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Mela and Symposium to celebrate art and culture from Birmingham, Bangladesh and Pakistan

Main image: Elhakar Katha (A Story of Now) 2022, Kamruzzaman Shadhin, Gidree Bawlee Foundation of Arts, Bangladesh

Transforming Narratives is planning a unique and innovative online event to bring together artists from Birmingham, Pakistan and Bangladesh to celebrate four years of work writes Diane Parkes.

The Mela and Symposium, taking place on March 19-21, will be free and open to all and will be a combination of work already created, newly commisioned projects exclusive to the event as well as a series of discussions focusing on artistic practice, creative industries and the arts ecology. 

Providing opportunities for more than 500 artists

Managed by Birmingham-based Culture Central, Transforming Narratives has, since 2018, provided opportunities for more than 500 artists and creatives bringing together different art forms across three countries both in person and online.

The project, which is supported by Arts Council England and delivered in collaboration with the British Council and ten Birmingham-based organisations, was established in June 2018 and officially launched in March 2019.

Transforming Narratives has seen artists from Birmingham travelling to Bangladesh and Pakistan and vice versa to create new partnerships and create new work. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the programme moved online with more than 100 artists across the three nations working digitally to create new commissions.

Ground-breaking initiative

Transforming Narratives project director Sophina Jagot explains that the programme is a ground-breaking initiative which has encouraged many different forms of artistic expression.

“The vision for Transforming Narratives was about creative and cultural exchange between Birmingham, Bangladesh and Pakistan for the mutual benefit of all those places, looking at contemporary narratives through a variety of art forms.” she says. “What we were doing was completely new - the idea of connecting all of those places and doing international working in this way and particularly focussing on Pakistan, Bangladesh and Birmingham hadn’t been done before.

“Actually it feels like it’s just the beginning, in a really wonderful way, in terms of what we wanted it to achieve. I think there were a lot of unknowns and what we have achieved is really the beginning of those creative and cultural connections.

“We’ve had spoken word, literature, theatre, dance, vodcasts, visual arts and photography exhibitions and composed music – there’s been such a variety.”

Tangible achivements

The programme has also had a number of tangible achivements including a book launch, film and music releases and the development of artists' careers.

“One of the projects was My City, My Home which we originally funded in 2019 with Sampad Arts,” Sophina says. “This was a women’s writing project which was originally supposed to happen with physical workshops in Pakistan and Bangladesh. That changed with the pandemic and everything happening online but the outcome of that work is a wonderful book which has around 180 writings from a mixture of women in Birmingham, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It’s inter-generational and features work written in English, some in Bengali and some in Urdu.”

Another successful outcome of the programme is Birmingham photographer Maryam Wahid’s exhibition Zaibunnisa – currently on display at Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham (mac) – which displays photographs taken on a Transforming Narratives-funded trip to Pakistan in 2019. Telling the story of Maryam and her mother's visit to Lahore, the images document a journey of discovery for both women. The project came out of research visits to Pakistan for both Maryam and mac CEO and artistic director Deborah Kermode, funded by Transforming Narratives.

“This exhibition is wonderful to see,” says Sophina. “It’s an example of something which began as research and development from Transforming Narratives and now we have seen Maryam progress so much. We can also see how our initial investment was continued through mac investing in her as an artist. This is the spirit of what we were hoping to see with Transforming Narratives.”

Wonderful art and discussion

The team behind the Mela and Symposium are promising an event packed full of wonderful art and discussion.

 “We are hoping to get as much of a spread and variety to represent the reality of the places and the lived experiences of the artists as well as the work that Transforming Narratives has done and the influence it has,” says Transforming Narratives creative producer Sadia Rahman.

The festival features three main elements to appeal to different audiences. The Symposium features discussions on artistic practices, creative industries and the arts ecology. The Mela will showcase some of the art commissioned and created including music, moving image and performance. The Alaap will feature a long-form conversation between ‘relays’ of participants over the three days.

Mela to be live streamed

The festival is free but for places to watch the full festival, tickets need to be booked in advance. The Mela part of the festival will be simultaneously live streamed on the Facebook pages of Transforming Narratives and the British Council as well as the Transforming Narratives YouTube channel.

The festival also features commissions which develop projects previously created with the support of Transforming Narratives. Shehzad Chowdhury in Bangladesh is collaborating with Mahtab Hussain in Birmingham on Dear … Kindest…, a film exploring personal feelings of home, belonging, identity, human relationships and collective trauma. Musicians Ahsan Iqbal Bari and Sheikh Dina will screen Dhaka Say Karachi (Chapter Two) a film project telling the parallel stories of Bangladeshi capital Dhaka and Karachi in Pakistan.

“We wanted this to be a celebratory space, showcasing some of the work which has been created through Transforming Narratives and some of the people we have worked with as well as commissioning new work,” says Sophina. “We started with a moment in 2019 and this is our reveal moment at the culmination of the project.”

Transforming Narratives Mela and Symposium takes place on March 19-21, for more information and to reserve a ticket click here.

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