The Library of Birmingham wins Heritage Lottery Fund support to stage a major exhibition and public programme celebrating South Asian culture

Library of Birmingham and the British Library have received £91,700 of National Lottery funding to present Documenting Histories, a partnership project celebrating the important role South Asian culture has played in forming Birmingham’s history and identity.

At the heart of the project is a major exhibition which will open in July, drawing on both libraries’ rich collections, supported by a programme of complementary events and workshops during 2017. This will explore Britain’s South Asian heritage, examining the contribution made by South Asian people to Birmingham and the UK, and featuring contributions from local communities as they are invited to share their stories in their own words.

This year marks an important milestone in South Asian history and activities will be taking place in Birmingham and across the country to mark the UK’s longstanding cultural ties with the Indian subcontinent.

In 2017, Birmingham will be celebrating Utsav, Year of South Asian Culture and the contribution those communities have made to the city.  Utsav, meaning festival/celebration, was officially launched on 18 January and will feature a wide variety of professional and community events and activities throughout the year.

The exhibition will reflect on the political context of Britain’s long relationship with South Asia, recognising turbulent times in our shared history, as well as celebrating the contribution of South Asian culture to the UK’s heritage, with a particular focus on Birmingham.

Britain’s South Asian heritage will be explored through an eclectic range of exhibits – many displayed in public for the first time. People have travelled to Britain from South Asia for 400 years; the new exhibition will describe their journeys and experiences, and show how our shared histories have shaped modern Birmingham and the nation more widely.

Highlights of the exhibition, drawn from the collections at the Library of Birmingham and the British Library, will include archive papers of figures such as Gandhi and Hanif Kureishi, official records from the East India Company and India Office, classified surveillance files, campaigning materials, recorded oral histories, and photographic portraits stretching back over 70 years.

This National Lottery grant helps forge the next step in an ongoing partnership between the Library of Birmingham and the British Library, following the success last year of Our Shakespeare, a major Library of Birmingham exhibition, curate by the British Library, celebrating Shakespeare’s connection with the Midlands.