Nilupa Yasmin’s Hamara Ghar / Amar Ghor: The importance of Oral and Textile Traditions in Building Community by Isra Kausar

This review was first published on Isra’s substack and with her permission we have reposted this article on Ort Gallery’s Blog.

Throughout history, people have built community and spaces for themselves in a variety of ways. The events on the afternoon of Saturday 15th July1 showcased some of the traditional ways that South Asian women have used textiles to create their own spaces, and how these traditions have changed and adapted as our world has. Oral traditions and communal activity have been integral to so many of our ancestors, and whilst some have been lost, many are still alive today, vital to allow a new generation to explore their identities and create communities of their own.

NOTE: Ayan is Somali, but I am not educated on Somali culture so I will only be talking about South Asian culture here and my particular experience.

A small group of children and adults (both young and older) gathered in The Moseley Road Baths’ Living Room and the afternoon began with a spoken word performance by Ayan Moaden2. The first poem was titled I Wonder and covered a range of topics that spoke to me, but a few lines in particular stood out. ‘I wonder if ambition is the lover of greed’ is a perfect example of Moaden’s ability to construct charged and memorable lines, showcasing her clever handling of language and how verbal symmetry, thematic connections and metaphors create cleverly structured poetry with emotional depth. Another line, beginning ‘I wonder if wondering is as escape’, further shows Moaden’s skill but also the personal power poetry can have. This line reminded me of my own recent contemplation about how overthinking was just a way to procrastinate creating. This, alongside repetition throughout the poem and Moaden’s eloquent delivery, created a poem with life and strong imaginative power. Oral traditions are vital to cultures across the world. Stories, poetry and songs have been used as a method of education, and to pass down identity and morals. They have been at the forefront of countless protests and social campaigns, but similarly been used for less progressive causes. There is a power in words which Ayan understands deeply and utilised to deliver an incredibly impactful performance.

For another poem, titled Silence, we were asked to close our eyes to listen. This poem was particularly emotionally relevant and filled with ideas I have been thinking about myself. I heard not only her voice, but the sounds around us too, much clearer. There were the squeaks of chairs, the fabrics rustling, the world outside. The poem may have been called Silence, but this only drew attention to the fact the world around us is never truly silent, showing how verbal and contextual contrasts can heighten the experience of oral poetry. Thinking further, this prompted me to consider how silence and peace can be found within ourselves, how inner peace and solitude can be reached regardless of external stimuli. This inner solitude was also shown in a particularly evocative stanza that urged we ‘look in the mirror and confide in’ the person we see there. As a creative, to be our own rock is important, as is self-nurturing. Another section of the poem explored this more, advising to ‘let toughness go’ and to be soft with yourself. Coupled with the lyrical and rhythmic cadence of Moaden’s voice, this poem again shows the power of spoken word and the beauty of oral tradition. Poetry speaks to you when you are open to listening, and the way Moaden crafted and delivered her verses them certainly made you want to listen. It was an incredible performance. Moaden’s words were choice, and there was power behind them, yet they felt specific and personal. Lyrical and flowing and rhythmic, she spoke with an intensity of emotion that still allowed room for us to explore our own responses to her words and the images or memories they conjured. She spoke with an authority and tenderness that drew in the attention of the audience who were held safely in the space she had created with her words, making sure everyone felt involved. Her presence was powerful, yet comforting and familiar. She had a cadence and a rhythm that suited her poetry perfectly and helped to bring forth the connection and the richness of oral stories. Moaden asked us to ‘take [her] in’ and thanked us for allowing her space, but she also created space for us through her words, just as Nilupa created space with her workshop1.

Nilupa Yasmin3 explained how the designs she had created, which were hung up around us, were printed onto paper that she cut into strips for us to weave with to imitate the textile creating process so vital to many. The designs themselves were incredible and have incredible personal history behind them. They each incorporate the name of Nilupa’s female relatives, from her mother’s side3. Even the title of the exhibition, which means ‘our home’, shows the importance of language to identity, leading on perfectly from the spoken word performance. Intricate and appealing, the colours and patterns made me feel right at home. They certainly reminded me of the types of fabrics I see along Stratford Road, as intended, allowing an immediate connection not only to the artworks but also the other people in the room. This further highlights the importance of textile traditions to South Asian women in particular, as fabric traditions were used by many to obtain a sense of autonomy and safety. Many women, such as Nilupa’s elder female relatives, used sewing as a way to earn money and create a space in new countries. My own mother sewed to earn money when she first came here from Pakistan, as well as later in life. The workshop involved a fairly simple repetitive action: that of weaving paper strips. However, what I found most valuable was the conversations that occurred. It reminded of all the instances of bonding I had with my sister, or my mother and her sisters that took place because of fabric. Whether it was my mother teaching me how to sew, or the incredibly intricate process of choosing fabric for weddings, or Eid, or home furnishings. All instances involve us gathering to embroider or sew and talk. That afternoon, we spoke about all sorts of things, finding connections between ourselves and building a new community. It is things like these that bring people together. We shared personal stories and artistic insights. We motivated each other and created future plans with each other, inviting people into new communities and spaces. There is an incredible personal history with textiles to so many people, and in the same ways our ancestors used these methods to create space for themselves, we are reviving those traditions and sharing our cultures to create our own connections and traditions, thus continuing our heritage. The workshop held space for people to talk and share stories, a modern parallel to the tradition of weaving itself, thus reviving this tradition and adapting it for our own contexts. The setting of a living room not only suited the nature of the tapestries, but also helped create a communal atmosphere that allowed us to be at ease and connect with each other.

