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India’s Gateway: Gujarat, Mumbai & Britain - Redbridge Museum

Exhibition preview

ON DISPLAY at Redbridge Museum in Ilford, east London from October 18, 2016 to January 28, 2017, India’s Gateway: Gujarat, Mumbai & Britain explores the links between Gujarat, Mumbai and Britain which stretch back over 400 years.

Gujarat has been a centre for international trade for thousands of years, its coastline studded with ports connecting India with the outside world.

In 1615, when Sir Thomas Roe of Woodford (which is now in the London Borough of Redbridge) first secured a base for London’s East India Company at Surat on the coast of Gujarat, the region became the first point of contact between Britain and the Indian subcontinent.

It was the beginning of an extraordinary relationship that endures to this day. This relationship changed Gujarat and its people, who in turn have profoundly altered the fabric of modern-day Britain. Over half of British Indians can trace their roots back to Gujarat, and large Gujarati communities can now be found all over the world.

Back in Britain, East India Company merchants used their wealth to build magnificent estates during the 1700s in places such as Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford, which are now part of the London Borough of Redbridge. Later, from the 1960s onwards, many Gujaratis moved to Britain, some via east Africa, and made their home in east London as well as other places such as west London, Leicester and Bradford.

This exhibition at Redbridge Museum presents a vivid portrait of the region and explores the lives and experiences of Gujarati communities today in both India and east London.

The display is based around new photography and film by renowned photographer Tim Smith complemented with material from Redbridge Museum’s collections.

Tim Smith is based in Yorkshire and explores stories around migration, culture and identity. He says:

“Over the past three decades I’ve photographed many of the different British Asian communities in the UK. I’m fascinated by individual life stories that often depend on chance and circumstance but are also shaped by the impact of world events: whether it be the arrival of British ships on Indian shores over 400 years ago, the Partition of India in 1947 or the need for labour in the post-war reconstruction of Britain.

“The idea for the exhibition was in part inspired by something a British Indian friend said to me once: ‘There’s a little bit of India in everyone that lives in Britain. I just wish more people realised that’.

“With India’s Gateway, I wanted to tell these stories from the other end. By travelling back along the lines of migration to modern-day Gujarat and Mumbai, I wanted to take photographs and gather stories that explored the shared history between Britain and India, much of which is still visible today.

“Before setting off to India, I travelled around England asking British Gujaratis for advice about where to go and who to meet in Gujarat. Redbridge Museum had already made a research trip, funded by the British Council, to explore some of these local connections and that was an immense help.

“I travelled in 2014 in the so-called ‘NRI season’ when many Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) escape the cold British winter to visit their family homes. This enabled me to meet, photograph and interview lots of people from Britain, as well as hundreds of Indians with family and business connections to the UK.

“I hope the exhibition will reflect aspects of the British Indian experience, as well as giving people an insight into how our shared histories have ‘put a little bit of India in everyone who lives in Britain’, and have left a little bit of Britain in India too.”

The book and exhibition has been sponsored by Prashad. This award-winning restaurant in Yorkshire showcases some of the very best vegetarian Gujarati food, with founder Kaushy Patel’s recipes compiled in her best-selling cookbooks. The story of her family’s journey from Gujarat to Britain is one of many featured in both the India’s Gateway book and exhibition.

The India’s Gateway book which accompanies the exhibition will be available for sale at Redbridge Museum at a special introductory price. It is published by Northern Arts Publications, ISBN 978-1-911148043.

This exhibition is part of a national tour to six different towns and cities, assisted by Oriental Arts and supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Fund.

Image: Premji Hari Manvar, who works from his home in the weaving community of Hamapur near Junagadh, central Gujarat. Photo credit: Tim Smith.

Admission: Free.

Times: Tuesday to Friday, 10am – 5pm; Saturday, 10am – 4pm; closed Sunday and Monday.

There is a full events programme to complement the exhibition.

Kite Crazy! – Saturday, October 22 at 3pm. Free.

Free storytelling event about the largest kite festival in the world in Gujarat. No need to book. Led by Shweta Aggarwal, author of the Dev and Ollie books (www.devandollie.com).

India’s Gateway Treasure Trail – Tuesday, October 25 to Saturday, October 29 from 11am – 3pm.

Free family trail and puppet/mask making (50p). No need to book.

Sail Away to India – Tuesday, October 25 from 10.30am – 12 noon. £1.50 per child. Book at www.thelittleboxoffice.com/vision.

Storytelling, rhymes and craft for under 5s.

Super Saris! – Wednesday, October 26 from 10.30am – 12 noon. Ages 7+. £1.50 per child. Book at www.thelittleboxoffice.com/vision.

Make a sari in the traditional Gujarati Bandhani style and then learn how to wear it.

Redbridge Museum, Redbridge Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 1EA

Tel: 020 8708 2317

Website: www.redbridge.gov.uk/