on from when they first arrived here.’
- The exhibition runs until 18 March at Wolverhampton Art Gallery
- The Guru Teg Bahadur Gurdwara, Wolverhampton, will house the Apna Heritage Archive for at least five years
- Following the exhibition, a digital archive will also be housed at the Wolverhampton City Archives
Apna Heritage Archive is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and has worked in partnership with the following groups: Guru Teg Bahadur Gurdwara, St Luke’s Primary School, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Wolverhampton City Archives and the University of Wolverhampton.
Banner image: Faqir Singh leaves home for the ceremony of his wedding, Dartmouth Street, West Bromwich, 1965.