Pakistan Chowk Community Centre (PCCC) team, consisting of Ms. Marvi Mazhar (Founder and Creative Head) and Ms. Marium Hanif (Project Manager) travelled to Birmingham in the month of March to participate in the Transforming Narratives Project. Transforming Narratives aims to establish Birmingham as a leading international cultural centre for contemporary Pakistani and Bangladeshi arts. It is managed by Culture Central, Birmingham, supported by Arts Council England and being delivered in partnership with The British Council and 12 Birmingham-based cultural partners.
Over the course of their entire visit, PCCC team met with collaborating organizations to exchange methodology and frameworks on community outreach, involve in critical exchange and dialogue on intercultural relations and expansion of PCCC’s following existing projects:
Spoken History Project: Through this project, the community centre collects and curates the history of Karachi’s oldest where storytellers are gathered, and data is extracted to map the vestiges of a space that was, and the space that is now.
Heritage Walk Karachi: The motive of this project is to engage people from all districts by introducing them to the heritage buildings of the Old Town. The idea is to educate them about their historical significance in a rapidly changing city and the diversity of the communities, who have inhabited them
On their first day in Birmingham, Pakistan Chowk Community Centre team visited Midlands Arts Centre to meet Ms. Piali Ray (Director), Ms. Sabra Khan (Projects Director) and Ms. Sooree Pillay (Program Manager) of Sampad Arts. Sampad Arts promotes arts and artists from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan origin who are settled in Britain, by supporting, commissioning and co-producing arts and educational projects. During the meeting, PCCC was introduced to programs offered by Sampad Arts, especially the methodology employed for the execution of the “My Route Project” which had similar objectives to that of Heritage Walk Karachi. My Route Project explored the transformation of landscape, culture and communities of Stratford Road, extending from Sparkbrook to Hall Green, from 1940’s to the present day.
Ms. Mazhar and Ms. Hanif also experienced another site-based project in Birmingham, i.e. the “Handsworth Heritage Trail”. The trail was curated by Rachel West of Legacy West Midlands, beginning at Soho House, former home of the industrialist Matthew Boulton, and ending at the Soho Road, the centre of Indian culture in Birmingham. PCCC team was also introduced to other projects by Mr. Aftab Rahman (Directir) of Legacy West Midlands such as the “Old Wives Tale” and “Bangla Food Journeys” which explore the dynamics of the migrant Bangladeshi Community in Birmingham.
While in Birmingham, PCCC team also visited the IKON Gallery, an independent, not-for-profit exhibition space to meet Ms. Linzi Stauvers (Head of Learning) who introduced us to the “Slow Boat” project. Ikon Slow boat is an off-site cultural space that operates in the Birmingham and Sandwell canals hosting neighbouring residents in workshops, performances and screenings. It also offers a residency program to artist offering a unique platform to engage with dynamic audience. Ms. Stuavers also offered a guided tour of British artist, Hew Locke’s exhibition: “Here’s the thing” which explored the languages of colonial and post-colonial power, and the symbols through which different cultures assume and assert identity.
Along with the “Here’s the Thing” exhibition, PCCC team also got the chance to visit “Women, Power, Protest” exhibition and “Too Cute! Sweet is about to get Sinister” exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The exhibition, “Women, Power, Protest” consisted of pieces from multiple artists that raised awareness, provoke debate about how much the circumstances have changed for women over time? whereas, the second exhibition explored how objects and images can have the unique ability to be simultaneously sweet and yet sinister. Ms. Mazhar and Ms, Hanif also met with Ms. Rebecca Bridgeman (Curatorial & Exhibitions Manager) and Mr. Toby Watley (Director of Collections) to learn about how curation can celebrate and acknowledge diverse communities, exploring their traditions, beliefs and customs in an accessible and welcoming environment as is in the case of “Faith in Birmingham” exhibit at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. PCCC team also participated in the open archive session by The South Asian Diaspora Arts Archive that discussed different stages of developing a multilayered and a dynamic archive of concerned subjects.
While in Birmingham, the team did not only get the chance to meet the representatives of organizations based in Birmingham but also the representatives of organizations based in Pakistan and Bangladesh at the Transforming Narratives event launch on the 21st of March, 2019 at Birmingham Repertory Theater.
In light of their international visit, Pakistan Chowk Community Center’s hopes to implement the methodologies learnt during the research, collaborate with organizations based in Birmingham with similar objectives and conduct workshops to train volunteers who wish to undertake similar initiatives.