Billy Dosanjh, Day Shift, 2019. Courtesy the artist
Contemporary Exhibitions

Billy Dosanjh, The Exiles

Billy Dosanjh is an artist, film-maker and storyteller who was born and raised in Sandwell in the West Midlands. His ambitious new body of photographic works pay tribute to those largely male migrant workers, especially those from the British colonies of South Asia, who came to The Black Country in the 1960s, to a region in the last throes of its industrial might, to find work and to create a new life for themselves.

Preview: Thursday 10 November, 6-8pm. All welcome.

Billy has drawn on his lived experience and the rich and vibrant stories told by his family and community to explore what happens when cultures merge and to create a visual vernacular for a history that has inextricably shaped our region forever.

Trained as a film-maker at the National School of Film and Television, Billy has since made highly impactful award-winning films such as A Miracle in West Brom (2014) and The Sikhs of Smethwick (2016). To create The Exiles, he has applied filmic principles such as set building, casting, costumes, props, make up and extensive lighting to create complex, composite images, each drawing on personal histories and memories; stories of struggle and survival set against a context of upheaval, violence and hope.  Day Shift, for example, presents a constellation of stories set in rows of terraced houses and their small yards and gardens. It is created from over 800 source files.  These works are best described as single shot movies where these mysterious quiet narratives are operatic in scale.

Billy works with both specialist teams as well as volunteers from the local community including more recent migrants to the region. Billy says; Involving my home community in these kinds of work is the most rewarding feeling; to take them on voyages into the earliest memories of British life has been a genuine joy. By working with a cast of newly arrived migrants today, we are able to explore the circularity of the experience of non-natives merging with local life, of history on loop.

Billy has sourced a wide range of old photographs to ensure that these images clearly evoke a sense of the Black Country in the 1960s but has also absorbed a wide range of art historical references.  The history of painting is particularly influential.  16th century Italian painters such as Caravaggio (1517-1610) and Raphael (1483-1520) created highly structured compositions and used dramatic light effects to highlight the protagonists, enhanced further through their dramatic facial expressions and gestures.  From 19th century French artists like Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) and Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), he has drawn on their fascination with the everyday and their ability to position the viewer within the action.  The American photographer Gregory Crewdson (born 1962) has been a source of great inspiration with his elaborately staged scenarios using cinematographic lighting as has the practice of indigenous Australian artist Tracey Moffatt (born 1960). The title of the work comes from another influential source; a 1961 documentary by Kent MacKenzie which observes a day in the life of a group of native Americans who leave reservation life in the 1950s to move to a decaying district of Los Angeles.

Though this work is rooted in Billy’s own strong connections to The Black Country and its communities, these stories continue to resonate globally as war, social conditions and climate crisis continue to force migration around the world and people continue to be uprooted from their familiar lives and cultures to search for a better and safer life.

Billy Dosanjh Exhibition Guide (download)

In Conversation:  Saturday 28 January, 2pm, Free.

Join Billy Dosanjh with Head of Exhibitions, Deborah Robinson for an informal tour of the exhibition followed by a screening of Billy’s latest short film, the story of a young boy which was largely shot in Caldmore, Walsall.

Please book your free place at the Gallery reception or book via Eventbrite.