More than a personal impact, textile is also how many South Asian countries prospered. Throughout history, textiles from South Asian countries have been sought after with varying results. When reading about the exhibition, I was immediately reminded of the importance of textiles in Bangladesh’s history. Bangladesh has always had a booming textiles trade, so vital to its economy. But the modern image of a third world country where textile workers are exploited is not where the story began, though some may argue the intensity of labour has remained largely unchanged. When Bangladesh and fashion are mentioned, several things may come to mind. From the 2012 fire4 to the constant awareness of fast fashion exploiting Bangladesh workers, the image is not one of luxury or grandiose. But that was not always the case.

I am talking about Dhaka Muslin. Called ‘woven wind’ by first-century Roman author Petronius5, this delicate fabric was the pride of Bangladesh and the source of much prosperity for the country. The journey to create such a fine material was laborious, involving a ‘backbreaking, mind-numbing’ 16-step process requiring numerous people5. The cotton plant only grew in one area, ‘twelve miles southeast of Dacca, along the banks of the Meghna’ and all attempts to grow it elsewhere failed5. (The seeds collected for next planting season were handled with incredible care. They were specially selected, then dried in the sun, and placed in an ‘earthen pot’ with ghee – clarified butter – and sealed airtight before being placed in a hut at a specific height to ensure adequate warmth)5. Where cotton fibres usually swell and dissolve in water, these silky fibres shrank in the waters of the Meghna, and as alternate sections flattened, they became stronger so that even the thinnest thread could withstand the stress of the loom5. This itself was a difficult process; the thread had to be spun in high humidity (usually by young women) or by the riverbanks or on boats moored in the water. It is noted that the women ‘often sang as they spun’ and that if there was fog over the river, this led to tales of mermaids, fairies or ghosts who made muslin and sang in the mist5. The fibres were separated using a special bow (dhunkar) which when strummed correctly, allowed the lighter fibres to rise into the air, but only eight percent of the total harvest was suitable to be spun5. Women spun these most delicate fibres into thread, as the lightest touch was required. This fabric was sought after across the globe. It became a status symbol for the Mughal Emperors, influenced French and British fashion, was prized by royal courts across the world6.

So, what happened to cause the decline; what started the spiral that caused the Bangladesh we see today? British Colonialism. Unable to live with the fact that another nation was profiting off of a skill and resources they could not tap into, the British increased demand whilst reducing cost, and introduced a detrimental loaning system, which meant the workers couldn’t keep up and fell into debt7. They cut off the thumbs of the weavers so they could not work anymore, destroyed all traces of the cotton plant, and did irreversible damage to the Bangladesh textile industry5. They then created a pale imitation of the process, allowing for cheaper, second-rate garments to be made at home. Dhaka Muslin was no more. Today, many fast fashion garments come from Bangladesh sweat shops, showing how detrimental British involvement has been. However, projects such as Benghal Muslin8 and another led by botanist Md Monzur Hussain6, are working to restoring this material and craft, returning an incredible piece of Bangladesh to itself. I urge you to read more about the incredible history of this fabric (links below).

Nilupa and Ayan are taking their own traditions, changing and adapting them for their own contexts and keeping the community of art alive. Both utilised language, whether oral or written, to explore their identities and create an open and safe environment that opened the doors to allow us to explore our own identities, successfully creating an atmosphere of connection that deepened as the day went on. We spoke about the pain at losing this link and at not knowing our native language the way some of our favourite poets do as it felt like losing our history and thus ourselves. But, just as the skill of weaving was relearnt, Ayan reminded us how we can rediscover our languages, just as she did. There is community in oral and textile traditions that have been lost and refound and relearnt. Through this revival, we are building our own communities and our own histories, continuing the stories of the women who came before us and adding our own chapter into a very complex past and reclaiming our futures.

The Exhibition is on until 30 September 2023 at The Moseley Road Baths.



The Artists



Learn About Dkaha Muslin:






All images by Isra Kausar.

An honest reflection on the inevitably slow and uncomfortable journey towards equity in a community organisation
by Josephine Reichert for RadHR

Some thoughts from Josephine Reichert, co-founder of Ort Gallery in Birmingham, about the sometimes painful (but ultimately rewarding) process of stepping back and making space.

“I had been holding up the ideals of professionalism and what it meant to be productive without realising that in doing so I had discriminated against someone whose life experience was so much different from mine that I could not see how my behaviour was racist.”

“The radical changes required to make a place of work equitable are actually tiny, even minute, but often they go so far against the status quo that they seem unsurmountable.”

{Josephine was paid a fee by RadHR to write this article}

Read the full article here

Internship Review
by Jasmine Khodadeen 

Recently, a woman in an art workshop said that Ort Gallery was a ‘hidden gem’, and I completely agree. Rather, I would say that it is Balsall Heath in general that should be considered a hidden gem.

