Exhibition:  Selections from the Bengali Photo Archive / from 4 July 2024

Opening next month, I Am Who I Am Now: Selections from the Bengali Photo Archive offers a unique insight into the everyday life of the Bengali East End of London.  The exhibition focuses on vernacular photographs taken of and by Bengali people over the past 50 years. Accompanied by oral histories and collaboratively produced archival interpretations, it offers a powerful and intimate perspective on the community's histories. From the microcosms of the family to the transformative power of community spaces, it illuminates the intricate interplay between individual experiences and the broader socio-political landscape in the East End.

The images are drawn from the Bengali Photo Archive, a new collection featuring personal and family images donated by local people. The exhibition also features work by
photographers Raju Vaidyanathan, Mayar Akash, Anthony Lam, Paul Halliday, Sarah Ainslie, David Hoffman, Paul Trevor and others, which documents the community's working lives,
activism, and anti-racist struggles.

The title of the show is inspired by photographer Mayar Akash, who reflected, “I am who I am now” because of transformative experiences in East End youth work settings. The central importance of such community spaces is shown in images of the Federation of Bangladeshi Youth Organisations, and musicians such as Joi Bangla, State of Bangal and Osmani Knights. These groups brought together politics, activism, arts and music to create a new Bengali youth culture in the 1980s.

I Am Who I Am Now: Selections from the Bengali Photo Archive is co-curated by Julian Ehsan, Four Corners and the Bengali Photo Archive volunteers with the generous support of Swadhinata Trust. It is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the Art Fund and Historic England.

Julie Begum, of Swadhinata Trust says: “When we engage with art that reflects diverse perspectives, we see new ideas, cultures, and ways of thinking. . . The Bengali photo archive challenges racist stereotypes about us and who people think we are, including ourselves.

Julian Ehsan, exhibition curator says: “I Am Who I Am Now reveals the power of community history and telling the stories of everyday people. Working collaboratively with project
volunteers and people who appear in the archive itself, this exhibition re-centres the curatorial process — and the curatorial power — to emphasise voices that are often hidden or ignored. As a person of Bengali heritage myself, it has been poignant to work with intimate and evocative images of, and by, the diaspora.

Akila Asad, an archive volunteer says: “The archive captures the resilience and the everyday lives Bengalis built in Britain. By highlighting their heritage, the Bengali Photo Archive encourages viewers, especially the Bengali community, to take pride in their pioneering forefathers who journeyed to the UK, solidifying their presence in East London and proving that Britain is indeed their home as well.

Tanbir Mirza-Baeg, archive donor and volunteer says: “The Bengali Photo Archive will be a great insight for those who want to look at their heritage to see that there was simple mundanity outside of the struggles that were faced by the generations before them. I hope that it inspires others to start their own archive, and gather the different pieces before they are lost and there isn't a chance to see or hear them again.”

I Am Who I Am Now: Selections from the Bengali Photo Archive
5 July-4 August 2024

London, Four Corner
See more here

Image: Two boys dancing at Spitalfields City Farm, 1990s. © Julie Begum. Courtesy of Bengali Photo Archive.

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