A photographer confronts racism in post-Brexit England and explores what it means to be British-Asian

“My mother, father and brother have been cremated and have had their ashes placed within running water in the lakes and rivers of this country. What is it to be a Punjabi in England? I speak Punjabi; understand the language. My mannerisms are English, yet when I speak Punjabi, the movement of my arms and head tend to elaborate and mimic the rhythmic tone and vocabulary of the forms and sounds generated by the Punjabi vocal cord. It’s quite beautiful and liberating,” Max Kandhola wrote in an artist statement for his body of work, “Roti Kapra aur Makaan(Food Cloths and shelter).

Kandhola has used photography to map the heritage of his family, Sikh Punjabis who immigrated to England in the 1950s, since the mid-1990s, exploring what it means to have the identity of British-Asian.

“My story is about home, England, my parents, death and dying, the Punjab and diaspora, homeland a new beginning, second and third generation Punjabis, and identities in England,” he writes.

“Roti Kapra aur Makaan” is the final installment of a trilogy of his work that concludes with a series of portraits of his family, friends and strangers in Birmingham, London, Nottingham, and Brighton. “The project is a self-portrait and reflection of my own identity,” Kandhola says.

Kandhola’s style for this portrait series was inspired by that of 19th century British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. He used prolonged exposures on Polaroid film, in an effort to remove a ‘family’ gaze.

“I wanted an expression that portrayed the idea of a void, a spiritual meditative encounter,” he told In Sight.

This series is titled “u f—ing paki,” purposely including the racist term often directed at people of Pakistani or South Asian descent. Kandhola noticed an increase in the occurrence of this slur and other forms of racism toward British-Asians post-Brexit and the election of President Trump.

“It almost gave an added level of confidence to people to express their feelings. For me it was extraordinary to hear these words, shocking and unexpected. The abuse is always subtle, directly being called ‘a f—ing paki,’ on a train journey or ‘you f—ing paki,’ and abuse indirectly aimed toward my son, those ‘little paki bastards.’ ”

Max Kandhola is a photographer and a practicing lecturer in photography at Nottingham Trent University School of Art and Design. His series, “u f—ing paki,” is on display at FotoFest in Houston for its 2018 Biennial titled “INDIA: Contemporary Photographic and New Media Art,” curated by London-based artist and curator Sunil Gupta with Steven Evans, Executive Director of FotoFest, from March 10 — April 22. The Biennial includes 47 artists from India and its global diaspora and focuses on work made after 2000.

(Max Kandhola)

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