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Boliyan: Sounds of Women's Activism

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Accounts of historic political mobilisations of South Asian women in Coventry rarely featured in the heritage of the city - even though Coventry has been instrumental in trailblazing South Asian women's activism in Warwickshire.

The research project

Historic political mobilisations of South Asian women in Coventry lies at the heart of Dr Ravi Thiara and Dr Nirmal Puwar’s research.

Dr Ravi Thiara (Sociology, Warwick) and Dr Nirmal Puwar (Sociology, Goldsmiths University of London) have followed the biographies of a small sample of women activists, as well as the structures they have put in place to support and resource change. Operating with the notion of layered political histories, the crisscrossing networks and tensions, the research hasn't sought to map the political histories in a totalising closed fashion, but rather to leave it open to plural figures and narratives.

During the course of collecting oral histories, it has transpired how both pain and joy combined in political practices. Meetings, demonstrations and the construction of safe houses sat alongside the generation of joyful forms of togetherness and unity. Craft, cooking, song and dance featured in the different ways in which place-based politics in Coventry was woven together.

The artist

Dr Thiara and Dr Puwar will collaborate with Preet Grewal, a community activist who has incorporated Punjabi folk arts into her practice. She has pioneered key women's organisations in Coventry and sought to build forms of togetherness to generate joy and reflections together.

She is a practitioner in the art of giddha and boliyan, a form of all-female Punjabi dance with storytelling lyrics and sonnets. This is a folk oral lyrical tradition that is often combined with theatre. It constitutes a female space for reflecting on public and private issues, with issues of loss, joy, abuse, sexuality, transitions and politics assembled in these words.

In this collaboration, the experiences from the oral histories will be transmitted into a non-linear form of storytelling through Preet’s expertise in Punjabi female song (boliyan) and dance (giddha).

As this tradition that is slowly disappearing in the UK, Preet will run workshops in order to generate new boliyan reflecting South Asian women’s political histories. These boliyan will be performed and recorded and made available online. Additionally, there will be a textual script of the boliyan, of which there are very few globally.

This project extends the research engagement and impact of the department into the city of Coventry by going beyond the usual networks by re-working the political histories of South Asian women into a novel form through this artistic collaboration.