Coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Indian and Pakistani independence and partition this year, the network will bring together 11 partners across the North of England and South Asia. With the aid of funding from the Arts Council England, NNS will develop a three-year programme of co-commissions and exhibitions, while promoting cultural exchange and artistic development.
Alongside the British Council, the UK partners are The Whitworth, Manchester, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester Museum, Liverpool Biennial and The Tetley, Leeds. The South Asian contingent are Colombo Art Biennale, Sri Lanka, Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh, Karachi Biennale, Pakistan, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India and Lahore Biennale, Pakistan.
NNS will launch in earnest on 4 March with a retrospective of Indian photographer Sooni Taraporevala, featuring 40 years of images of Mumbai/Bombay, at The Whitworth, Manchester. The 2017 programme is UK-based with planned events including residencies for performance artists, hosted by Nikhil Chopra, culminating in a weekend of performance in May at The Tetley in Leeds. In October Manchester Museum will open an exhibition by Indian artist Reena Kallat. The Whitworth will host an exhibition by Raqib Shaw in June, which will travel to the Dhaka Art Summit in February 2018, and then a show of four pioneering Pakistani and Indian Modernists, Sadanand Bakre, Avinash Chandra, Anwar Jalal Shemza and F.N. Souza. From October, Manchester Art Gallery rolls out a series of exhibitions by Pakistani artists Mehreen Murtaza, Waqas Khan, Risham Syed and Tentative Collective, Indian artist Neha Choksi and UK artist Hetain Patel from October.
“Essentially, it’s about mainstreaming South Asian art so that it becomes part of what we as museums do,” said Nick Merriman, Director of The Manchester Museum and lead spokesman for NNS.
Sooni Taraporevala. Salim and Tukloo, Bombay, 1987. Courtesy of the artist and Sunaparanta
The seed of the idea was planted a couple of years ago when Merriman and his wife Maria Balshaw, joint director of the Whitworth and Manchester City Galleries and now newly appointed Director of Tate, started thinking about how to mark the 70th anniversary of partition in 2017.
“Because there is such a strong South Asian population in Manchester, around 14 percent, we felt it important to do something to mark the anniversary,” said Merriman, acknowledging that this population has not historically been proportionately reflected in the collections of many museums in the North of England, which remain European focused. “We wanted to show how exciting the South Asian art scene is. It’s a combination of the dynamism of the emerging biennale scene, with Lahore, Karachi, Colombo, Dhaka and Kochi, and the work of some really interesting commercial galleries and not-for-profit spaces who are doing great things showing some of the amazing work of truly international standard that is being produced in the region.”
Much of the work shown during the NNS shows, says Merriman, is “looking at themes of partition, rupture, independence and identity, aligned with issues such as climate change.” Yet often this work struggles to reach an audience both domestically and internationally. “We thought we had an opportunity to help on an international level, bring some of these artists to the attention of a UK audience.”
With the aid of Arts Council funding, a team of curators were sent over to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh on a talent scouting mission to find both emerging and established artists. The aim is eventually to “move from exhibitions to acquisitions”, giving artists a helping hand through commissioning works.
During 2017, NNS focuses on bringing artists to the UK. However, the programme for 2018-19, as yet undetermined, will involve more initiatives such as residencies in South Asia, to help develop artists at home. The network, say Merriman, has long term ambitions. “We hope that by the time the funding stops in three years’ time, these partnerships are embedded and so will continue.”
Alongside NNS events is a programme of performances, film screenings, music events and social history exhibitions that will take place across Manchester. These include a Partition film season at HOME and a project called Memories of Partition, a collection of voice interviews recording the memories of people affected by the Partition of 1947.