An artist will explore the untold stories of service and sacrifice from Birmingham’s South Asian communities through a sound art installation at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Tasawar Bashir has been commissioned by the Alrewas centre for remembrance and the arts charity Sampad to celebrate the forgotten men and women who contributed to many military campaigns between 1914 and 1947.

Their stories will be narrated by community elders who the artist has been working alongside for the past year.

During the First and Second World Wars, Indian Army recruitment was heavily concentrated on rural areas. Known as begaris – the landless – they were the unsung heroes, playing vital roles as low rank soldiers or non-military functionaries such as porters or stretcher bearers.

Due to their low profile and less glamorous roles, their history was largely ignored by official military narratives.

Tasawar said:

“When these brave servicemen returned from their military campaigns, they returned with stories about the world they had seen, with money in their pockets and with military pensions, some were awarded tracts of land.

“The story of how South Asian communities came to settle in Britain from the 1930s onwards can, in part, be explained by the forgotten story of these men and women.

“Those living in the Diaspora today – areas such as the West Midland- have been left impoverished by having no officially-recorded history of this period.”

Tasawar Bashir

The free, sound art installation has been supported by The MECC Trust and will open on 25th June as part of the Sports, Service and the Commonwealth programme running throughout summer 2022 at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Chris Ansell, head of participation and learning at the National Memorial Arboretum, said:

“This summer we are shining a light on the relationships between people of the Commonwealth who have served alongside each other.

“As the nation’s year-round place to remember, we wanted to seize this opportunity to explore previously untold stories from communities within the UK through an artist commission, and Tasawar’s proposal was thoughtful and challenging.

“His concept of using the voices of Birmingham’s South East Asian elders to share the stories of their forefathers is incredibly powerful and an innovative way of passing the baton of remembrance to the next generation.”

Chris Ansell, National Memorial Arboretum

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