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Celebrating the growing cultural diversity of North East England


North East England is too often perceived as mono-cultural, a region that could not possibly claim to be ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘multicultural’ or ‘diverse’. Statistics would support this judgement, with the 2001 Census revealing just 2.4% of the North East population belonging to black and minority ethnic community groups, compared to 8.7% for England as a whole.

This is not a new phenomenon. The region has a history of absorbing other cultures that is often overlooked, a history of survival and re-birth that has necessarily relied on generosity and acceptance. As noted by historians Robert Colls and Bill Lancaster, [North East] identity has been under pressure for long enough to know that belonging is an act of affiliation and not of birth. Indeed, that greatest of regional cultural assets, the Lindisfarne Gospels, provides a model of tolerance, eclecticism, plurality and harmony that retains its relevance to this day. The message is one of respect for one another’s cultures, learn from one another, respect different traditions, take what’s good from them all and try and move forward.

And yet, these figures conceal a diversity and a vibrancy in our cultural make-up that is a cause for real celebration and demands to be better understood.

Our continued survival, our strength as a region, depends on this outcome, and in turn this legacy could itself become one of our greatest cultural assets.

As new pressures assert themselves on the North East, more than ever we need to recognise the value and the contribution that all our communities bring to our region. We are all capable of understanding other cultures and fostering a shared sense of belonging, an intercultural society that is fostered through association, accommodation, dialogue and exchange. It is hoped that a collective sense of community can thrive and that as we plan the region’s future we have the foresight to promote an outward-looking identity that celebrates the value of diversity.

Diversity NorthEast, a network of regional cultural and strategic agencies, is committed to work towards this vision. In helping others to explore and understand, through culture, heritage and the arts, the differences and the similarities that constitute our collective regional identity, we believe a more vibrant North East will emerge. This publication is a further phase of the jointly commissioned All 4 Corners project, with its aims of honestly reflecting and examining contemporary life for members of minority ethnic communities in the North East of England. It is hoped that the images and reflections will surprise, celebrate, educate and inform, whilst of course contributing to the North East’s strong history of developing powerful and socially engaged documentary photography. We hope you will agree that what is revealed is a diversity of life within the North East of England that is truly worth celebrating for what it contributes to our rich and varied cultural identity. Diversity North East



An extract from The Art of Living Rooms and Hallways In the chaos of my friend’s living room there is a shrine. Close by is a photograph of the daughter of the house, Mohini. Her name is the name the god Lord Vishnu assumes in feminine form. In Hinduism, names and the way they relate to statues and to life matter. They remind the household of their community and its traditions. Today in England, we celebrate artistic endeavour in a different way to the way it is celebrated in Mohini’s cabinet shrine. In Western Society we believe that in ‘Art for Art’s sake’ and that beneficial cultural elitism is a virtue to be celebrated in our teaching establishments, in ‘public art’ and in our museums. Accompanying these two premises there is a wish to shock and a downplaying of traditional values. There is also an undervaluing of craft and the elevation of the artist as a person apart who has special insights. We also entangle ideas about the nature of art in language that is overcomplicated and difficult to penetrate. Specialist speaks to specialist and not to the uninitiated. It is the dissatisfaction I find in many of these attitudes and the banalities that they engender which makes me want to write in praise of the traditional arts of Africa, India, Pakistan and China and compare them with the art found in our western homes and public environments. My stand, as I see it, is cross-cultural.

“Up to the present the people’s art flourishes in India and it has been the case for generations.”

Although today a few families aspire to the Harrod’s wedding list and joint accounts, the tradition of filling of the dowry bag persists. Lord Ganesha and his chariot, worked in chain and herring bone stitch, still rides across the hanging above the door jam. Local traditional designs in the form of stylised flora, fauna and mythology are present. Up to the present the people’s art flourishes in India and it has been the case for generations. The arts of the new English communities matter, and although the debate highlighted by Naseem Khan in Arts Britain Ignores -The Arts of Ethnic Minorities in Britain (1996) must be on-going , we have seen progress. People like me who have never been to the countries I write about, have come to admire these arts and see that we need to be open to a whole wide world of art. The way forward is plotted, the major roadways are planned, if not the motorway. Brian Lewis

Many of the traditional objects that continue to be produced in Indian and African communities have cultural significance based on traditional rituals, customs and mythologies. Up until recently the dowry bag, the Khotrie, and its contents were the focus of a great deal of artistic endeavour in Gujarat. It was used to hold the Abocchnai (wedding shawls) Ralli (quilts) Chakla (wall hanging) Chandarvo (canopies), Toran (good luck threshold hanging), and more articles. These were created by generations of women. Some of the objects were new, others were treasured because they were old. The modern and the antique were stowed together and for that reason were treasured by families and communities.



