Where North meets South, East meets West

Salim and Tukloo Bombay 1987 by Sooni Taraporevala

New North and South, a partnership launched in September 2017, aims to build bridges between the north of England and South Asia, bringing prominence to several prominent Bangladeshi, Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and British artists. 

The leading contemporary art festivals of Lahore, Karachi, Colombo, Dhaka and Kochi have teamed up with a number of British cultural institutions for a programme of co-commissions, exhibitions and intellectual exchange to celebrate shared heritage across continents and develop artistic talent. According to Nick Merriman, director of Manchester Museum and acting director of the Whitworth Gallery, the initiative responds partly to the fact that people of South Asian origin make up 13% of Manchester’s population, but only 4% of visitors to its museums.

Several exhibitions and events have already begun. Among the most significant is Twilight Language at Whitworth, the first major UK show by Raqs Media Collective, a Delhi-based trio known for its critique of globalisation through art, multimedia installations and research. Running until February 2018, the show includes references to Manchester’s industrial heritage: one large-scale installation – Alive, with Cerrussite and Peppered Moth – nods to a type of moth that evolved to camouflage better during the industrial revolution. Meanwhile, Communard Biscuits (below) are a series of 3D-printed biscuits based on a hard-tack biscuit from the Paris Commune that is housed in the city’s People’s History Museum.

Also at the Whitworth is an exhibition of paintings by Indian and Pakistani modernist artists who worked with the experimental Gallery One in London between 1953 and 1963, including for the landmark 1958 exhibition Seven Indian Painters in Europe. A series of intimate portraits by Russian photographer Ida Kar of artist Francis Newton Souza is also featured. Elsewhere, Beyond Borders, shows work by South Asian textiles artists exploring issues of post-colonial identity, fragmentation, authenticity, displacement and belonging. And photographer, screenwriter and filmmaker Sooni Taraporevala is presenting a series of photographs depicting life in Bombay/Mumbai over four decades, capturing the city in which she grew up.

Over at Manchester Art Gallery is a series of solo exhibitions, including a major new film by Neha Choksi that features the artist and her friends interacting on the construction site of a new Jain ashram, and explores the tensions between solitude and collaboration. Meanwhile, Mehreen Murtaza has filled one of the galleries with living plants for a new work exploring plant communication and consciousness, Risham Syed is showing her exquisite postcard-sized architectural paintings and Hetain Patel is presenting a new film that combines martial arts and a wedding ceremony with his characteristic sense of humour. Unfortunately, a sober tone was brought to the opening of the programme in September, with the news that the Tentative Collective, a Karachi-based group of artists, were unable to attend for the launch or their performance in the gallery a few days later because they were not granted visas to travel to the UK.

Elsewhere, Reena Saini Kallat has responded to the Manchester Museum’s natural science collections to create a thought-provoking exhibition that includes drawings of fictional hybrid animals that could emerge at the borders of nations in conflict.

Also on the bill are explorations of the legacy of the 1947 Partition of India and a show of South Asian craft and design. The New North and South programme will continue for three years, with further announcements expected soon.