During my time in the gallery, I have been welcomed by a community with so much warmth and friendship to give – I have met the most crazy and creative kids along with warm-hearted women in art workshops. I feel so attached to all the friends I have made and brilliant creatives I have had the pleasure of meeting (they will have a hard time getting rid of me now!). When Aaisha took me on a tour around Balsall Heath and told me about all the local shopkeepers and café owners, I knew this was an organisation which wholeheartedly cares for the people they work with and around.

A highlight of my experience at Ort Gallery was the Hayati Open Mic night – an event for poetry, connection, and creativity. The whole evening felt inclusive, genuine, and without any sense of hierarchy. Watching the brave people who stood on stage perform their poetry inspired something within me to also want to write, create and express myself through my love of literature and art. The best part of the evening was when a man had strolled into the Open Mic night, not knowing there was an event on, and proceeded to go on stage and perform an amazing improv despite having never done anything like this in public before. I think that moment of not quite knowing what you’re doing but feeling comfortable enough with the people around you to do it anyway embodies exactly what Ort Gallery supports. There is no room for notions of hierarchy or inaccessibility at Ort, which I believe completely sets it apart from other galleries. After the event, Aaisha, Josie, and I served everyone a freshly made (amazing) curry, in what felt like an intimate and meaningful act of giving back to the community.

There are days where I leave work knowing that I made someone’s day better, which is such an incredibly warm feeling. Without fail, I leave the gallery emotionally satisfied in the work that I have done, and that is more than enough for me. Ort has made me rethink what it means to be ‘productive’, especially outside of the university bubble I found myself in. There has been a strong emphasis on personal, as well as professional, development which has given me so much confidence in myself and my capabilities. Learning and unlearning has been an incredibly important topic of discussion between Aaisha, Josie, and I – and it is a discussion that definitely feels in no way finished. Through working in the Arts sector, I have realised that everyone can be creative, no matter what form that takes, as long as there are accessible opportunities!

As someone that wants to pursue a career in the Arts, being able to observe the inner workings of an independent gallery and to have access to information about fundraising has been invaluable in shaping my curatorial knowledge. It may sound cliché, but no day of my internship has looked the same. I feel like I have had the chance to do a bit of everything – curating, installing, social media management, budget planning, and communicating with warmth have been just a few things that I have learnt at Ort Gallery. I have also learnt how to build IKEA furniture.

There were times where I was challenged by having to make creative decisions on the spot, which I feel only helped me with boosting my confidence. I have picked up so many curatorial skills that will help me in my future career, as well as adopting the Warmth ethos into my personal life. It no longer feels like the bare minimum to ask for compassion in the workplace, I now consider it to be the norm and will insist on this wherever I go.

Overall, friendship, laughter, and a lot of food from Lidl bakery defines my experience at Ort, and I am so grateful for the experience I have had here. Thank you, Aaisha and Josie!

by Kate Rafiq

The first Hayati open mic was great. I can’t remember who attended, who performed or what we all ate, but it was an amazing night.
I woke up the next day, bleary eyed, head pounding, feeling sweaty.
‘Must have been a great night – but why do I feel so rough?’
You don’t have a hangover – you’re ill. Also, you don’t drink.
‘Oh yes – of course – I know – but I just had the most amazing night.
It was a dream, you fool!

This internal conversation continued for longer than I care to admit. But when I’d finally stopped talking to myself, I realised that whilst it was only a dream, I needed to make it happen.

A few days of thinking and planning followed. What was my objective? I wanted to make a space for Muslims to share their creativity, whatever that might be – poetry, songs, stories, comedy etc. I didn’t want to exclude non Muslims, but it needed to be a space where Muslims would feel spiritually safe and comfortable. I figured there would be loads of people in and around Birmingham that would have something to share but perhaps hadn’t found the right place to share it.

Objective – check!

Now I needed a name.
The Islamic Open Mic
Open Mic for Muslims
Creative Muslims

No, no and no…I needed something short, punchy and ‘Muslim sounding’. It needed to be an Arabic word, obviously!

But you’re not Arab and you don’t speak Arabic.

Yeh I know, but all my English options are crap.
So you’re going to steal an Arabic word because it sounds cool? Ever heard of cultural appropriation??!
Ok, ok – but I’m Muslim so surely it’s ok?
If you say so!

I knew that ‘Hayat’ meant life, but after a few minutes of googling words like ‘love, life, friends’ in Arabic, I was presented with Hayati – a term of endearment; ‘my life, my love, my good friend’. ‘Hayati’ just felt perfect. A place for Muslims to come and share a little piece of their lives, thoughts and love with friends, brothers and sisters in Islam and humanity!

Name – check!

Now I needed a venue, so when I’d recovered from the flu, I started visiting the places I’d shortlisted. Thankfully, after only two, I found Ort Gallery. Ort had come up several times in conversations I’d had with a friend. She had been to some events (admittedly years ago) and I had learned that Ort was cool – maybe too cool for me and my dreamy ideas. But, as soon as I walked in, saw the space, met the team, found that the toilets were clean and spacious and it was a ‘dry’ (alcohol free) building, I knew this was the ideal place to hold the first and, in my mind, only Hayati.


Venue – check!

We managed to get some amazing poets and performers to join us and we had some great surprises too, like the beatboxing nasheed twins and the elderly father of a dear friend who had always wanted to perform a naat (devotional song). The food (a communal effort) was delicious, the atmosphere was relaxed and cosy and somehow, impossibly, it was even better than my dream.

