Artists of the South Asian diaspora in Britain
By Leon Wainwright
Artists of the South Asian diaspora in Britain have shaped a rich, engaging artistic legacy, which continues to surface in challenging and surprising ways. Many of these artists have been exhibited publicly and achieved glowing critical acclaim, although their life stories, and the historical record of their making and displaying art have yet to be fully documented and recognised historically.
Why should art and diaspora be thought about together?
Given the obvious diversity amongst them, it is probably inaccurate to say that South Asian artists can be considered as a coherent group under the diaspora heading, and this is equally true of the body of their art works, which diverges very widely indeed. It has not always been the case that these artists have chosen to communicate something of their South Asian identities through
their art practises, or to agree that “Indian”, “Pakistani”, “Bengali” or “Ugandan-Asian” labels, for example, should be associated with their art.
But the idea of diaspora is still an important one since the written history of these individuals has often circles around this theme and other issues to do with diaspora identities; it helps us to understand something about their artistic choices, inspirations, beliefs, politics and so on. At certain points in their impressive record of exhibitions, direct considerations about cultural difference and “Asianness” have often played a role. But even if these artists themselves have not directly used art to encourage us to think about their unique histories of migration and cultural continuity, the conditions in which they have been received, criticised, and responded to in modern Britain still place diaspora and cultural difference quite centrally in our view of this recent art history.