The imagery of our society shapes our thoughts and views of issues such as multiculturalism, migration, identity, race relations and community spirit. The dynamics of the British society are evolving and have been for sometime. An honest and thoughtful reflection of this change—such as this publication—can only be a very positive contribution to this ongoing journey. Tom Shakespeare, Chair, Arts Council England, North East said at the opening of All 4 Corners exhibition at the Shipley Arts Gallery, Gateshead that whilst the ethos of cultural diversity is to embrace the ‘other’, North East is reaching out to the ‘other’ as its population diversifies, leading to an ever richer mix. This book is just about that. It tells how we have more in common with each other than the differences that some people tend to focus on. However, these differences are not to be brushed over in anyway. They are the important ‘layers’—parts of the DNA—that tell our stories, give us an identity and make us unique. Diversity is one of the central values of Arts Council England and we aims to create an environment where the arts and culture from diverse communities is thriving and relevant to everyone. Arts Council England, North East is very pleased to support this project. I would like to thank the artists/photographers Tony Griffiths and Zuzanah Hruskova for producing an honest and engaging body of work about the lives of our community, here and now. Mark Robinson, Executive Director, Arts Council England North East



One Thousand Thoughts Peter Adegbie I was seven years old when ma was flogged naked. She was pregnant with my sister. My entrails were thrown out by lash of skin on skin my bladder went out first when I peed all over my feet. Ma embraced the tree for an hour while the sun dried blood off her back and flies sucked her sweat. I grew up with one thousand thoughts on ways to whip his arse, he was my sister’s father but he never wanted me to read and write. I never did whip his arse but learned to read and write, long after ma was dead and he’d become rheumy with age I sat by his bed and read him a story How a young boy prayed in the quiet of the night after he saw his ma whipped. He closed his eyes and wept as his hand held mine.



Hari Shukla Hari Shukla’s tireless work to improve community relations in the North East has spanned more than 30 years to date. Born in Uganda in 1933, he achieved his teacher’s certificate in Kenya and a certificate of Education at Exeter University. He arrived in the North East in 1974 as Director of Tyne and Wear Racial Equality council, a post he held until 1994. Since Hari first set foot on North Eastern soil, he has worked continuously for a long line of charities such as the NSPCC. Hari is currently Chair of the Inter-Faith Sub-Committee of the Tyne and Wear Racial Equality Council. He plays an active role in education throughout the region and he serves as Deputy Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear. Hari was awarded an OBE in 2003, became an Honorary Freeman of Newcastle in 2006 and has received honorary degrees from several North East universities. ‘I was very excited when I first arrived in the North East from East Africa in 1974. In Kenya, I was teaching at a good school, but I wanted to move to a bigger place and have a challenge. At the time, community relations in the North East had fallen apart. I was hired by the Racial Equality Council to bring people together and give them a sense of community. I asked the Chair; “Where do you want me to start?” The Chair said; “Wherever you want.” We have moved miles ahead in inter-faith and community relations since then and the All 4 Corners photographs reflect that. People can look at the photographs and learn about the diversity of the region, look at the children portrayed and reflect on their backgrounds, their histories and their futures. “Unless we work together, we won’t achieve anything” I told community leaders in 1974 and that idea is as important today. To have a successful multicultural society we must make an effort. We can’t just respond to events—we must be two steps ahead of them. We have to let people know that we’re not talking about compromising each other’s cultures and traditions, but accommodating each culture to thrive.


“Every person is important. We must provide opportunities for people to discover their value and to develop themselves.”

