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BANGLA: a new public artwork for Whitechapel

By 14th September 2021August 15th, 2022Blog

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our latest project which Swadhinata Trust helped to steer with Tower Hamlets Local History and Archive at Idea Store Whitechapel. A collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, BANGLA is a bright and bold celebration of the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh installed in the facade of the borough’s flagship library.

Initially planned as an exhibition in our entrance hall, the pandemic led the project’s stakeholders to identify an open-air space to display the new artwork, designed by Bangladesh-based Londoner Ruhul Abdin.

The result – the word BANGLA constructed as a 3D illuminated steel structure clad in sari fabric – was informed by research in the collections of Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives by a group of more than twenty Citizen Researchers from the local British Bangladeshi community.

In addition to the sculptural artwork, which is illuminated at dusk every evening and will be on display until spring 2022, the installation includes two large embroidered hangings depicting archival fragments of the 1971 Liberation War, and its impact on the Bengali East End.

Pasted onto the disused escalator shaft in the overhanging glass facade, highlights from our collections are used in a new exhibition about the history of the independence struggle, the contribution of Tower Hamlets residents and the Language Movement in the East End.

Bangladesh 50 is part of Citizen UK, a collaboration between the National Portrait Gallery and local authority archives. Check out behind the scenes photos and videos of the project process.

Embroidered bangladesh 50 hanging

Due to the pandemic the project rapidly evolved to become a large scale ‘public realm’ installation instead of the indoor exhibition in our entrance hall which was originally conceived. The entire display is located in the overhang of the Idea Store and you do not need to enter the building to visit it.

This necessary change in scale and ambition required urgent additional fundraising and a huge effort from the staff team at Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives, our partners at the National Portrait Gallery and in other council departments.

Sanjida Alam installs exhibition on escalator shaft

Many many people pulled out all the stops to realise this project but as this is our newsletter, your editor (Tamsin – Heritage Manager) would like to give particular thanks to my amazing colleagues without whom absolutely none of this would have been remotely possible:

Halima Khanom, Heritage Officer (Learning & Participation) who was the project lead on all aspects, particularly devising and facilitating the collections research sessions, working closely with the lead artist, digital producer, citizen researchers and our amazing steering group.

Sanjida Alam, Heritage Co-Ordinator, who led on collections research, facilitated research sessions, curated and installed the exhibitions, AND did all the marketing and interpretation design work.

Jackie Lyall, sessional tutor in Idea Store Learning, who received the sari fabric (which was pattern cut in Bangladesh) and set up an intensive sewing station onsite at the Idea Store, making alterations, dressing and finally cladding the steel framework.

Medha Chotai, Heritage Officer (Archives), who is so handy with a needle and thread she was seconded to be Jackie’s assistant for three weeks.

Rob JonesRichard Wiltshire and Debbie Smith for their extra shifts covering the Reading Room while the BD50 team were up to our eyeballs in the last few weeks.

Finally, special thanks to the Canary Wharf Group, Steve Linwood, Sam Brown, Jane Abraham and Scott Aquilina for their help with fundraising, construction works and project management. Citizen UK is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Art Fund.

We will be holding a free public event at the Idea Store exploring the themes of the exhibition in December, to mark Victory Day – watch this space for more details!

Bangladesh 50 exhibition with Whitechapel Market in background

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