Manchester Museum’s new South Asia Gallery, a British Museum partnership, is the first permanent gallery in the UK dedicated to the experiences and histories of South Asian diaspora communities.
Manchester Museum, part of the University of Manchester, reopened to the public on 18 February 2023 following a major capital redevelopment and this new multilingual gallery explores the connection between South Asia and Britain’s legacy of Empire, presenting fresh perspectives on British Asian and South Asian culture and creativity.
The gallery has been uniquely co-curated by the South Asia Gallery Collective, a group of 30 inspiring individuals including community leaders, educators, artists, historians, journalists and musicians.
Showcasing over 140 historic artefacts from the collections of the Manchester Museum and British Museum, alongside new contemporary commissions and personal objects provided by the Collective, the gallery presents a range of personal stories that provide visitors with a window into South Asia.
It also presents powerful female figures of the Mughal Empire such as Nur Jahan, reflecting on the role of women and revealing the impact of Gandhi’s visit to the cotton mill town of Darwen, Lancashire in 1931; exploring the connection of Manchester’s cotton industry to the Indian independence movement. Lived Environments illustrates the importance of care within South Asian life and the impact of the British Empire on the region’s environments.
Items on display include postcards of tea plantations, tea tokens from the 18th century, an opium pipe and a film showing the Bangladeshi environmental resistance through floating gardens. Science & Innovation looks at South Asian innovation through the contribution of three iconic individuals that have often been overlooked, including Satyendra Nath Bose, one of the seminal founders of modern quantum science.
Collective member, Fal Sarker, grandson of Bose will share the story of his impact on the scientific professions, including correspondence between Bose and Einstein as “a labour of love to my famous ancestry and his impact on quantum physics”.
Work by Aziz Ibrahim features as part of a listening station - a musician in the Collective, recognised for playing with the Stone Roses and Simply Red, as well as developing South Asian blues which mixes English and Punjabi, whose album describes a family journey from Lahore to Manchester.
Finally Movement & Empire look at South Asian identity in relation to voluntary and involuntary migration, including the impact of war and the trauma of Partition, which was one of the largest migrations in human history. An NHS display celebrates the importance of the South Asian community to UK medicine, from the 1950s movement of medics to the UK as well as the significant contribution of the community during the Covid pandemic.
Nusrat Ahmed, South Asia Gallery Curator at Manchester Museum, said: “As a first-generation British-born South Asian person, it is really exciting to be part of such a groundbreaking project. The co-curated South Asia Gallery envisages a collaborative, iterative space that will generate new perspectives and connections. We hope to engage further diaspora communities on its opening and support its continual evolution. This personalised approach humanises the gallery, telling stories about real people and their objects.”