We need to prepare our children to be world citizens. It is about sharing our customs, festivals and traditions. Once children get a taste for it, they develop a taste for it. Once, at an event, two Nigerian women were standing at the side, not knowing how they could contribute. I said: “Do you see those two tables?” They said “yes”. I said, “Can you please put them together over there?” They said “yes”. I said, “Now can you just stand there and tell people about the food and the artefacts on the table.” They said “yes”. As people asked about the artefacts and the food, they explained: “this is from Nigeria and this colour means that, and to cook this one you have to put together this spice and that spice” and so on. Step by step, the women began to take pride and interest in the work and developed confidence. Every person is important. We must provide opportunities for people to discover their value and to develop themselves. When a crisis comes, our responsibility is to make sure people here do not fight. There are earthquakes and wars happening around us, but we cannot allow our community relations to get damaged. We must stand together. After 7/7, the Muslim community experienced extreme pressure and we had to do something about it. We told the Muslim Community: “We know you had nothing to do with the events in London and you are valued members of our community.” We highlighted their contributions to the community and emphasised oneness. There is a small element of people who use religion as an excuse to destroy, but it is important not to blame the whole community for it. Religions and cultures are rich and valuable resources and when we understand that, we will respect them. In order to change perceptions, we must reinforce the contributions of all communities. Pictures tell a story, they overcome barriers. The All 4 Corners exhibition takes us one step further in showcasing the variety of people living in today’s North East and demonstrating what a valuable asset diversity is.’


Newcastle Peter Kayode Adegbie Music, mosaics, amusement. Music slips through the cracks taking scores to places far and around. Music wafts from grand stages tipping people off their chairs The frenetic atmosphere holds At the Gate an avalanche surges Pristine, crispy, ready to thaw. The night regime; snow-groomed flow with the shafts of light drinking, vomiting and spitting buzzing, hissing and clamouring Cuties out there, stand shaking Clothed in skimpiness Sexy things, know not the seasons Carousing, they fret half the night in rows Pub trotting, flirting and swearing with loud lads, lager-laden, leaking. Perfumes taint and tell of worth Tattoos dig into cultures and personalities Guiding and misleading Bold markings, fraught with symbolism Celebration of fair lines and goose skin Fine lines, aggressive art side by side Far below, terraces of light lace the river The heart of the city throbs Glass facades challenge immortal concrete. Masculinity versus femininity The seductive and dazzling The quay is the place



Chinatown, Newcastle



Women and men at a Musha’Ra— an evening of poetry and arts in Stockton on Tees



All the fun of the fair: a white knuckle ride at the Newcastle Mela, 2004. Though mainly an Asian event, large numbers of people from other ethnic groups throng the hugely popular festival.



All the photographs were taken by Tony Griffiths and Zuzana Hruskova who were commissioned to the project in association with the photographic development agency photoNORTH. Tony and Zuzana epitomise the creative ethos of All 4 Corners as two people of different ages, cultures and creative backgrounds; Tony is from Brancepeth near Durham and Zuzana is from Bratislava, Slovakia.





Opposite page: Graham Cleland from Stanley, Graffiti artist This page: Nkosana Mpofu—poet and performer, seen here curating an exhibition of African headrests at Sunderland Museum. His poetry performances are renowned for their electrifying and dynamic impact.



The owner of “The Persian Bite” café in Newcastles West End.



Grangetown Youth Forum photography workshop led by Tony Griffiths in Grangetown, Redcar & Cleveland, near Middlesbrough.



Traditions are being maintained and added to: Bridesmaids and bouquets are not traditional elements of Asian marriage ceremonies yet they now form part of otherwise very ‘traditional’ affairs.



Bangladeshi Family in Exhibition Park. Surviving Freedom in Sunderland, April, 2007 Jack Mapanje And should traffic wardens disrupt your Direct route from A19, because another Vehicle has shed its load in front of you, Should your diverted traffic tediously snail Past toughened faces of villages struggling To patch up their long lost coal industry,

Jack Mapanje Is a distinguished poet and academic from Malawi; his latest book of poems, Beasts of Nalunga, is published by Bloodaxe Books in June 2007. He teaches creative writing in the school of English, University of Newcastle and lives in the city of York.

