Leicester's diversity inspires DMU grad to share her cultural roots through art


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Studying in one of the most diverse cities in the UK has inspired a De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) alumna to pursue a creative career exploring the cultural heritage of South Asian communities in Britain.

Dawinder Bansal, who graduated with a BSc (Hons) Computing degree from DMU in 2001, is now a multi-award-winning artist and producer whose work has featured on BBC and Channel 4, as well as at London’s Southbank Centre Festival Hall, Victoria & Albert Museum and the Barbican Centre.

Dawinder Bansal - Grad
Dawinder on her graduation day at DMU in 2001

Her latest film and art installation, ‘Jambo Cinema’ – commissioned by New Art Exchange in Nottingham and the Barbican Centre for the Leytonstone Loves Film festival – is an autobiographical piece about her experience growing up in her parents’ Bollywood VHS film rental shop during the 1980s.

Dawinder, who is of Indian-Kenyan descent, says living in Leicester and experiencing so many different cultures and religions as a student is what helped shape her successful career.

“I distinctly remember my first trip to Belgrave Road in Leicester and experiencing spectacular Diwali celebrations like I’d never seen before on British soil,” she said. “It was such a delight, experiencing such a truly celebratory atmosphere.

“Living in such a diverse city meant I was able to really embrace culture that felt familiar to my own. I met so many people from South Asian backgrounds who had such inspirational stories. They would tell me tales of how they had come to Leicester with nothing and had gone on to build very successful businesses.

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“Their stories reminded me of my parents’ story. My father came to Britain from India in the 1960s with little money but luckily was a qualified electrician. He set up his shop in Wolverhampton, selling electrical supplies and renting out Bollywood films on VHS. His success, within such a short time, was quite remarkable really.”

Jambo Cinema pays tribute to the pioneering generation of Dawinder’s parents who paved the way for future generations, including herself, to have better opportunities and quality of life in Britain.

Jambo Cinema - Dawinder Bansal
Jambo Cinema is screening at New Art Exchange in Nottingham

While completing her studies at DMU, Dawinder got increasingly involved in the city’s creative industry and had her first theatre show experience as an adult at The Haymarket Theatre in Leicester, where she saw a production of East is East.

“East is East was very relatable,” she said. “These were stories of my community and I’d never seen anything like it before. I was fascinated with performance and storytelling, which I realise was also influenced by my time growing up watching countless Bollywood films.”

Dawinder Bansal pic 2
Dawinder's work has been featured on BBC and Channel 4

After graduation, Dawinder moved back home to Wolverhampton and did a number of temporary jobs before landing a role within the marketing department at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where she later went on to become a member of the Board of Directors after leaving her paid role.

Over the years she has produced site-specific shows, immersive art installations and festivals, including coordinating the Southbank Centre’s largest South Asian festival, ‘Alchemy’, for the Black Country region.

In 2019, she won the Best Creative Media Award at the Asian Media Awards 2019 for her art installation and film; Asian Women and Cars: Road to Independence.

Dawinder Bansal, Asian Women and Cars. Credit Dee Patel
'Asian Women and Cars' garnered worldwide interest (Credit: Dee Patel)

This project captured national and international attention and was featured on BBC Breakfast and the BBC World Service. It was presented at the world-renowned Victoria and Albert Museum in London earlier this month and in March, the film will be screened at Nottingham’s New Art Exchange for a special event to mark International Women’s Day 2020.

In 2017, Dawinder was highly commended by the Asian Women of Achievement Awards for her dedication to making a difference to and representing people in Britain’s South Asian communities. Subsequently, she was invited to 10 Downing Street where she got to meet the then Prime Minister Theresa May and discuss her work.

“As a second-generation South Asian woman, I am really proud of all my achievements,” she said. “I come from a humble, working-class background. My parents were born in rural Punjab and had vastly different lives and opportunities, so I will always be grateful for their sacrifices.”

 Dawinder Bansal pic
Dawinder's work is also inspired by her own cultural roots

Dawinder is also a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts and an Arts Adviser to the Jerwood Arts Foundation, and serves on the Diversity Board at ITV Central.

“While I never pursued a career in computers, there were tools that I learned at DMU that definitely still apply to my work and life,” she said.

“I feel like I’ve gone full circle – from watching my father set up his shop and growing up as a British Sikh with Kenyan Indian heritage, to gaining a good education in Leicester and setting up my own creative business that allows me to tell people’s stories.”

Jambo Cinema will be shown at New Art Exchange in Nottingham until Sunday 15th March. For more information visit: www.nae.org.uk/exhibition/jambo-cinema/171

Posted on Tuesday 3rd March 2020

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