Desi Pubs

I am currently working on a project called ‘Desi Pubs’, for Creative Black Country and recently wrote the following article for their website

Over the past couple of weeks, I been working on the Desi Pubs project with the staff and punters of the ‘Four ways’ in Rowley Regis. The Desi Pubs project is aiming to document a number of South Asian Black Country pubs, its owners, staff and the punters. It’s a really interesting project on many levels, and within the short time I have spent on the project, I’ve learnt a lot.

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I thought that the project is primarily about the dislocation of the Asian landlords running Black Country pubs, yet you quickly realize that almost everyone who comes to the pub is slightly out of place.

The word ‘desi’ is commonly used to refer to people, cultures, and products from South Asia, and although the project is about this community, it is also about something else. The original Sanskrit word, desha, referred to people from a specific place or land, and in these pubs everyone seems to share a common bond about being from the ‘Black Country’, with most people talking about coming to terms with the changing local landscape. Almost all of the local punters talk about the decline of the local manufacturing industries. Rowley Regis grew from its iron ore, stone and coal and this made it a central location for heavy industry, many of the local men would have worked in the same factories, often on the same machines, as their fathers and grandfathers.

Smethwick Black BarmanIt’s a generation of men who feel slightly out of place in the modern post-fordist economy, but not so in the pub. People of all backgrounds socialized together in the factories and the pubs.

In 1965, when the first Black barman, Linton Dixon, started pouring pints in the New Talbot Inn, it was such big news it made the local paper, nowadays the growth of the Asians owning and running local pubs passes without anyone even noticing.

I’m still working out how I am going to show these stories. I did research through the history of Black Country arts, and although painters such as Turner, Richard Chattock, Edwin Butler Bayliss, Harry Norman Eccleston and Arthur Lockwood created some beautiful landscapes about the Black Country, they rarely painted its local community. A rare example is Andrew Tift work, Three Steelworkers. We can visit the local galleries and see many portraits of the local Upper Classes, yet few portraits exist of the working people from the Black Country, whether they are Black, Asian or White. One of the earliest Black workers I have found is a photograph from 1919 of the Brunwick Steel works in Oldbury. Hopefully, over the coming weeks I can work with the people at Four Ways and see how we can use art to visualize some of this rich history

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