Should you lose your way as you zig-zag And criss-cross the cityยนs maze of one-way Streets, cul de sacs, weird roundabouts, Green, grey and other bridges; should you Begin to panic about your delay or petrol Running out; do not bother the fellows Watching seagulls flying over the sea front Or Empire Theatre box office girls chattering Online; just take on the cityยนs three old ladies At the bus stop, theyยนll show you The Green Terrace, precisely where your audience awaits To hear gratis how you survive your freedom.





Agnes Offiong poses outside her renowned restaurant, Heavenly Manna in Byker, where African Caribbean footballers and locals alike enjoy her delicious food. Agnes came to the North East from Nigeria 40 years ago.



Ayesha Sweets, Stanhope Road, Newcastle



The Green Howards’ final parade through the streets of Middlesbrough before amalgamation into a new regiment.



“I wear the hijab every time my parents come to visit me from down South. They even come unannounced to check up on me. I know they mean well, but I can look after myself. It is good to have my own territory here in the North East.� Black British woman, 25 (Not shown)



Chinese Festival, Kings Hall, Newcastle University.



Xiaoshan Wang, Chinese Opera singer during workshops at Consett Junior School.



Dancer at the Kalapremi UK Ganesh Festival at the Lamplight Arts Centre in Stanley.





The wedding of Shalini and Krupal in Northumberland.



NEEDS CAPTION (Montage including women cooking)



Tashida Ahmed, Westgate Sports Centre


Children’s Book Festival, Eston, Middkesbrough

“I wish I was able to join in when my co-workers banter, but they speak too fast! Half the time I don’t even understand what they say. I laugh a little and learn a new word every few days.”

“When I passed my exams recently, the managers at work gave me a “Well Done” card. I was surprised and happy that they would do that for me. It meant a lot to me that they acknowledged me in that way.”


Zimbabwean man, 25.

King’s Castle Church service, Gosforth


A young artist draws an African mask at the L’Afrique a Newcastle Festival, Discovery Museum.



Dancer Pratap Pawar at Sangini’s Diwali, Ashbrooke Hall, Sunderland.



Street photograph, Newcastle



Burning Hair Carol Cooke On the bus, I smile till my face crease, I hold up ‘the Times’ so she might see that I can read She clings to the rail, her palm turns pink waiting for another seat. Her looks make me writhe, her pout seems to blame me for each swinging turn of the bus. Her bag clutches her breast while I sit on a seat meant for three; till the blonde comes in at the next stop, her hair burning in the sun, her cheeks gleaming with fire swinging hips and tiny belly button She flunks beside me with a grin that races my heart a mile I can hear her fragrance singing I try not to see her bangles gripping her wrists as she flips the Cosmopolitan one dainty thigh crossed over another. I smile at the standing woman armpits wet with sweat and I wonder why she couldn’t sit on a seat meant for three.



A Writer’s Guide to the North Sheree Mack They call it home, The bitter North East. The peat stained North East. I‘ve even called it home – once or twice. On return The Tyne Bridge looms into view A eruption of emotion invades my calm. Home—where is my home? The wealth here’s from a subterranean gem, that black mass found in deep shafts. An intense heat, cramped and dark, reams were brought out and shipped down river. Black clouds and man-made mountains marked the landscape. Coal—the ebony King We are alike. With cuffed knees and nappy hair, fists clenched, I tried to catch them as a child. “Darkie” I’m called now by my neighbours, my community, my home.



Aerial Ballet: a Chinese worker on the scaffolding for the Lion Gate in Newcastle.



West end Backstreet: many people from different countries live in Newcastle’s West End



Tropical fruits in Northumberland Street



Exhibition Park, Newcastle Mela 2004



Burning Hair Carol Cooke On the bus, I smile till my face crease, I hold up ‘the Times’ so she might see that I can read She clings to the rail, her palm turns pink waiting for another seat. Her looks make me writhe, her pout seems to blame me for each swinging turn of the bus. Her bag clutches her breast while I sit on a seat meant for three; till the blonde comes in at the next stop, her hair burning in the sun, her cheeks gleaming with fire swinging hips and tiny belly button She flunks beside me with a grin that races my heart a mile I can hear her fragrance singing I try not to see her bangles gripping her wrists as she flips the Cosmopolitan one dainty thigh crossed over another. I smile at the standing woman armpits wet with sweat and I wonder why she couldn’t sit on a seat meant for three.



