A major photographic exhibition, ‘From City Of Empire To City Of Diversity: A Visual Journey,' featuring 1,000s of images of Birmingham residents, will open at the iconic Library of Birmingham in Centenary Square from Friday 18 March-Sunday 18 June 2022.
Funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Produced by Sampad South Asian Arts & Heritage, ‘From City Of Empire To City Of Diversity: A Visual Journey,’ has been created from The Dyche Collection, one of the most important photographic collections within Birmingham Archives and acquired by Birmingham Central Library in 1990.
We spoke to Sabra Khan, who has been leading on the project from Sampad, a midlands-based charity which connects people with South Asian and British Asian Arts and Heritage, and plays a cutting-edge role in the creative economy.
What is the background to this project - why was this exhibition curated and where did the photographs come from?
Self-taught photographer Ernest Dyche and his son Malcolm had two photographic studios in the centre of Birmingham. He produced individual, group, family and wedding portraits. In the 1950s the first wave of migrants arrived in the city from Africa, Caribbean, Ireland and Indian sub-continent. These people were keen to keep in touch with their families in their home country and visited the Dyche studios. The photographs were sent to friends and family across 25 years inadvertently capturing the story of Commonwealth migration and recording an important phase in Birmingham’s history.
The Dyche Collection, containing over 10,000 photographs was acquired by Birmingham Archives in 1990 and has since become one of their most important photographic collections.
When Birmingham was announced as host for the Commonwealth Games 2022 it seemed fitting to look at telling the story of Commonwealth migration using this collection, to celebrate the contribution migrants have made to the city.
We were delighted that in 2019 we, together with our partners the Library of Birmingham, were awarded funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to catalogue and preserve this important collection for the city and to produce a major photographic exhibition and an extensive citywide community engagement programme ahead of the Games.
The exhibition ‘From City Of Empire To City Of Diversity: A Visual Journey,’ is produced by Sampad in partnership with Birmingham Archives, Library of Birmingham and University of Birmingham.
How was this exhibition curated?
The exhibition has been curated by Ian Grosvenor and Rita McLean who have been working on this since 2020. To highlight the reality of life for immigrants from the Commonwealth countries making a new life in the city, the exhibition was curated from the Dyche collection and draws upon other collections held by Birmingham Archives, notably Benjamin Stone, Helen Caddick, Paul Hill, Nick Hedges, Vanley Burke, Keith Piper and George Hallet. It also features work by other photographers including Maryam Wahid and Ravi Deepres. The curators spent hours looking through the collection and choosing images that told the history of immigration to Birmingham, demonstrating how the city went from being one at the centre of the British Empire to the diverse city it is today. We have also included work produced by the schools programme – with pupils exploring the exhibition and creating their own artistic work in response to the exhibition, often telling the stories of their own families.
Why do you think it is important to share these photos with the British public?
It’s hugely important to share these photos with the public. The majority of the Dyche images haven’t been seen by the public before, so we thought it’s an important moment to share these with the public. The stories of these people may be lost, but we hope that by sharing them we can highlight their journey to create the wonderfully diverse city we have today. We are also hoping to identify some of the people within the pictures, so the more people who visit, the more chance we will get at discovering the stories behind the photographs.
What do you hope sharing these photos will encourage?
We hope that the photographs will encourage people to look at their own heritage and to celebrate it!
There are many faces within the exhibition, including some you may identify with yourself. We want everyone to feel empowered by the images and to be proud of the contributions that the people of Birmingham made to the city. We would love it if people learnt something new about the city that they didn’t know before and feel encouraged to appreciate the diverse communities that made Birmingham the city it is.
We would also love if the exhibition encouraged people to have conversations with their families and friends about their stories of arrival, to explore their own archives – photographs or letters kept by family members showing their own experiences of migration and settlement. Have Par Desi audiences thought about capturing on film or audio the stories of their mothers, aunts or grandmothers? If they are visiting the exhibition, do any of the images look familiar, are there photographs like these in your own family collection? We’d love to hear from people about what they have found!
How can people inform you if they know someone in the photos?
Sadly, there is no record of the names of the people in the photographs so we are hoping that throughout the 3 months of the exhibition visitors will help us to identify people and we can start to look into the stories behind the photographs.
From City of Empire to City of Diversity: A Visual Journey is located in the gallery on level 3 at the Library of Birmingham.
The exhibition is free and no booking is required.
Exhibition opening hours
Mon & Tues 11am – 7pm
Weds – Sat 11am – 5pm