At Home With Multicultural England in the Shipley Gallery

By Caroline Lewis | 15 October 2004
Shows a figurine of an Asian man in dungarees, holding a bulldog on a lead.

Winston and I 2003-4 by Farhad Ahrarnia. Figures by Edward Payne. Courtesy Tyne & Wear Museums.

"Ethnic diversity is not new in Britain. People with different histories, cultures and beliefs have been coming here since the beginning of recorded time. Logically, therefore, everyone who lives in Britain today is either an immigrant or the descendant of an immigrant." - The Commission for Racial Equality

An exhibition celebrating immigration and its contribution to British society is at the Shipley until November 7. It’s part of a project that explores what it means to be English.

HOME, organised by ISIS Arts and Northern Print Studio, explores the ‘routes’ of our identity. Visual artist Farhad Ahrarnia has created the first element of the pioneering project, examining how other cultural traditions have been absorbed into, and now form part of, North East culture.

Farhad worked with pupils from four towns in Tweedside, Wearside, Tyneside and Teesside, looking at hidden histories and the rich diversity of the region. They found that centuries of invasion, settlement and industrial booms have all played a part in moulding English-ness.

Andrew Heard, curator of the Shipley Art Gallery, said: “Ahrarnia’s own work, alongside the work created by children from across the region, has resulted in an exhibition that is surprising, innovative and poignant and full of imaginative works.”

administered by the Tyne and Wear Museums Service, Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead will recieve extra funds.

What is English culture? The Shipley is home to a thought-provoking collection of work. © 24 Hour Museum

Years of trade between the North East and other countries has brought new communities to the region, who have all participated in the creation of English culture – what being English is all about. For example, sailors have come to settle in the area, as have industrialists with specific skills needed in the region.

Anna Wilkinson of Northern Print Studio said: “HOME is a major project that examines all of our origins. Farhad Ahrarnia has successfully immersed himself in the shifting definitions of what ‘home’ really means and the end result is a truly unique exhibition.”

The Shipley display explores how surnames, skills, artefacts and literature all reveal English culture to be rooted in many cultures and how our lives are all the richer for it. Immigration has brought fresh ideas, new skills, labour and capital as well as a melting pot of values and personalities. England has made staples of so many ‘foreign’ goods: curry, cappuccino, chocolate and chilli con carne to name but a few!

The second part of the HOME project will take place at Bessie Surtee’s house, from December 13 to 23. Tiny figurines, made by Farhad, will snake their way through the historic house.

A publication, featuring specially commissioned short stories from new writers Keith Jeffrey, Anne-Marie Copstake and Pauline Plummer, with illustrations by Ahrarnia, will also be launched at the English Heritage House in December.

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