Curious and Curiouser ‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). Coming to Newcastle has been a great experience for me. I’ve travelled around the country for various jobs and as a freelance community development worker from a base in South East London for over twenty years. When I went to a city for the first time I subconsciously began to assess the levels of what I call “ambient racism” exhibited by its people. Common indicators include anything from obvious handbag clenching to the cold stares I got on my first visit to Sunderland. But Newcastle was different… For the first six months I lived on the Quayside with an old school friend who’d been seduced by North Eastern charms fifteen years earlier. What a lively place! As I began to settle into my new life, I was realised I still hadn’t had experienced an incident that could help me set my Ambient Racism meter. Coming home late-ish one Friday, a group of about eight loud lads bowled round a corner near my front door. I braced myself with the expectation of some sort of encounter. Indeed they were suddenly silenced but offered friendly greetings. They seemed surprised by me more than anything else. It’s a simple fact that a tall black man is going to ‘stand out’ out in a region where 96% of the people are white. I have been called names, well a specific one actually: ‘MORPHEUS!’ It took a while for me to realise that a tall black man with a shaved head in a full-length black leather coat was the description of Lawrence Fishburne in ‘The Matrix’. I had to laugh: there are a LOT worse things they might have said from their speeding white vans. What I enjoyed about my first couple of years here is that the suspicion and fear I’d become so used to and expected—even at minor levels, seemed replaced by honest curiosity. In bars or bus queues, people used to ask me what I was doing in Newcastle, not aggressively: they just wanted to know; how much better to ask than to make assumptions. These days I’m never asked what I’m doing here and I think that’s partly because I feel and probably look at home here. I no longer look wide-eyed up at buildings and down Grey Street or gawk at the Bigg Market gals with the awe of a newbie. I’ve noticed more people from different countries around Newcastle and heard their languages mingle with the gorgeous Geordie dialect on busses and in bars. Cultural diversity is a growing fact in North East England as more people from different countries not only come to live here, but begin to share their cultural lives with the people of the North East.

“I’ve noticed more people from different countries around Newcastle and heard their languages mingle with the gorgeous Geordie dialect on busses and in bars.”

The region has a growing number of cultural organisations and performance groups from minority communities. NECDAF—The North East Cultural Diversity Arts Forum receives the support of the Arts Council and other funders and key Public Sector agencies to help cultural organisations from minority communities work with each other, with mainstream arts organisations and with public sector agencies. This All 4 Corners project has included a successful exhibition shown in two galleries in Tyne and Wear. This publication will introduce the organisation and its work to a wider audience and its final phase will be a tour of gallery spaces in the remaining sub-regions of North East England during 2007-2008 giving opportunities to introduce the organisation, and some of its practitioner members across the region. I’m excited to be the Director of NECDAF as it establishes a forum of voluntary organisations, public sector agencies and practitioners as a ‘think tank’ to develop culturally diverse arts in North East England. We are working with refugee and asylum seeker organisations to identify arts practitioners, assess their needs and plan practical support. We meet with mainstream arts organisation to establish links and negotiate access to their resources for arts practitioners from minority ethnic communities. There are an increasing number of opportunities for cultural organisations to deliver services to social service agencies, education and training institutions. Annual festivals and new oral history projects continue to enrich the region’s cultural archive. We need to develop our sector to the point where more of its organisations can afford administrative support, raise more funds and offer more services and activities. We need to fill the current gap and ensure the future supply of arts administrators from minority ethnic communities. We need to encourage and provide tailored support for potential cultural entrepreneurs from minority ethnic communities. I’m confident that the people of North East England as a whole will remain as open and curious as I’ve experienced them to be in the last three years. By delivering projects like All 4 Corners in association with Forum member organisations, public sector agencies and arts practitioners, NECDAF aims to be at the leading edge of cultural encounter and exchange in our region. Oscar Watson, Director of NECDAF



The All 4 Corners exhibition is commissioned by Diversity North East, managed by North East Cultural Diversity Arts Forum and is supported by the Arts Council of England and Museums, Libraries and Archives North East.


North East England is too often perceived as mono-cultural, a region that could not possibly claim to be ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘multicultural’ or...

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