The Apna Heritage Archive
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
13 January – 18 March 2018
Reviewed by Caroline Molloy, Senior Lecturer in Photography, Coventry University
In a triangular exhibition space, in Wolverhampton Art Gallery sits the current exhibition, the Apna Heritage Archive. This exhibition brings together different strands of research that seek to raise the visibility of the Punjabi community in the West Midlands, a community that makes up 15% of the local population. There are four threads to this exhibition.
The first thing the audience encounters on entering the gallery are a wide selection of vernacular family photographs that are drawn from the Heritage Lottery funded Apna Heritage Archive. The archive, which took two years to collect, brings together historic family photographs of the Punjabi community in the West Midlands, taken between 1960 and 1989. These photographs document and memorialise personal moments such as births, marriage and leisure activities. In doing this, they stand as testament to three decades of sociocultural change within the British Asian diasporic narrative. In the gallery space, the archival photographs are historically indexed and projected on rotation across the wall. On an opposing vivid pink wall, sit contemporary photographic portraits of the first Punjabi settlers in the West Midlands. These photographs were taken by Anand Chhabra and Sarvji Sra, the founders of the Apna Heritage Archive, who are also part of the local Punjabi community. The third wall presents photographic portraits made in collaboration with Chhabra, Sra and students at St Luke’s Primary School. In the centre of the gallery, are four glass cabinets that house the ephemera collected alongside vernacular family photographs. These include both open and closed Punjabi family photography albums, vintage cameras, negatives and historical identity cards.
It is in an inclusive exhibition that uses multiple methodologies with which to engage different generations of participants. Each strand of the exhibition draws from broader bodies of work. For instance, only a fraction of the 2000 vernacular Apna Heritage Archive photographs are on display. In working with photography and photographic objects in different ways, the exhibition appeals to a diverse range of visitors. To date, it is well attended and has seen new audiences enter the gallery space. Beyond the curiosity of looking at other people’s family photographs, visitors from the Punjabi community are invited to find photographs of themselves, friends and family members using the catalogue system provided. Connections have been made between the contemporary photographs and the Apna Heritage Archival photographs, with the same people appearing in both collections of photographs, at different historical moments.
Patricia Holland, when writing about family albums, reminds us that their value is in preserving family histories. She points out personal histories also belong to wider collective narratives. In exhibiting this archive, rich in sociocultural information, the audience are invited to examine or re-examine the British Asian diasporic narrative. This is an important exhibition in terms of community recognition and without doubt, will be a rich research resource in the future.
Spence, J., Holland, P. (1991) Family Snaps: The meaning of domestic photography. London: Virago Press Bottom of Form