Baron Sirdar Iqbal Singh, a retired Sikh businessman affectionately known as the Laird of Lesmahgow. © Herman Rodrigues
Did you know that Leith has its own Sikh Tartan? Or that Madras College in the prestigious St Andrews University is named in tribute to the educational system of the Indian region?
The New Scots, a photographic exhibition at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) showing until May 22 2006, reveals both these facts and more about the diverse nature of Asian communities in Scotland. The 50 photographs on display, taken all over the country by Herman Rodrigues, have been shown in nine Indian cities already and this is their first public outing in Scotland.
Dancers from the Indian Music and Dance Collective, Edinburgh, peforming to Scottish folk music. © the artist
Prominent themes of Asian life in today’s world are explored as well as the history of the community. Themes including immigration, religion, professions and Asian culture run through the images, enriched with material from the library’s collection including Urdu and Punjabi translations of Burns’ poetry.
“The diversity of cultures and lifestyles Herman captures so vividly is striking,” says Jacqueline Cromarty, Exhibitions Officer at NLS. “Not only that, but it’s a great opportunity for us to show that the library’s collections contain material of interest and importance to all of Scotland’s many different communities.”
Jeevan Singh of the band The Tartan Dhollies, wearing Leith Sikh tartan. © the artist
Rodrigues arrived in Scotland from India in 1990 and was immediately captivated by the lives of Scottish Asians. He decided to document their history, culture, and assimilation with Scottish life with the aim of expressing the community’s colour and vibrancy and dispelling racial stereotypes.
“I initially went to community gatherings, weddings, social events – just about anything I could invite myself to,” he says of the project. “It was extremely difficult at first. Living in Scotland, most of the older community were quite formal and preferred not to invite me (a stranger) to such occasions. Some even offered advice on the merits of running a shop as a better business proposal than a photography business!”
Rodrigues already has another string to his bow as a chef, owning two restaurants in Edinburgh. He likes to use Scottish ingredients in Indian dishes, reflecting the integration of his two cultures.