The first Hayati, hosted by @justshreen

As we discussed dates for the second event, word on the news was both dramatic and depressing; a rapidly unfolding worldwide pandemic and imminent U.K. lock down. We decided to put a pin in Hayati.2.

The weeks rolled on by and unbeknownst to me, Josie had applied for, and secured funding for Hayati to put on four online zoom events. Covid took so much from so many people. But when counting the blessings that also came, lockdown opened Hayati up to the world in a way that just wouldn’t have happened were it not for Covid. No one was allowed out, everything was online, so why not Zoom Hayati!? And these events were brilliant. Suddenly, we had artists from all around the world sharing their work with us and crucially, we were now able to pay them for their time, creativity and skill.

Feeling uncharacteristically bold, I hosted and I even performed at one event. Well – actually I cheated and pre recorded my bit…host privilege and all! Never again though. I always loved the idea of sharing my own poetry and some of my songs, but I have come to the realisation that I am not a performer. Maybe it’s my imposter syndrome (see rest of blog post for evidence of this). Maybe it’s my soul crushing nerves, maybe it’s the fact that when I blush, I can be seen from space. Whatever it is – it’s ok! I tried it and it’s not for me.

And as for hosting, that too is better done by poets and performers who want and need the opportunity to increase their confidence, their stage presence and their skill set. Hayati is a community space. It needs to be a platform where everyone who wants to perform can benefit as much as possible from the experience. Currently, the budget allows for four headliners per event, each of whom gets paid £85. One of the headliners will also host and be paid extra for this role. Open mic performers can then become headliners at following events and so the format goes!

In December 2021, we put on the second live Hayati. Hosted by the super talented wordsmith Kohinoor @scribingsofaninsimnioc, it was another beautiful evening of powerful, thought-provoking poetry from four headliners and several open mic poets. The atmosphere was relaxed, cosy and intimate and the feedback was really positive again, with sev

eral people asking if the event would be monthly. We don’t currently have the funding to allow us to do a monthly open mic, but thankfully there are several other open mics around Birmingham that have a similar vibe, meaning there is usually something happening within the poetry community in the Midlands. Check out @empower_poetry @gullycollective and for more poetry events.

Our second live event – hosted by @scribingsofaninsomniac


Kohinoor hosting our second live Hayati on 11th December 2021

Towards the end of 2021, I had an idea that we use the next lot of funding to pay the artists more money so that they could create a video, animation or some other art form to accompany their spoken word, song or story. With financial, work and time constraints and commitments, this kind of development isn’t something that’s always achievable for most creatives. After discussing it further with the Ort team, we narrowed the idea down, and created space in the budget for four resident poets to feature at Ort throughout 2022. Each will showcase their ‘creation’ at Hayati / Ort at the end of their residency period, to coincide with Balsall Heath Second Saturday.

Ort’s ethos of ‘Warmth’ beautifully illustrated by @sabbakhanart

In line with Ort’s ethos of ‘Warmth’, there is no pressure on the poets to create a finished, ‘polished’ piece of work. This residency offers an opportunity to learn and develop and is really about the creative process and journey. There is no doubt each poet will produce something moving and valuable, whether it is a ‘finished piece’ or not, and we hope that these residencies will help each of them take another step along their creative path.

Our first resident poet is the incredible Samira / @samirhymes, a Spoken Word Artist, Poet & Published Author from London. She will be showcasing her video and performing on the 12th March 2022. We also have four amazing headliners and a handful of open mic slots which will no doubt be filled with more talented creatives from Birmingham and perhaps further afield.

Hayati has become something far and beyond the dream I had. It has also allowed me to get paid! Imagine – having a dream, believing you can achieve something, making it happen and then somehow getting paid for it! Forgive me if this sounds boastful, I’m only sharing this in the hope that it might inspire others and to let you know that dreams literally can come true! (Feel free to grab yourself a sick bag!)

All of the Ort team are uniquely, independently and collectively, wonders of humankind, encouragement and warmth. I get the saddest of sinking feelings when I think that had I not visited the gallery on that venue hunting day, Hayati would most likely have just been a one off. Covid was coming and obliterated so many events and life as we knew it, and I probably wouldn’t have imagined taking it online. And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to pay performers for their time. Hayati now exists because of Ort and all the amazing people who have been a part of it.

It has been the biggest honour to be a part of Hayati and the Ort team, and I really can’t wait to see what 2022 has in store!

Interview with Ranbir Kaur
by Jaleesa Padmore, Curator

“All my work tells the story of my journey of self discovery; exploring colour, texture and design.”

With a career spanning over three decades, Ranbir Kaur has showcased South Asian arts and crafts across the UK and is now bringing her vibrant and intricately handcrafted creations to Ort Gallery. Ahead of her “Out of the Frame” exhibition, opening on September 11th, Ranbir discusses her artistic journey and dedication to sharing the beauty of traditional South Asian arts and crafts with the world.

JP: Could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background?

RK: My name is Ranbir Kaur and I am a textile and international Rangoli artist based in the West Midlands. My journey started in 1988 and now it is over 32 years since I’ve taken residency in the UK. I have worked as a teacher and artist but I am extremely proud to have exhibited my work internationally and throughout the UK. My innovative workshops I have shared with my three daughters, to whom I have passed on my skills and techniques as part of our family tradition.

