‘Intimate and poignant’: Upcoming photography exhibition celebrates lives of Bengalis in London’s East End

Photograph: courtesy Bengali Photo Archive

The everyday lives of Bengalis in the East End are pieced together in an “evocative” photography exhibition starting next month.

I Am Who I Am Now, which launches at Four Corners Gallery in Bethnal Green on 4 July, offers a select glimpse of the Bengali Photo Archive.

The display focuses on vernacular photographs of, and taken by, Bengali people over the past 50 years.

The aim is to provide an intimate portrait of the local Bengali community and its experience in East London.

Photograph: courtesy Bengali Photo Archive

Curator Julian Ehsan said: “I Am Who I Am Now reveals the power of community history and telling the stories of everyday people.

“Working collaboratively with project volunteers and people who appear in the archive itself, this exhibition re-centres the curatorial process — and the curatorial power — to emphasise voices that are often hidden or ignored.

“As a person of Bengali heritage myself, it has been poignant to work with intimate and evocative images of, and by, the diaspora.”

The Bengali Photo Archive is a new collection featuring personal and family pictures donated by locals.

Photograph: David Hoffman

Visitors to the exhibition will also see work by photographers including Mayar Akash, Raju Vaidyanathan, Anthony Lam, Paul Halliday, Sarah Ainslie, David Hoffman, and Paul Trevor.

These images document the Bengali community’s working lives, activism, and anti-racist struggles.

The title of the show, I Am Who I Am Now, is inspired by the words of Mayar Akash, who was reflecting on his transformative experiences undertaking youth work in the East End.

The importance of these community spaces is shown in images of the Federation of Bangladeshi Youth Organisations, and musicians such as Joi Bangla, State of Bangal and Osmani Knights.

These groups are credited with creating a new Bengali youth culture in the 1980s by bringing together politics, activism and the arts.

Photograph: courtesy Bengali Photo Archive

Along with the curators and the gallery, the exhibition has been organised with the help of volunteers from the Bengali Photo Archive and the Swadhinata Trust, a youth charity that promotes Bengali history.

One volunteer, Akila Asad, said: “The archive captures the resilience and the everyday lives Bengalis built in Britain.

“By highlighting their heritage, it encourages viewers, especially the Bengali community, to take pride in their pioneering forefathers who journeyed to the UK, solidifying their presence in East London and proving that Britain is indeed their home as well.”

Another volunteer and photo donor, Tanbir Mirza-Baeg, added: “I hope that it inspires others to start their own archive, and gather the different pieces before they are lost and there isn’t a chance to see or hear them again.”

I Am Who I Am Now launches on 4 July at Four Corners Gallery.

For more information, visit fourcornersfilm.co.uk.