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Reflecting Back and Looking Forward

Bollywood on VHS, walkmans and recording the Top 40 charts onto cassette tape: Dawinder Bansal tells us why she and Martyn Ware have created a project about finding love in the 1980s.

Last year, I was invited to participate in an artist residency opportunity organised by Gavin Barlow and Annabel Turpin who lead Future Arts Centres. I didn’t know what to expect and I was honoured to be one of nine artists who shaped the vision and philosophy of the Here and Now commissions, marking the National Lottery’s 25th anniversary. Here and Now has commissioned 40 arts centres to work with 40 artists across England to create work with heart and soul for their local communities.

Excitingly, I am also one of the commissioned artists and my project is called We Found Love In The 80s: a film and photo archive project celebrating untold love stories of couples who fell in love in the 1980s.

As someone who grew up inside my parents VHS Bollywood rental shop, I have been exposed to stories and creativity from a very young age. I do believe we understand ourselves and others through the stories we are prepared to tell and hear, and for this reason much of my work centres about finding the everyday and hidden stories and presenting them in a way which is specific but universally relatable. Making work which entertains, educates and is artistically interesting with human connection at the heart of it is what matters most.

People who follow my work already know that I have a fascination about the retro 1980s era. I am a child of the late 1970s and I did my growing up in the 1980s, having very fond memories of watching countless Bollywood films on VHS (courtesy of my parents shop) alongside countless American TV series dramas, the Sunday ritual of visiting extended family and recording the top 40 charts onto tape (because I couldn’t afford to buy records), my walkman, and the days when all the kids in my street would play together and annoy the neighbours by running on their lawn. There was a strong sense of community and connectivity and as I’ve grown older, I’ve experienced this slowly fade in my own life.

Revisiting this era as an adult allowed me to view the 1980s with a different lens and perspective from when I was a child. During lockdown, I could see economic and political parallels between now and the 80s – how the past becomes relevant in this contemporary moment. It’s uncanny. It really is. Unemployment was high, racism was rife, there was an ever-growing economic divide and individualistic behaviour and capitalism.

I also learned that section 28, Local Government Act was amended on 24th May 1988 to state that local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”. Which had serious consequences for anyone from the gay community, especially those who were younger and had no way of accessing educational material. Government cuts left right and centre, closure of mines and manufacturing – the list goes on.

There was a deadly HIV/AIDS epidemic and now we’re still in the throws of COVID-19 virus which will change the way we interact for the foreseeable future. Everything is unsteady and scary and still, people want to find love, just as people did in the 1980s. And isn’t that wonderful? This of course, is just one example of the universal laws of life. Where there is shade, there is light, and so in this project we hope to bring some light into this very difficult time in our global history.

During lockdown, people had the opportunity to revisit old photographs, archives. After all, when we can’t go out and create new memories, we all refer back to our past.

Now seems like a great time to start this project and actually do something positive and spread some light in a small but important way. We need to remember who we were before lockdown, and through this work I intend to celebrate how our differences in communities, race, faith and locations don’t define how we connect as humans.

In the past, I have specialised in telling the stories and making work about the South Asian community and social history. This project has allowed me to spread my wings and tell the stories of people reflecting the diverse and multicultural England. That is extremely special and important, especially as a British Asian artist who can often feel closed into only telling South Asian stories (which I love). But I am more than just being Asian and this project is building an artistic bridge to multiple communities, identities and stories from which will be thought provoking, entertaining, amusing and poignant. Working with esteemed colleague and talented musician Martyn Ware – we are super excited about all the stories we have heard so far. I think you will be too.

Find out more about Dawinder and Martyn’s project, and how to get involved yourself, click here

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