JP: Can you explain the cultural significance of Rangoli?

RK: Rangoli is a traditional indian art form used to decorate courtyards and places of worship to celebrate festivals and other special occasions. It is one of the most established art forms for weddings, receptions, opening of exhibitions and sometimes we have competitions of Rangoli near the time of Diwali.

JP: How did you learn to create Rangoli and other forms of South Asian arts and crafts?

RK: It all started at the age of 8 years old as I have come from a textile background family. My grandmother, my mother and my aunty were all very clever in the textile field so that is how I got interested and took it to another level.

JP: What was it about Rangoli in particular that captivated you so much?

RK: Rangoli captivated me because the designs are a safe, beautiful and expressive tool that can bring people together to work towards a common creative goal, transcending age, language and cultural barriers. The tradition of Rangoli is many, many years old, an art form from Gujarat, so I’m trying to keep the culture alive. We always do something near Diwali so people can bring their memories back and see what their grandparents used to do!

JP: Have you always perceived Rangoli and crafting as “art” or was there a point when your perception changed?

RK: I have always perceived Rangoli as art. Rangoli is one of the most beautiful and most pleasing arts forms of India. In older days, the colours were used in traditional art forms and were extracted from natural dyes. Rangolis were used for brightening up the festival celebrations and this traditional art form has had a modern transition too.

JP: Can you talk about your experience of moving to the UK and exhibiting your art in the late 80s?

RK: My first exhibition after moving to the UK in 1988 was with the One Women show at the Museum and Art Gallery in Leamington Spa. My exhibitions and workshops took their toll in the United Kingdom and I became very popular and got too busy showing my creative work at different events. It was not that easy but my daughters always helped me so then I started delivering workshops nationally and at the same time started teaching local embroidery projects with different communities.

JP: Why was it important for you to start exhibiting South Asian arts and crafts in the UK?

RK: It was very important to exhibit South Asian arts and crafts to inspire people to come forward to take part and ask questions about my arts and crafts. Sharing allowed me to deliver different workshops which were ideal for both beginners and those who had some experience and also to show them different designs from South Asian continents. For example, from different states of India I teach Phulkari from Punjab, Kantha Stitch from Bangladesh and Mirror Embroidery from Rajasthan. So when I used to bring my samples and show them in my exhibitions with the vibrant colours people used to ask me, “Why don’t you deliver workshops?” That’s how it started.

KP: Did you face any barriers when trying to break into the British art industry?

RK: No, I didn’t face any barriers into the British art industry. I always think that I came to the UK at the right time as multicultural inspiration had just started. When I entered the UK in 1988 the iron was hot so I just had to hit it. People always came to me wanting to learn from me and to show my exhibitions to different parts of the country. I’ve exhibited at Ikon Gallery, in the North East in Sunderland and Newcastle Upon Tyne. Visitors would say, “Ranbir, you have brought colour to our town!” I have been artist in residence about 4 times in Newcastle upon Tyne and then celebrated 30 years of my journey at Sunderland and Winter Gardens in 2018. As you can see, if I had barriers nobody would invite me!

JP: Is South Asian religion and culture still underrepresented today?

RK: Yes, the South Asian religion and culture is still underrepresented. I am passionate about sharing my knowledge through a range of workshops that allow children and adults to explore and learn new techniques as my aim is to keep our Indian culture alive in the UK.

JP: Can you tell us more about your workshops and why it’s important for you to share your knowledge?

RK: I love to share my knowledge with children and adults by teaching and developing a range of workshops that allow people to explore traditional Indian arts and crafts. Workshops offer a wealth of different processes that gives them the opportunity to focus on the basics and work their way up to the more experimental techniques.

Some of my workshops are specially for the ladies suffering from arthritis. They’re very therapeutic as it gives them a mild exercise and it is very satisfying for me to see the end result. Children love Rangoli activities that get them outside and I love teaching Rangoli designs! It is encouraged among young children in schools as it involves history, geography, maths and geometry.  By sharing my knowledge, I offer an exciting way of exploring arts and crafts. On completion of the workshop they gain confidence and get inspired!

JP: Your latest exhibition “Out of the Frame” will be held at Ort Gallery in September. What can we anticipate for this show?

RK: The “Out of the Frame” exhibition will be a valued asset to Balsall Heath and Ort Gallery as it will bring South Asian arts and crafts to the wider general public. All my work tells the story of my journey of self discovery, exploring colour, texture and design. This exhibition will allow others to understand that my work crosses both national and international boundaries to deliver my artistic knowledge and understanding to a wider platform in Birmingham!

Find out more about Ranbir Kaur’s work here

Warmth Focus Groups

In June 2021 Sarah Lopez, our Policy and Inclusion Coordinator, invited local artists and parents to Ort Gallery for two focus groups. The plan was to discuss how artists and participants experience Ort, how we can do better in supporting people and how we want to work with individuals more going forward. Below are two sketchnotes from Mandy at Sketchnotes UK representing what happened at the time.


