National Library puts New Scots in the picture

Scotland's diverse Asian communities are explored in a new exhibition at the National Library of Scotland (NLS). 'The New Scots', which opens on Friday 10 March at the Library's George IV Bridge building, showcases the work of photographer Herman Rodrigues and contains some surprising revelations, such as the fact that Leith has its own Sikh tartan, and that Madras College in St Andrews was given its name in tribute to the educational system of the Indian region.

The free exhibition consists of 50 colour photographs taken throughout Scotland, from Dumfries to Stornoway, and explores many of the prominent themes of Asian life today. This is the first time the exhibition has been seen in Scotland — fresh from a tour of nine Indian cities.

Photographs on display include historical buildings, the history of the community, new immigration, religions, professions, cultures and activities and the Sikh Scottish tartan. In addition to the pictures themselves, there is a wealth of material from the Library's collections pertaining to Scotland's Asian communities from books and letters to pamphlets and posters, and translations of Robert Burns's poetry into Urdu and Punjabi.

When Rodrigues came to Scotland from India in 1990, he was immediately captivated by the lives of Scottish Asians. Amazed at the age and diversity of the Asian community in Scotland, he decided to document their history, culture, inter-dependence and assimilation with Scotland. Rodrigues has two aims for his photography: the first is to express the 'colour and vibrancy of the Asian community' and secondly, to bring different communities together, seeking to dispel racial stereotypes.

It was not always easy for Rodrigues to find willing subjects to photograph. He explains: 'I initially went to community gatherings, weddings, social events just about everything I could invite myself to. It was extremely difficult at first. Living in Scotland most of the older community were quite formal and preferred not to invite me (a stranger) to such occasions. Some even offered advice on the merits of running a shop as a better business proposal than a photography business!'

As well as his photography, Rodrigues is a chef and owns two restaurants in Edinburgh, where he often uses Scottish ingredients for Indian style dishes.

Jacqueline Cromarty, Exhibitions Officer at NLS said: 'We are delighted to be hosting this exhibition of Herman's work. The diversity of cultures and lifestyles he captures so vividly is striking. Not only that, but it's a great opportunity for us to show that the Library's collections contain material of interest and importance to all of Scotland's many different communities.'

The National Library collects as many items published in Scotland as possible, including those produced by the Scottish Asian and other ethnic minority communities. Jennifer Giles of the Library's Legal Deposit section says: 'It is important that the National Library collects this material so that people will know about Scotland's diverse peoples and culture, both now and in the future, and to give a full representation of Scotland's memory and identity.'

The New Scots exhibition runs from 10 March to 22 May at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Opening times are Monday-Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 2pm to 5pm.

28 February 2006

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