Making Home: The Legacy of Ugandan Asians in the UK

New Media Fellows 2013

By Bidisha ShonarKoli Mamata

September 09, 2013

Also published by The Huffington Post

new exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society is to commemorate the legacy of Ugandan Asians in the UK. The culmination of a year-long oral history project about the impact of Idi Amin's expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972, it reveals rarely seen materials and stories whose origins reach back more than a century and provides online materials and informal speaking events to illuminate this half-hidden story. Making Home demonstrates that migration, displacement and new beginnings; movement both forced and chosen; and multiple languages, histories and identities are not exceptional in human lives but are in fact a defining feature of world societies.

The story begins in the 19th century, when Indian labourers were put to work in British East Africa by English colonial rulers. This rule, and it exploitation and appropriation of peoples and lands, continued for a generation and was followed by the fight for liberation from dominance and for independence.

Another phase of ruction and change occurred following the events 1972. As the organisers of Making Home say, "with sudden displacement came new beginnings, and through new interviews and an in-depth investigation of rarely seen archives, photographs, possessions and materials. Making Home presents a fresh and compelling new narrative, reflecting the lives of a community now settled in the UK for 40 years."

The launch a few days ago drew an audience of more than 200 and was presented by speakers including exhibition curator Sunil Shah and historian Karim Hussain. The show includes photography, interviews and testimonies.

Making Home is the result of work by the Exiles Project, a community-based initiative collecting oral histories of Ugandan Asians which was launch in October 2012. It has been delivered by the Council of Asian People, Amphora Arts (who produce the fantastic South Asian Literature Festival) and Collage Arts, with the support of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, who're suddenly and pleasingly all down with the brown. It will be running from 6th September until 15th September at the Royal Geographic Society (IBG Exhibition Pavilion), 1 Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AR from 10am - 5pm daily, including weekends.

The choice of venue must surely be ironic: a story of colonialism and mercenary usage, disruption and migration, coming home to roost in a building symbolising the Victorian era at the height of its self-regard, patriarchy, innovation and confidence. My last visit to the Royal Geographic Society was in 2012 for the, ahem, first Vogue Festival, which I found incredibly depressing. I'll write about it one day. So attractive, so repellent, the fashion world is only beautiful from a distance. Wandering away from the reek of desperation, self-objectification, female-misogynist shallowness, self-hating narcissism, exploitation, mindless arrogance and the greed of big brands for a moment I found myself looking at some of the glass cabinets at the Society - the old maps, technical drawings and one-radical, now accepted new interpretations of the world. Actually, now I think of it, perhaps this venue, with its commitment to altering human understanding according to observable reality of this, is exactly the right one.

Bidisha Mamata is reporting on health and development as a New Media Fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP).

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