13 March 2014
A community heritage project involving SOAS MA in Migration and Diaspora Studies students has collected a series of oral histories of Ugandan Asians and will exhibit its findings in the Wolfson Gallery at SOAS, University of London later this month.
Hosted by the Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies, the Making Home exhibition is part of a project entitled ‘Exiles: The Ugandan Asian Story’. The ‘Exiles’ Project is a community-based initiative collecting oral histories of Ugandan Asians 40 years on. It is delivered by The Council of Asian People (CAP) in partnership with Amphora Arts and Collage Arts, with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Marie Curie Actions ITN, Council of Asian People, Amphora Arts and Collage Arts.
Open from 31 March until 22 April, Making Home has been curated by photographer and artist Sunil Shah, who was born in Uganda and moved to the UK in 1972. It will look at the migration of Indian labourers recruited to work in British East Africa in the 19th century, through to a generation of colonial rule and the struggles of independence. This exhibition also charts the story of Ugandan Asians and examines the seismic impact of Idi Amin’s expulsion of all Asians in 1972.
With sudden displacement came new beginnings. Through new interviews and an in-depth investigation of rarely seen archives, Making Home presents a fresh and compelling new narrative reflecting the lives of a community now settled in the UK for 40 years.
Dr Parvathi Raman, Chair of SOAS Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies, said: “The migration of Asian communities from East Africa to Britain is an important part of the political and cultural history of both Britain and the South Asian diaspora, and illustrates the complex interactions between Empire, postcolonial independence and migration to postwar Britain. The Exiles Project makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of this history, bringing alive the experiences of Ugandan Asians, and their relevance to a contemporary multicultural Britain.”
The exhibition is constructed from an eclectic mix of source material. Personal interview transcripts are placed alongside information from the public archives and private collections. This opens up new ways to understand this history. Imagery from colonial days and contemporary artworks from Asian artists and photographers add further layers of visual meaning in an interesting intersection of past and present.
“The human urge to trace long, biological bloodlines is strong. But our far past was swept away by careless fate impetuously carrying off my folk across the seas, away, away to new beginnings. They took little and left behind even less. Like many other East African Asians whose forebears left lndia in the nineteenth century, I search endlessly (and sometimes find) the remains of those days. Few maps mark routes of journeys undertaken by these migrants; hardly any books capture their spirit or tell the story. Then Africa disgorged us too, and here we are, people in motion, now in the West, the next stopover. There is no place on earth we can historically and unequivocally claim to be ours, and so we become adept wayfarers who settle but cautiously, ready to move if the winds change.”
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, from The Settler’s Cookbook: A Memoir of Love, Migration and Food
Portobello Books 2008