Hardeep Sahota: Bhangra Lexicon

9 Jan 2021 – 9 May 2021

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Hosted by: Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Bhangra Lexicon is the world’s first ‘visual dictionary’ of movements found within this beautiful artform, carefully compiled by World Bhangra Day founder, the Huddersfield-based dancer, Hardeep Sahota.


While Yorkshire Sculpture Park is unable to open its galleries during lockdown restrictions, this exhibition is online only.

Bhangra is an energetic form of dance and music that originated in the Panjab, by farming communities during the spring harvest festival of Vaisakhi. Its driving force is the Dhol, a large double-sided, barrel shaped drum. Sahota has explored, documented and catalogued 300 dance movements and gestures from Bhangra and its sub-genres to create a unique record that gathers together a rich body of knowledge, ensuring its preservation for future generations.

This new exhibition grew out of Sahota’s initial research and gives vibrant visual form to dance movements through the fascinating medium of light painting. Dancers from a number of different disciplines – including Irish dancing and breakdancing as well as Bhangra – perform key moves whilst holding coloured lights in semi-darkness, so that every nuance of their actions can be traced using long exposure photography. Sahota collaborated with photographer Tim Smith to create compelling and dynamic images that give physical, even sculptural, form to the fleeting nature of the dance. The flowing movements translate into bright, almost calligraphic strokes. The atmospheric images were taken in the evening at YSP and other locations across Yorkshire.

In images using light painting, the person performing the action typically remains anonymous in the shadows, with the sole focus being on the light. However, Sahota was keen that the costumes and cultural identities of the participants played an equally important role, so they are also illuminated using targeted flash. He describes how the creative collaboration between himself, photographer and dancers is empowering for the participants, working together to enmesh different disciplines and increase understanding of each artform.

Sahota’s academic enquiry to date has examined ephemeral elements of Bhangra moves, the movements or ‘Mudravan’, from the traditional ‘Puratan’ moves and how they corelate with specific Dhol beats, to more contemporary ‘Samakali’ interpretations that have evolved over time. The project’s exploration of the relationship between movement and image to present a formal ‘repertoire’ of Bhangra steps also acts as an online resource for learners to inscribe into their practice. While the phenomenon of Bhangra now has a global reach with varied audiences around the world, its history, scope and depth are still not fully appreciated and so cannot be celebrated as they deserve to be. Sahota’s work strives to honour and extol this rich narrative through embedded research, vibrant performance and the meaningful bringing together of performers and communities.

Hardeep Sahota 

Hardeep Sahota is a Huddersfield-based practitioner and specialist in Bhangra. He wrote the book Bhangra: Mystics, Music and Migration, which explores the origins of this folk song and dance from the Panjab in South Asia and its development into part of modern British culture in the hybrid soundscape of British Bhangra and beyond. This originated in academic research and the Heritage-lottery funded Bhangra Renaissance project. Through ethnographic research, oral history interviews, performances, photography, story-telling and community activity it celebrates the past contribution of all those involved in Bhangra. This ground-breaking work provides an in-depth history of the spiritualism of performance and song, and an overview of the artists involved in influencing its development, as well as contemporaries leading the way of Bhangra’s renaissance amongst the South Asian diaspora in the UK and around the world. Hardeep is an Affiliate Fellow at the University of Huddersfield, in recognition of his research and work with the local community.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is a freelance photographer and film-maker based in Bradford who works with a wide range of people to create exhibitions, publications and multi-media projects. Yorkshire and its diverse communities have provided the inspiration for much of this work, and acted as a springboard for many national and international projects. His work has been toured to over twenty countries overseas and is showcased in a dozen books.

This project was funded by an Arts Council National Lottery Project Grant.

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Hardeep Sahota

Tim Smith


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