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Anand Mangal ladies looking at a sari in a display case

Thursday 6th January 2022

What co-curation looks like with Anand Mangal

‘What did you put in your suitcase when you left Uganda?’ A question asked by a pupil at Hathern C of E Primary school during the first Anand Mangal culture sharing workshop.

Over the past two years, I’ve been working with the Anand Mangal ladies. An amazing group of mainly South Asian women who are over 65 and meet every week for activities, friendship and fun. Alongside our partners from Loughborough University’s Memories of Migration and Partition project, we have convened a range of participatory cultural and creative experiences, based on the assets, needs and wishes of the group.

Lady looking through a rail of patterned fabrics

At the initial meetings I was a guest at their community meeting place. As I got to know the ladies better, we invited them to some museum workshops focussing on making connections with objects and sharing their own interpretation of what the objects meant to them. A growing interest in the heritage of textiles emerged and we visited the County’s Collections, ran a creative stitching workshop and supported the ladies with a fashion show at the local Mela. We identified an opportunity to display the ladies’ precious textiles and through a co-curated process, the ‘Stitching Traditions’ exhibition was launched.

There have been many wonderful outcomes from working with the ladies. The exhibition at Charnwood Museum brought people together through shared understanding and gave the community a voice to tell their stories to a wider audience. Many of the objects that were displayed in the exhibition have been generously donated to the Museum Service, so that the collections remain relevant to all the people of Leicestershire in the future. The University researchers found that the creative approaches we used were valuable in triggering memories. The ladies learned more about each other’s heritage, learned about curating and exhibiting and became more confident both personally and about working with our team.

As we were celebrating the achievements of the ‘Stitching Traditions’ project, Anila, the group leader announced, ‘this is not a full stop; this is a comma!’ Having got to know and trust our team and all the people we had worked with; the group were already thinking about another project with us. They wanted to share their culture and creative skills with young people and through our school connections, we were well placed to support them. The University were keen to see the impact that the ladies’ personal stories and testimonies might have on the school’s curriculum; the school were keen to bring new visitors in to support the RE curriculum, promoting positive images of people in the wider community including their beliefs, traditions, culture, language and history.

School child wearing a sari over her uniform. Two anand mangal ladies are stood behind her at a table with different coloured fabrics on it.

The ladies have delivered a fantastic series of four school’s workshops, supported by our Creative Learning Officer, Loughborough University and the Participation Team. They have defined the content – telling the stories that they wanted to share; gathered the resources including personal photos and objects; demonstrated their creative skills and encouraged the children to participate fully in group activities, games, traditional crafts and dancing; and built a trusting and respectful relationship with the children, welcoming all types of questions.

Working closely with our partners and colleagues, we have been able to be responsive to the strengths and wishes of the community. As a service, we have seen what can be achieved through co-curation when groups explore their heritage and identity. The process takes time and negotiation, but the mutual benefits are invaluable. The legacy of our engagement work with this group continues to delight and surprise us with increasing volunteer involvement in a range of projects, recently recognised with a National award. Making culture and heritage relevant and accessible has given value to everyone involved and demonstrates our service’s commitment to connecting, creating and sharing through culture.

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