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Paul Alexander Knox and Ciara Leeming were commissioned by Side Gallery as part of Homelands, a wide-ranging project commissioning photographers to document host/migrant community stories in the North East of England.
We Are All Brothers Here: Stories from the Bangladeshi Community
Growing out of a year documenting the Bangladeshi community rooted in the once industrial centre of Paul’s own native Sunderland, what was initially conceived as a small commission grew in scale as the welcome he received opened up a wealth of stories. He began looking at the ways in which members of the 4,000-strong community maintain links to Bangladesh while forging their lives in Britain. He observed the juxtapositions inherent in lives lived in two worlds – the over crowed mosque built into a row of terraced houses, teenagers wearing tracksuit bottoms and the Kurta or ceremonial tunic, and Islamic girls screaming for pop sensation Rax Star.
Drawn to the places where the different communities meet, the points of contact were not always peaceful – an undercurrent of racism bubbling up to the surface during protests against the use of Halal meat at a sandwich shop and against a proposed new mosque. But looking beyond the differences and the similarities, Paul time and again came back to individual stories of the people he met. He spent time in the late night takeaway with the mullah/delivery driver who can recite the Koran by heart but is baffled by the terraced streets of Sunderland. He was invited into the home of Farjana who was ‘born, bred, kicked and shouted at in Sunderland’ and Mahfuz the Bangladeshi-born man who inhabits six roles in his efforts to maintain his community and support his family. Spending time with people where they live, work and pray he creates a portrait of a complex and rich community.
Stay where there are songs
Teesside's new Roma
The exhibition grows out of almost 18 months working with a family from the Czech Republic, who are among thousands of Roma who have moved to the North East since European Union expansion in 2004 and 2007. Post communist economic collapse hit Roma especially hard and they were dealing with stifling institutional racism and a rise in rabid anti-Gypsy far right politics. This commissioned work forms, for Ciara, a strand of a far broader project on Britain’s new Roma communities, on which she has worked since 2010.
Regarding her work as a collaboration, from the start she wanted to invest the time and energy to develop the friendships and relationships of trust where a family would feel in control of the way their stories are represented. She spent a lot of time initially, identifying a family that would be open to her approach. Zaneta and Jiri, their children Roman, Jiri, Katerina and Andrea and their extended family were easy-going, warm and welcoming from the start and soon settled into a comfortable routine with the photographer. When she asked if she could join them for Christmas they didn’t flinch. She tried to capture moments of beauty and meaning amid the ordinary humdrum of daily life. She looked at how individual family members relate to their environment, on the relationships between members of this solid and close-knit family and interactions with the wider Roma and Middlesbrough communities.
The Homelands exhibition is included in the North East Photography Network's programme of events, The Social: Encountering Photography , a month of photography in Sunderland and the North East.
Side Gallery’s Homelands commissions have been supported by Arts Council England and Baring Foundation.
Paul Alexander Knox: Rajon on stage at the Diamond Jubilee Mini-Mela at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland. Rajon's first single was released the following day in the UK
Ciara Leeming: Eighteen-year-old Jiri (‘Small Jiri’) has trained to be a motor mechanic – something his mother believes would have been difficult for a Roma boy in their small town near Prague
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Murray Martin, founding member of Amber
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