British South Asian experiences of collaborative exhibition-making, 1971 to 2008

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Existing scholarship on museum studies has focused on how museums and communities collaborate to create exhibitions. However, there has been limited research into the experiences and perspectives of the communities involved in these collaborations, and even less on those of South Asian communities. This thesis examines the collaboration of British South Asians in museum exhibition-making in England. It analyses three specific exhibitions: East Comes West: Arts and Crafts of India and Pakistan at Bradford’s Cartwright Hall in 1971, The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1999, and Utsavam: Music from India at the Horniman Museum in London in 2008. This longitudinal approach allows for a reflection on collaborative exhibition histories, given the increasing continuation of community collaboration in museums.

The research emphasises the importance of including and centring British South Asian perspectives in narratives of collaborative exhibition-making, which are often overlooked in institutional archives. It primarily draws on oral history interviews with seven British South Asian community collaborators, in paid and volunteer capacities, with contributions ranging from cultural and religious knowledge, object research, outreach, engagement and education activities. The museum staff from all three institutions were also interviewed. The rich oral accounts were supplemented with a close analysis of exhibition photographs and archival documents. The research provides insight into the experiences of community collaborators’ motivations, physical labour, and emotional and intellectual investment, highlighting the complexities involved in the detailed processes of collaborative exhibition-making.

Critically, the research makes visible the limits of collaboration and underlying power dynamics but also demonstrates community autonomy and decision-making, and the materialisation of this in the displays. It considers the legacies of these exhibitions, acknowledging the evolving interaction, dialogue, and negotiation in the post exhibition spaces. The research tells a nuanced story of collaboration, shaped through community input and motivations, beyond the traditional power dynamics of museums.
Date of AwardJul 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorClaire Wintle (Supervisor) & Megha Rajguru (Supervisor)

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