Asuf Ishaq Interview | Mother
December 2020
Interviewed by Josie Reichert, director of Ort Gallery

What was your initial inspiration for the project ‘Mother’?
In my MFA [Master of Fine Arts] research, I have been exploring themes of migration, representation of experience, story telling, trauma, and diasporic body as an archive. My inspiration was to look closer to at my own family’s migration experience. A few years ago my mother gave me a damaged and torn photograph of her young self-taken in Pakistan, she asking me to repair it. I didn’t manage to find time to work on it. So the lockdown in March I re-discovered the photograph and began working on it. This project gave me an opportunity to collaborate with my mother. And the process resulted in a 16 minutes film, which is a combination of film, sound and archive and new photographs.

When did you first hear from your mother about her experience of immigrating to the UK?
Migration experience of my mother and father is always ubiquitous, but not vocalised or communicated directly. Traumas and memories are difficult to talk about. There are some moments when stories are communicated, especially vivid and impactful ones, for example a story about a harrowing river boat crossing to Kashmir. Photographs communicate the moment too, for example of photographs at Trafalgar Square of mum and dad, and standing in front of a bed of flowers at the local in Birmingham. These photograph represent the excitement, optimism and achievements. The body is also an archive, containing narratives, and evidence of experiences, something like the hennah (Mehndi) on mums hair, hands and feet, worn today just as she was taught to wear by her mother and grandmother in Pakistan. Memory in the body is communicated in it’s own way. I do think the migration experience of my parents is passed down to us their children.

I love the process of you digitally repairing an old photograph with your mother watching. We are now so used to taking hundreds of pictures on our phones and the fact that we could stare at a single shot for hours feels so out-dated. It felt like looking at artwork rather than a snapshot in time. We are also so used to the photo shopping of images, using filters, all this is so humdrum now and has a lot of negative connotations but you fixing this image for your mum was an act of love and respect. When did it occur to you in this process that there was a story there that you wanted to capture?
You are correct, today we have huge number of digital photographs on our devices, and our relationship with photographs is a new. In my film I explore an old 35mm film photograph, format and it’s materiality. I explore and looking at it, a sort of forensic search, asking for the photograph to speak to me. My idea was to make a long form film work, keep a slow pace and rhythm to the film. I could have made it much longer. I mix documentary genre with new created film footage, and recently taken photographs of the house. By overlapping time and place, I create a new context and viewpoint. My intention was to create time and space for a conversation with my mother.

We don’t see the finished fixed pictures. Why not?
My intention in this film was to involve my mother into the work I was going to make, and show her the technology I work with, techniques I use to make my artwork. Together we unravel the past, it is about repair but not in the literal sense, but also an emotional repair.
During the process, my mother did say, “It does not matter if you can not repair, at least you can see the faces”. I think the repair of the photograph goes beyond this art work, the repair of the photograph may still happen.

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about healing and care especially after the year we have all just lived through collectively. Was this project healing for you?
It has certainly been healing process for my mother and me, it was very special to collaborate and involve her into my reality. Working as an artist for many years, my mother doesn’t quite understand what I do, or I never stopped and explained in detail. I enjoyed introducing my artwork to my mother, the filmmaking, working on the computer, manipulating photography, filming, and sound recording. It was much about the shared past experience, as it is of sharing new experiences, ultimately understanding more about each other.

In the video you subtitle some of the foreign languages but then a large chunk of the conversation with your mum is not translated. It leaves the viewer hanging and reminds us that we can never fully understand another language when translated. How does language feature in your work and what does it mean to you?
The non-translated part of the film was to illustrate the vulnerability and disorientation one feels, this was intentional. By not using subtitles, it emphasis the experience of lack of control my mother experienced. Growing up as children we use to take on the role as interpreters for my mother, I use to speak for her at hospital, GP appointments and in shops. It’s a tribute to our relationship with language, connected and dependent. In my film I employ the languages we have in our home, classical Arabic for pray, Punjabi which we speak together, and English as an overarching language amongst us siblings, and occasionally speaking with our father. I weave all the languages and narratives in the film, with voice and text.

You filmed your mum praying and also joined in the prayer. This is such a vulnerable moment. Can you expand on your choice of including this in the video?
I film my mother praying because it’s an important part of her, a constant and stable though her life. I joined in with the pray for a short moment, it’s a re-enactment of me learning the pray, as I would as a child. We haven’t done this for many years. I recorded my narration separately and then added it to the composition. It’s an acknowledgment of a language we don’t understand but have closeness as our faith. I mention in my narration, my mothers pray voice is a like a lullaby for me, since we have heard it all our lives.

In another video you explore your mum using tape letters to communicate with family in Pakistan. I find the concept of tape recordings so fascinating as they seem so out-dated now but actually it is so similar to recording a voice note on WhatsApp, for example. Are elders still using tapes to communicate?
Yes ‘Tape Letters’ is a different film work, I am still developing, but I have already made a piece where it’s an re-enactment of my mother recording a voice letter on tape cassettes to her family back in Kashmir. This was popular form of communication in the 1960’s and 70’s, most diaspora communities did this, as it was cheaper than telephone calls, which were quick, with tape voice recordings, one could speak for much longer. In some rural locations in Pakistan there were no telephone connections available. A friend or a family member would deliver the tape. This film work I want to develop further, you can view this on my website

Did you listen to any of your family’s tape letters? What did you learn?
There are no tapes in our family but there are many tape letter archives of Pakistani Kashmiri migrants, at the Bishopsgate Institute in London, which I would like to explore, tape letters in the form of love letters, or messages to parents, sisters, brothers etc. By making a film about my own mother’s experience, I bring to life this practice voice messages. In the re-enactment my mother was speaking to her mother, father sister, brother back in Kashmir. It was a voice of the past to people in the past some who are no longer alive. I am fascinated in the past technologies and the role they played in connecting people, the intimate moment with the slowly turning tape in a cassette.

