Unapologetically British: that’s the subject of a new exhibition The Beauty of Being British Asian. Curated by Sharan Dhaliwal, editor-in-chief of Burnt Roti zine, the week-long exhibition aims to spotlight the intricacies of having a dual identity, from celebrating both Christmas and Diwali to being treated like an ‘outsider’ in your parents’ country while ‘looking’ like one in Britain.
Inspired by writer Nikita Marwaha’s essay "The Beauty of Being British Asian", you can expect to see how 15 multimedia and five spoken word artists interpret both identities. Each has selected a line that best fits their take on juggling their south Asian values with their British upbringing, from photographer Dejah Naya McCombe’s "Punjabi Skinhead" portraits to visual artist Jasmin Sehra’s "BollyHood" series fusing her Punjabi heritage with her love of hip-hop. "A dual identity is not an issue but something to celebrate," Sharan tells me. "Sometimes you can get lost feeling there’s a ‘disconnect’ but to see that this ‘disconnect’ is shared by so many people is beautiful. 'Connecting through a disconnect'," she adds.
With 2017 marking 70 years since Partition – the creation in 1947 of two separate states of Pakistan and India – it’s a poignant time for the British south Asian community to celebrate what unites, rather than divides, us.
Ahead of the exhibition opening, we spoke to five of the artists about how they navigate their dual identities, how post-Brexit Britain has influenced their work, and why PoC having their own spaces in the art world is needed more than ever.
The Beauty of Being British Asian runs from 16th to 22nd August at Shop 11, The Old Truman Brewery, London, E1 6QL