Tasawar Bashir exhibition to tell ‘forgotten’ stories of service
This summer, Sparkhill-based artist Tasawar Bashir will explore previously untold stories of historic service and sacrifice from Birmingham’s South Asian communities through a sound art installation at the National Memorial Arboretum.
Commissioned by the Arboretum and Sampad, an arts charity that connects people with South Asian arts and heritage, the new installation will celebrate the forgotten men and women who contributed to many military campaigns between 1914 and 1947. These stories will be narrated by community elders who Bashir has been working alongside in Birmingham for the past 12 months.
During the First and Second World Wars, Indian Army recruitment was heavily concentrated on rural areas known presently as Pakistan Punjab, Indian Punjab, the North West Frontier, Azad Kashmir, and Bangladesh. Known as begaris, the landless, they were the forgotten unsung heroes, playing vital roles as low rank soldiers or non-military functionaries such as porters or stretcher bearers. Due to their low profile and less glamorous roles, their history was largely ignored by official military narratives and subsequent generations of British-born South Asians have either no knowledge or many unanswered questions about elders who took part in various military campaigns.
“When these brave servicemen returned from their military campaigns, they returned with stories about the world they had seen, with money in their pockets and with military pensions, some were awarded tracts of land,” Bashir explains. “The story of how South Asian communities came to settle in Britain from the 1930s onwards can, in part, be explained by the forgotten story of these men and women. Those living in the Diaspora today, areas such as the West Midlands, have been left impoverished by having no officially-recorded history of this period.”
“This summer at the Arboretum, we are shining a light on the relationships between people of the Commonwealth who have served alongside each other,” said Chris Ansell, Head of Participation and Learning at the National Memorial Arboretum. “As the Nation’s year-round place to remember, we wanted to seize this opportunity to explore previously untold stories from communities within the UK through an artist commission, and Tasawar’s proposal was thoughtful and challenging. His concept of using the voices of Birmingham’s South East Asian elders to share the stories of their forefathers is incredibly powerful and an innovative way of passing the baton of remembrance to the next generation.”
“As an organisation, we strive to amplify unheard voices from South Asian communities in Britain and believe in the power of arts and heritage to bring people together from all walks of life, explains Piali Ray, Artistic Director & CEO from Sampad. “The Arboretum shares our passion for telling stories and we worked closely together to find the right artist to honour the contributions of the unsung heroes of the World Wars within the British South Asian community. Tasawar’s evocative sound art installation will bring this forgotten part of our shared history to life to new audiences, helping to break down barriers and enrich mainstream culture in the UK.”
The free, Tasawar Bashir sound art installation has been supported by The MECC Trust and will open on 25 June and is part of the ‘Sports, Service and the Commonwealth’ programme running throughout summer 2022 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
Timed to coincide with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, the Commonwealth-inspired exhibitions, events, art and sporting activities, trails, talks and guided walks shine a light on the camaraderie of communities from across the Commonwealth who have served alongside each other, while highlighting the important role of sport in the Armed Forces. This new programme of activities is presented as part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival. For the full programme, visit: www.thenma.org.uk/commonwealth