‘Cul-de-Sac’ is the second of a three-part exhibition titled ‘Descent’, hosted by Southard Reid and conceived by London born and based artist Prem Sahib. The exhibition space of Southard Reid is intimate, the viewer enters and immediately finds themselves circumferenced within the entirety of Sahib’s exhibition. The personal atmosphere parallels the context of specific communal histories and their ongoing legacies. ‘Cul-de-Sac’ is structured by two components, a display table of archived newspaper clippings and a video montage of the suburb streets that Sahib grew up on. The two-part structure of ‘Cul-de-Sac’ simultaneously sets a visual discourse concerning the liminal relationships that exist in-between public and personal realms.
On entrance, the viewer is first drawn towards the archival materials that belonged to Sahib’s Uncle, Kamaljit Sahib. Kamaljit was a notable activist for the Southall community of West London during the 1980s and 90s. Asians and young West Indians who lived in Southall ignited the formation and events that culminated the Southall Youth Movement (SYM) and Peoples Unite activist and resistance groups. These groups began to forge a new vision for Britain. They fought against ingrained racism through courageous political campaigns, led by youth who represented the significance of culture and identity.
The newspaper clippings that Sahib displays are profound pieces of documentation that attest to the lives of South Asian immigrants who lived in the urban ‘ghetto’ of a Western metropolis. Southall was often referred to as Little Punjabi or Little India, and its residents challenged the prejudices of governments, employers, unions and police towards non-white populations. The unwavering courage is palpable.
“Spreading Tentacles” printed in India Today, 15 September 1989 is one newspaper clipping. The report accuses young Indians being illegal immigrants, having affiliation with “Asian gangs”, causing “street-scuffles” and committing crimes related to drugs, credit-card theft, and a slew of others. Next to the article is a handwritten letter, a response to the publication written by members of the SYM. The letter vehemently expressed contempt for the false report and demanded the rightful opportunity to reply. A right granted, under non-corrupt circumstances, before publication.
Sahib juxtaposes the written histories of the Southall community with a video shot with a drone that records a journey through a cul-de-sac in Southall. The visualisations are placed against a background of noises reminiscent of hundreds of voices talking over each other, similar to the sounds that would have flourished the SYM town hall meetings. Sahib ingeniously overlaps the turbulent history of one community with another.
The context of ‘Cul-de-Sac’ is webbed with complexities. However, the delivery is straightforward. Sahib sets the exhibition so that the viewer can read the articles first, then sit through a meditative maze of the Southall streets that he grew up on. Sahib challenges viewers to consider the activism that paved the way for affluent relationships to exist in shared spaces. ‘Cul-de-sac’ reimagines a town that has been tainted by social and cultural prejudices - prejudices that are only semi-hidden within the familiar streets of our communities.