Page last updated at 11:06 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Art shows 'home where heart is'

By Tanya Gupta
BBC News, Sussex

Children decorating blue papier mache globes
Children each made a globe and decorated it with images of home

When British-born Bangladeshi children were given chalk, fabric, papier mache and embroidery thread and asked by two anthropologists to recreate their worlds, they came up with surprising results.

In one task, the youngsters, aged nine and 10, divided the prints they had made into "home" and "away".

But when the researchers from the University of Sussex looked at the results they said they found it "very hard to work out which was which".

They had embarked on the project after finding little research on transmigration had been carried out with children.

They went to schools in Tower Hamlets in order to work with a large group of south Asian youngsters, who explored themes of journeys in art workshops and writing diaries.

How to pray

The children's artwork, which is is on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London until 29 March, was used as part of a study funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Dr Katy Gardner said that when the children compared home with away, there was "a moment of surprise".

Some images - of painted hands - were found in both heaps, while other pictures showed images of Mecca in between Big Ben and London's "Gherkin" building.

Meanwhile, many consumer objects such as Nintendos, mobile phones and football strips were all part of Bangladesh - "possibly because they can afford to buy them there", Dr Kanwal Mand said.


"They were asked to do prints, or images. It could be a natural object or a game.

"The blue prints were home and the red prints were away. We didn't want to name them as Bangladesh or Britain. We wanted to get what home and away might be."

The researchers said that when they asked the pupils to show their "spiritual journey", the children drew pictures of amulets, head scarves, mosques, Mecca, how to pray, and prayer mats.

"It showed that being a Muslim is a central part of their lives," Dr Gardener said.

And Dr Mand added: "It's not to do with being caught in a clash between cultures or having an identity crisis. This is not what's happening with these children."

She said the project showed the youngsters were "very adept", "skilled translators", and "skilled at being in London".

Home 'with family'

Dr Gardener said: "When they think about Bangladesh it's often as Londoners. They say 'it's too hot... you get mosquito bites, and spiders and frogs'.

"They are British kids, born and bred in London. A lot described Bangladesh as a tourist place, with shopping, shopping malls, theme parks and fun fairs."

She added: "One of our findings is that the term first, second or third generation doesn't work.

"Families have very complicated relationships with south Asia - people have come in at different times."

Drs Kanwal Mand and Katy Gardner
The researchers found the children were "skilled translators"

One workshop saw the pupils drawing "circles of relatedness", where people, places or objects they didn't like were furthest from the centre.

Dr Gardner said: "The people closest were not necessarily the people who lived closest.

"They might have relatives in Bangladesh who were really close to the centre, and cousins in Stepney who were further away.

"Arsenal and Manchester United were quite close - and way outside were sausages and Brussels Sprouts."

She added that if the children had relatives in Bangladesh they saw that as home, and if they had family in London that was also their home.

"People think about home as through their family.

"Where their family are, is where their home is," she said.

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