Our Shared Cultural Heritage (OSCH) sets out to support young people and the heritage sector in making heritage more useful and more relevant to the lives and communities of young people of South Asian diaspora. OSCH is part of the wider Kick the Dust programme which tackles the under-representation of the young as audiences and participants in heritage spaces. If you are a regular reader of our blog, and follow us on Twitter and on Instagram, you will follow all we’ve been doing since May 2019 to make heritage spaces more inclusive for young people.
One of our key aims is to provide as many paid opportunities as possible for young people to change the heritage sector. In Summer 2020, we hired three brilliant paid interns, and now in December 2020, we’ve hired three more young people who impressed us with their application and interview. The six young people are now working as dynamic and exciting team of changemakers.
Read more about our Summer 2020 interns – here.
What follows are the words of our latest interns – Hannah, Samihah and Rissat – who kindly share with us a little about themselves, their passion for exploring cultural heritage and their plans as interns:
Hannah Rustomjee: “When I applied for this position I was asked what heritage and community meant to me. I found this incredibly hard to answer as I’ve always struggled to talk about my own identity. Getting involved with South Asian Heritage at the Manchester Museum has made me reckon with my own complex heritage, as an individual with South African-Indian, Parsi and Spanish roots. I think my experience of being unable to tick a box has shaped my interest for representation, belonging, identity and heritage; and I am hoping that this experience will teach me more about myself and my own South Asian heritage, whilst also giving me the opportunity to share and reflect on my experiences with like-minded others.
2020 has seen the twin challenges of COVID-19 and the ongoing effects of the global movement for Black Lives, intensifying the conversation around Britain’s history of colonialism, and its after effects. This is a really important time for museums to acknowledge their responsibility and serve the diverse localities in which they are situated. Young people can have a big role in transforming the design and legacy of museums and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this. Britain’s past weighs on our present, and learning about it would mean a better debate about race and migration.
I urge all young people who are curious about the narrative being told in museums to join the Manchester Our Shared Cultural Heritage Project, which gives young people the chance to come together to explore the shared cultural heritage of the UK and South Asia and to develop new methods for museums to engage with people.”
Samihah Mudabbir: “Studying History and Sociology has intrigued my interest in learning about my historical roots and their effects on the socio-political the climate of today. However, I guess it was both my love and hate for these two subjects which pushed me further into exploring my identity. My hate stemmed from the curriculum’s erasure of South Asian culture, heritage, and its histories and the repetitive narratives we were taught. Moreover, my frustration for these subjects had progressed due to many teachers constantly promoting their ideas of ‘Britishness’ through their actions and teachings.
However, these subjects have allowed me to always be critical and have pushed me further to explore the unwritten tales which constantly affects the lives of South Asians. Therefore, my new role as a Community Storyteller is a remarkable experience and one which allows me to have an integral role in sharing diverse histories and advocating for change. I am looking forward to promoting stories of the South Asian community – however big or small the stories may seem to be.
My involvement already with the OSCH Young People’s Collective has allowed me to explore my identity and history. I’ve took part in many activities including conducting webinars on Mughal History and working on the new South Asia gallery, where I am specifically exploring the colonial legacy of climate change and Bangladesh’s resistance. Working and learning with OSCH has erased many of my frustrations when learning the histories of South Asia. And whilst it is important to remain critical of the power that continues to dominate in museum spaces, I find it integral to be a part of the change and resistance that OSCH brings – as a collective constantly challenging the way in which museums operate.
Whilst we have all experienced the distresses of lockdown and the lack of real-life interaction, the projects that this role entails combined with the work of OSCH has and will allow many people, including myself to reflect and gain the confidence to share their stories online. This role is encouraging me to discover innovative ways to engage young people in sharing their stories that hold historical and cultural purpose. It’s a massive opportunity to showcase voices of the underrepresented, to culturally inspire my generation, and to fight for change”.
Rissat Hasan: “Growing up in a predominantly White town and attending a predominantly White school often made me feel estranged from the ‘Bangladeshi’ part of my ‘British-Bangladeshi’ identity. My heritage has always been deeply rooted in my mother tongue ‘Bengali’, a language fought for by my ancestors and subsequently preserved by the nation’s independence through the Bangladesh Liberation War. Yet the ‘British’ side of my heritage exposed the broken Bengali that often slips from my tongue. It grouped me alongside my South-Asian counterparts due to my classmates and teachers throughout school being unable to differentiate between a young person as being ‘Pakistani’, being ‘Indian’ and being ‘Bangladeshi’. Aside from knowing the language, could I even differentiate myself? Those who did ask about my origins, often did not know what/where Bangladesh was, let alone able to find it on a map.
After sixteen years of studying, my final years of education at university presented an opportunity whereby the roots of my own history and identity could be researched and written about. Whilst I was elated to be learning about the women of the Liberation War and guided by an academic advisor who was also of a South-Asian heritage, I often found myself questioning why it took so long for me to feel represented. Studying History at university became an act of cherishing the excerpts of decolonised curriculum available, yet still feeling a sense of imposter syndrome in a class tailored to me and about me. As one of the very few PoC on my course, my existence became a means of disrupting hegemonic, Eurocentric narratives and taking up predominantly white spaces, as well as sharing the histories of the lesser known and those not represented at all.
Therefore, my motivations for working at Manchester Museum as a ‘Community Storyteller’ has granted me the opportunity to continue sharing the experiences of those from marginalised communities, understand why they are often misrepresented and be part of the solution. It is realising that (in actor Riz Ahmed’s words) being an ‘outsider’, caught between two or more things, such as my “British” and “Bangladeshi” heritage, is not necessarily bad. For being an outsider in an environment where belonging seems like a distant prospect is where the most impact can be made. Environments such as museums and schools where “British” heritage is often emulated can transform the ‘outsider’ into an ‘insider’ by interrogating existing narratives which often serve to undermine the influence of South-Asian communities”.
Great things to come…