Unveiling South Asian culture in Stornoway

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Funding to support the launch of the first ever exhibition of the Colin Mackenzie Collection and Purvai, a Festival of South Asian art and culture, in Stornoway has been awarded.

This year is the 196 anniversary of Colin Mackenzie’s death, and the town’s arts centre An Lanntair has received £59,900 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to deliver an exhibition of items he collected titled: ‘Collector Extraordinaire’.

Alongside the exhibition, a vibrant arts festival, Purvai, will also run at An Lanntair this August, celebrating the Hebrides’ fascinating South Asian heritage links and Scotland’s 2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology celebrations.

The ‘Mackenzie Collection’ is the oldest and largest collection of ancient South Asian art collected by Colin Mackenzie from Stornoway, born in 1754.

Mackenzie became an army officer in the East India Company and eventually rose to the position of Surveyor General of India, travelling the subcontinent and building an extraordinary collection of objects.

The Collection comprises a remarkable range of material, including beautiful figures intricately carved in stone, thousands of drawings and sketches from across India and Java depicting ancient monuments, people and customs, maps, coins, and incredibly old and precious palm leaf manuscripts.

Items from the Collection will be on loan from the British Museum, The British Library and the V&A, and exhibited at Museum nan Eilean at Lews Castle, opening on the 11th August 2017 and running throughout the autumn until 18th November.

Anna Jackson, Keeper of the Asian Department of the V&A said: “Mackenzie’s collection has considerable potential which has not yet been unlocked, it is divided among several institutions and has not until now been linked together other than in academic publications, the collection has never before formed the subject of an exhibition.

“The project is an excellent opportunity to do this, while also linking the material with Mackenzie’s place of birth for the first time.”

Nick Smith, Heritage Manager at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said: “It is extraordinary to think that this important collection has never been shown in Stornoway, Colin Mackenzie’s home town.

“Much of Mackenzie’s possessions were purchased by the India Office Library upon his death and are now in the care of national institutions.

“The high quality exhibition space at Museum nan Eilean Lews Castle means we now have the opportunity to bring some of this collection to Stornoway for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike, thanks to Catherine Maclean and her colleagues at An Lanntair as well as the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.”

As well as the Mackenzie Collection exhibition, this exciting new HLF-funded project will also focus on the heritage and stories of South Asian-Hebridean families who settled in Stornoway.

2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the Independence and Partition of India, an important moment for reflection on Scotland’s connections with the people, culture and heritage of South Asia.

An Lanntair will work with actor, director and playwright, Sudha Bhuchar and photographer and artist, Arpita Shah on researching stories of South Asian Hebridean families and their journeys to Stornoway and the islands.

Part of this project will be Copan Chai, an interactive installation work by Arpita Shah in October 2017.

And in November, Bhuchar will bring her play ‘Child of the Divide’ to Stornoway and again there will be a wrap-around programme of activity connecting to the stories of South Asian Heritage in the community.

The Purvai Festival of South Asian Art and Culture will take place at An Lanntair between 14th and 19th August 2017, culminating in a performance of Yatra, meaning Journey, a new commissioned score which will depict Mackenzie’s journey through traditional Gaelic vocal traditions using islanders’ songs of travel and seafaring, through to the traditional Indian Raag and folk music that Mackenzie would have experienced and encountered during his travels and explorations in India.

The performance of Yatra will take place as the Festival’s Signature Event on Friday 18th August 2017.

It will also be performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 21st August 2017 and in India during January 2018.

The Exhibition “Collector Extraordinaire” is free admission. Tickets for the Purvai Festival events will go on sale to the public on the 1st June. Further information about all Purvai events is available at www.lanntair.com