Find out more about Asuf Ishaq’s work here:


Tape Letters


Art in Lockdown 
by Monika Mroz (mum of 4)

Me and my 4 children have been attending Ort Gallery sessions for some time now. I think, our first ever introduction to the Gallery was in 2013 when me, mum with crying baby and 4 years old toddler attended our first ever art workshop.  Our connection with Ort Gallery has turned into a seven-years creative experience, full of growth and development and way beyond pencil, crayon and paint. Me and my children have became part of art club for families and took part in Saturdays sessions in Ort Gallery.

One can only imagine how sad and disappointed they were when our city and whole country entered lockdown phase. Let’s be honest, my younger ones (Yahya and Mohammed) couldn’t understand why we can’t go out to “our” gallery anymore, while two older (Ismaeel and Ruqayyah) became quite depressed for not being able to take part in something what was important part of their lives. I guess many of us (adults) felt the same…but children mental health is much more delicate and them, being suddenly stuck at home and cut from real world had quite an impact. But then, to our surprise, Josie Reichert and whole team at the Ort went extra mile and organised our sessions to take place in safety of our homes, by providing all the necessary materials needed to run the sessions.

The day we were about to receive our first set of art packs my children were up early morning, full of excitement, stuck to window, looking for Josie arrival. Crafts packs have been delivered with accordance to rules of social distancing…and what a beautiful surprise it was to receive all those art resources.  From clay, beads, scissors to pencils, paper, glue and much more… Kids were over the moon. Now only left for me to follow instructions given by our amazing artist Samantha Krankpod, which were sent by email and let the creativity take over. To be honest, it was and till this day is, one of things that kept our moods lifted. We incorporated home Ort sessions into our weekly family routine. We even dedicated whole day to enjoy art and explore new creative techniques. If it wasn’t thanks to Ort Gallery, I wouldn’t be able to provide for my children so many beautiful and fun experiences during this difficult time.

Thanks to Ort we are part of something bigger; a community, support network where me and my children do care. Our art sessions let us have fun, relax and learn while we stay safe at home.







Our family workshops during covid-19 lockdown are continuing offline as we deliver materials boxes to the participating families and work with artist Samantha Krankpod to deliver the sessions remotely. Please find out more here. Thank you to the Community Fund for supporting this activity.


Balancing Work & Life – A Conversation

Ort Gallery was recently accepted onto East Street Arts’ prestigious GUILD project, a comprehensive programme of research, mentoring, tailored support, and infrastructure and space development for artist-led spaces. During the first induction session of the programme Director Josie and Diversity Consultant Anisa met lots of other artists running spaces across the UK and one of the topics discussed was around balancing work and life and avoiding burn out.

Following this, Josie started an email exchange with one of Ort’s Steering Committee members Sarah, who is also a good friend of hers, about their experiences of juggling work and life. Sarah does not work in the arts so this is clearly an issue that crosses over into other industries. This is our exchange:

Josie: Hey Sarah. How is your work search going? Have you started? Are you thinking of going into the third sector?

Sarah: Work search has officially begun, I’ve been applying for things, but no luck so far. I’m looking for something part time, so I can then fill the gaps with things I’m more interested in and some freelance projects. I would quite like to end up doing a few different things instead of just one solid job as I think it would suit my personality better and I’m also very much tired of work politics – I figure when you work part time for a business, you need to squeeze in as much as possible in the time you have, which leaves no time for getting too involved in gossip and politics. That’s certainly what some old colleagues experienced anyway!
The third sector is certainly appealing to me and I do regularly trawl through the site ‘Charity Job’ as there tends to be a lot on there. Fingers crossed I find something soon.

Josie: This all sounds very good. I have been thinking about work/life balance a lot, especially since having my son as he has put everything into perspective. I do want “everything”, so I want a career that fulfils me, but I also want to see my child grow up and feel like my mental health and hobbies are cared for. So, as I’m self-employed I have given myself a 30 hour week maximum, spread over 4 days. This means I have 3 full days with him and I also don’t stay at work until 9pm and miss bedtime. There’s a lot to be said for productivity and you can get lots done in 30 hours. No one needs to work 40, 50, 60 hours… that’s just crazy. For me it means to accept that I have to carry on being frugal as I won’t get “rich” this way, but I am ok with that.
I applaud your plans and I really hope you’ll find something. And I also think this is a good time to realise all this. A lot of people don’t get there til they are off long term sick due to burn-out or about to retire. We’re living now! #suchmillenials

Sarah: It sounds like you’ve really got things sorted to achieve that good work/life balance 🙂 and it is good to realise how important balance is earlier, rather than later. So many people don’t get it and I’ve seen some real breakdowns in people over the years, stressing about things that don’t really matter, working all hours and never switching off. Nowhere is perfect, or indeed needs to be perfect, but there should be a duty of care to look after employees who are perhaps at risk of burning out. When I handed in my notice with no job to go to, I was quite surprised that people didn’t look at me with worried eyes and ask me about what I’d do for money, but instead applauded me for taking a step back and reassessing what I actually want to achieve with my life. It has also inspired some friends to pause and look at their current situation and question if this is what they really want to do. I have worked hard to save up so that I can afford to do this, it’s not a flippant luxury, it’s come from a lot of conversations with the hubby and believing in myself and taking a risk. One way or another, I’ve had a job since I was 14, so this was a huge step for me.

