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  • Suki Dhanda with Exhibitions Team Hannah Rose and Leah Harris.

Posted 12.02.18

In Pictures: Suki Dhanda’s Race, Place & Diversity by the Seaside

By Phillip Buchan

Manasseh with niece Oye, Mountwise, Plymouth (2017) - Suki Dhanda

British Asian photographer Suki Dhanda, whose portraits of subjects for The Observer and The Guardian include Blue Planet presenter Sir David Attenborough, actress Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy), former Prime Minister Tony Blair, singer and actress Rihanna, and artist Yoko Ono, returned to the South West art college where she began her photography journey, with a new exhibition commissioned by The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, ‘Race, Place & Diversity by the Seaside’. 

Missed the opening? Don't worry, the exhibition will be open to the public until 22 March 2018.

Suki Dhanda studied photography at Plymouth College of Art from 1989 to 1992 and first began working regularly for The Observer in 1998. She has gained a reputation as one of London’s leading portrait photographers.

Dhanda’s personal practice, which is shot on film using an analogue camera, focuses on ethnicity, people and place. She said, “My own upbringing has largely influenced my personal work, which explores ideas and themes of diversity and belonging. My parents settled in the UK from India in the mid-60s. I was born here and identify myself as a British Asian, being raised with a mix of both English and Asian culture.”

"I wanted to investigate diversity in Plymouth and how people celebrate the place they are in and the environment around them.” — Suki Dhanda

Over the course of her career, Dhanda has been involved in numerous group exhibitions, most notably touring internationally as one of eight photographers commissioned by the British Council to focus on aspects of Contemporary Muslim Experience in Britain. Her work has also appeared in a group exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery (zerozerozero), and as part of Art on the Underground in celebration of the Chinese Year of the Dog, Dhanda’s portraits of people with their dogs were exhibited across London Underground.

Suki Dhanda with one of the families she photographed for the project.

The new body of work created for ‘Race, Place & Diversity by the Seaside’ explores the changing face of Plymouth’s population and seeks to uncover and celebrate the diverse community of people who have made the city their home. People from a multitude of backgrounds have historically congregated at the British seaside with their families and loved ones to take in the views, walk along the shore and swim in the sea. The portraits are displayed in The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, which has in the past shown work by Martin Parr and Matt Stokes, as well as hosting the British Art Show 7.

Leah Harris, Exhibitions Coordinator at Plymouth College of Art, said: “We are really pleased to be able to welcome Suki back to the college for this show. We’re proud that the college is able to support Suki in developing her personal practice in Plymouth, a city that is close to her heart. In a wider context, this exhibition’s exploration of diversity mirrors other cities in the country, and in doing so it celebrates community and the shared enjoyment that people can experience in the place they choose as their home.”

Suki discusses her work at the packed-out opening of her exhibition.

In shooting new portraits for this show, Dhanda spent six months visiting Plymouth, capturing local residents and visitors spending time relaxing with their friends and families by the coast, in a project that highlights the possibilities of co-existing in a shared space. Provoked by Dhanda’s personal reaction to the 2016 Brexit vote, the work profiles a series of people who may have begun to question their sense of belonging and their place in the UK since the vote was cast.

Dhanda said, “I found the idea that Britain was heading towards Brexit very depressing. A couple of months after the vote, I visited Margate on a beautiful sunny day, and the beach was full of people from all backgrounds, an eclectic mix of colours and ethnicities, drawn to the sea for a day out with loved ones. It put a smile back on my face.

“I still had that image in my mind when I was approached by The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art to develop some new work for an exhibition. I wanted to find out whether that scene in Margate translated to other places in the UK, and I wanted to investigate diversity in Plymouth and how people celebrate the place they are in and the environment around them.”

The Plymouth that Dhanda remembers as a student has changed dramatically. “It has been interesting spending time in Plymouth during this project. I was expecting it to be the same as when I was studying here, almost 30 years ago, but I’ve been surprised at how internationally diverse it has become.”

Suki Dhanda will give a talk at the college on Wednesday 21 Feb from 5.30pm - 7pm, admission is free. Sign up to the Facebook event.

Alongside the exhibition, the college will also hold a screening of Night Cleaners, a documentary made by members of the Berwick Street Collective (Marc Karlin, Mary Kelly, James Scott and Humphry Trevelyan) about the campaign to unionize the women who cleaned office blocks at night and who were being victimized and underpaid, which is recognised as a key work of the 1970s and as an important precursor to current political art practice. The screening will take place on 28 Feb 2018 at 5.30pm with an introduction by Humphry Trevelyan.

Following this, on 7 Mar 2018 from 5.30pm, a Margaret Tait and Derek Jarman double bill will explore “portrait filmmaking” and include screenings of Hugh McDiarmid: A Portrait (1964) by Margaret Tait; Land Makar (1981) by Margaret Tait and a selection of short Super 8 films by Derek Jarman, introduced by the college’s Associate Dean for Media, Judith Noble.

Photos by Dom Moore. Head to The Gallery Facebook page for a full album of photos.