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Apna Heritage Archive

By Anand Chhabra, founder and chair at Black Country Visual Arts

2,000 images

Me and Sarvjit Sra began the Apna Heritage Archive to preserve the untold stories of Wolverhampton’s Punjabi community. We spent two years building a photographic archive which collected 2,000 images from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Portrait photo of Gurdev Singh Rai standing with hands folded, wearing a suit and tie.
Gurdev Rai came to Wolverhampton from Lakhpur, Punjab in 1960. He was the first Indian or migrant to work on the racing tyre division at the Goodyear factory in Wolverhampton. The factory closed in December 2016. I went with him to the factory. He wanted to meet all the workers leaving on the last day. © Apna Heritage Archive

75 new portraits

We also created 75 new portraits of the first generation of migrants and documented items of ephemera from those early years. We feel the archive will become a vital community resource as old photographs and documents recording Punjabi migration are added and digitised.

 

Photo portrait of Mrs Savitri Chhabra.
Mrs Savitri Chhabra, my mother. Indicative of Punjabi housewives who wanted to help their families prosper by working in factories in and around the Black Country. Its important to record the humble contribution Asian women had during this time. © Apna Heritage Archive

Stories from family albums

We gather so many stories from family albums. This picture here is of me and my brother. I still remember it as our parents got us dressed with our Osmonds T-Shirts and matching trousers and hair and went to the park which was on the end of the street and which was typical of most Punjabi’s would take pictures next to the flowers on display there. Dad would always number the month and year of the back of the picture. This one was taken in August 1978.

Exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery

We wanted a world class finish to our work, and so we’re really excited that it culminated in an exciting exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery. It’s been an amazing roller coaster with a fantastic opening event which about 300 Punjabis attended from the city.

A crowd of people view photos projected on the wall of a gallery.
The Apna Heritage Archive exhibition opened on 13 January 2018 © Inderjit Johal

Preserving and celebrating Punjabi heritage

The Punjabi community, who aren’t used to seeing their place at the internationally renowned gallery, can now see themselves being celebrated and acknowledged for the tremendous impact they have within the city. Visitors from the community are blown away by it.

The project has been a labour of love and has consumed our lives in the two years we started it. The reward has very much been about having the acknowledgements from the Punjabi community – without you, my/our family’s heritage would be forgotten but now its been preserved!

Portrait of Mrs Kanchan Jain wearing an orange and white sari seated on a sofa.
Mrs Kanchan Jain could not just stay at home looking after the children, she felt she had to take her part in society and got herself a job as one of the first Asian women teachers in Wolverhampton. She describes her time at her first school as horrid as she didn't feel very welcome at the school and because at that time in the 1960s there was no Race Relations Act, she handed in her notice to the head teacher. She was instantly given a job at another school near to where she lived and went on to work there for nearly 25 years and was very happy. Today Mrs Jain now leads a very effective Asian ladies day group in Wolverhampton raising awareness about health issues and getting the group active in all sorts of ways. © Apna Heritage Archive

The Apna Heritage Archive has been digitised on Black Country Visual Arts website and will be handed over to the City’s Archives for the public to access.

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