Josie: Well I try… sounds like you’ve made some pretty hard experiences. I don’t quite understand where this all comes from. I know it’s to do with capitalism in general and also a societal understanding that working hard = being a good member of society, but even when I was working for a large arts organisation, where we were unaffected by sales targets and those kinds of pressures, our line managers were still driving people to mental breakdowns. It’s as if office life drives people crazy somehow.
I’m glad people were impressed by you leaving. You hopefully showed them that there is something else out there. Interestingly, there’s hundreds of videos on youtube entitled “why I quit my job and how I’m making it work” or something along those lines. Clearly a lot of people wish they could do this.

Sarah: I think office life can drive some people crazy. There is always some form of politics (unavoidable in life really!) and people trying to control others as they haven’t been properly trained to be a manager and some people associate fear with being a strong leader and others associate being super nice as a good leader. It’s a constant navigation of figuring out what’s going on in other people’s minds and how best to work with them. Also, without meaning to come across as hippy-dippy, working in an office is really unnatural when you look at the basics – we’re not designed to be sitting all day and to be inside staring at a screen, so it’s no surprise that people can get cranky.
In my experience, I think a lot of people like the idea of quitting to take a break or changing their careers, but it really is hard because it’s changing this whole mindset of “Don’t quit a job unless you have a job to go to” or if they like the career but hate the boss, it’s having to put the effort into finding a new job in the same industry, where you might slip into a very similar environment and then have another two-year cycle of shit before you feel like you’ve got enough time on your CV to be able to leave. A lot of people I have met really had this thing about staying in a job two years before leaving, believing that new employers would raise an eyebrow at a shorter period of time. It’s also that classic behaviour of wishing you could do something and then not making the effort to change i.e. wanting to lose weight but eating cookies every day and never exercising, lol! Next thing you know, ten years has passed and people settle down, perhaps with kids or pets or other responsibilities, and then really do feel like they can’t escape. It’s a safety net and I totally get it because I used to feel the same way. It’s also a lot of effort to put into motion; perhaps retraining or saving money or doing some unpaid work to build up experience in the area you want to go into. Changing paths can feel like you’ve gone backwards, which understandably may put people off.

Josie: That’s so interesting. I guess a lot of people working in the arts industry would consider a two year employment a luxury. Lots of us are freelance or employed for short term projects only. This has the advantage of working in lots of exciting environments but it also means very little security and, fittingly with this conversation, very long, very hard working hours in often extremely stressful situations. But, after speaking to some colleagues, what came out of it was, that it’s not just the tight deadlines that drive people to have a breakdown, but the internalised ideas around working hard and being the best in your field. Every project becomes part of your portfolio so many creatives feel that each tiny little detail needs to be right even when the budget doesn’t allow for it. It’s an impossible fight and means lots of us work for free or even spend our fees on materials. It seems that working in the arts does not allow you to escape capitalist thinking at all but instead adds the pressure of having to create a brand for yourself and promoting this brand every hour of every day. On top of that we would argue that we love our jobs as they are also our hobbies and allow us to be creative. But the pressures the jobs put on us are equal to the office environment we discussed above.

Sarah: It sounds like a whole other level of pressure! I think the whole ingrained capitalism thing is really interesting and if you have a permanent job contract, it’s a mental challenge to leave the safety net of a steady income with benefits to pursue flexibility and balance, as well as doing something you are really passionate about! A lot of our initial conversations with new people we meet (in my experience anyway, both professionally and socially) can be all based around what we do for a living and some people may feel scared to be judged on doing something which isn’t traditionally impressive ie a lawyer. In fact just the other day, I was in an Uber and the cabbie asked me what I did – I wanted to be really corny and just say “ I do me”, I thought, why can’t we talk about what we do for fun instead of what brings in the cash?! I always felt that my education at school and at home was based around what I wanted to do as a job – it’s a lot of pressure for kids to know and it should be ok to perhaps try a few different avenues in one lifetime.

Josie: So true! And despite many creatives having strong cross-overs between what they like and what they do, we do spend a lot of our time doing emails and populating spreadsheets as the work needs to be done.
I think the problem of quitting a safe job and doing something freelance/part time boils down to the choices we think we have/don’t have. A lot of people think they don’t have a choice because they have large mortgages or debts or, even worst, they are worried about what their families and friends will think (not to mention future employers). It’s as if every choice we make is embroiled in a web of judgement, financial worries, what ifs and worst case scenarios. The reality however is that each of us have to make a decision on how we want to live and this affects our finances, our lifestyle and our mental health. I think a lot of us do have a choice but paradoxically opening up the questions of “what would you do if you quit your job” scares many people to death as suddenly you have too much choice… it’s actually called ‘The Paradox of Choice’. It freezes people and they struggle to make a decision as they technically ‘could be anything and anyone’.

June 2019