IWA/AIC is having a strong cultural activity base both as creative and performance groups.They have a rich history too.
Actually,cultural performance was embedded in the organisation’s work. All meetings contained a cultural element: singing, dancing, plays, poetry recitals added vibrancy to meetings. Performances were often spontaneous as people would be invited to sing a song or recite a poem on the spur of the moment. Charles Parker, whose Radio Ballads describe the lives and experiences of working people, contributed to many cultural meetings and also provided a link with Peggy Seeger and Ewan McColl at IWA concerts. Cultural events consolidated a sense of community identity for newly arrived migrants and were an important way of bringing people together and celebrating aspects of their identity and culture. Demonstrations were also rich in cultural performance – on the coach, the driver would be asked to turn the music off as people arranged their own impromptu concerts. Performances were a good way of raising much needed funds for the organisation: IWA Southall, which ran the local Dominion Theatre, funded its costs by showing Indian films.
From 1972 until his death in 1979, Joshi ran a bookshop called ‘Progressive Books and Asian Arts’ on Bristol Road. The bookshop sold Marxist and progressive literature from all over the world as well as Chinese arts and crafts. Members of the IWA contributed funds for the lease of the shop. The shop was important not only in terms of the role it performed in providing an outlet for distributing progressive literature but also because it enabled important links to be made between members of the IWA, anti-apartheid groups and progressive groups at the University of Birmingham.
Joshi was himself a keen Urdu poet from an early age. From the age of 15 he contributed to ‘Naya Zamana’ the revolutionary Urdu newspaper of the Communist party of India. He later edited the cultural section of the paper. Joshi attended symposiums in a number of places particularly India and he was friends with the renowned Pakistani revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz – one of the founders of the Punjab branch of the All-India Progressive Writers Association – whom he visited with his wife Shirley in London.
For Joshi poetry served not only as an important expression of political struggle but also could be used to rouse political consciousness and increase understanding between people. In his letter to the residents of Marshall Street, where the Conservatives planned a controversial discriminatory housing policy, Joshi appeals to the better nature of residents to resist the tendency to discriminate by quoting the Indian poet Tagore:
“It is no gain, they (sic) bondage of
finery, if it keeps one shut off
from the healthful dust of the earth,
If it rob one of the right of entrance
to the great fair of common human life.”
Cultural performance and political consciousness
Cultural performances have been an important part of fundraising and raising awareness about particular issues. A number of the City Archive collections- the Banner Theatre and the Charles Parker archives in particular – contain material that has either been broadcast or performed on issues of equality and cultural diversity. Exploring these collections will give you an idea of how people were inspiring others to change both their minds and the society around them.
Publications such as Lalkar and pamphlets concerning immigration legislation such as ‘the Victims Speak’ or ‘Smash the Immigration Bill 1971′ were an important part communicating the IWA’s message. Their use of a number of South Asian languages was important to ensure their message reached as large an audience as possible. You may wish to consider how publications and other materials have been used by campaigning organisations to generate support for their activities.AIC still have a strong writers and cultural wing in which its rich history is well maintained.