Graphic lives: telling Bangladeshi migrant women’s stories through graphic narratives

I’m very excited to working with Hyde Community Action on a new project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. We’re exploring the heritage of British Bangladeshi women through the creation and sharing of online comics that integrate their personal experiences with broader historical narratives. The project will see a group of women from Tameside exploring their own life stories and the historical narratives of their communities through workshops on life history, cross-cultural storytelling and digital skills, as well as visits to museums and archives (including Manchester Museum, the Whitworth and MMU Special Collections) to engage with collections. They will then use a simple online comics creation tool to communicate their own multimedia story using photographs; drawings; and text and sound in any language.

We know much less about the history of the Bangladeshi community compared to other ethnic minority groups in the UK. Research that has been carried out has tended to focus on larger communities concentrated in London, Birmingham, Bradford etc. In contrast, the women in this project form part of a much smaller community and may, therefore, have very different stories to tell. Furthermore, the majority of research that has been undertaken into Bangladeshi communities has been focused on public life, and is therefore almost exclusively male. Most Bangladeshi women look after their home and family, but we know very little about domestic and family life in Bangladeshi migrant communities. The focus of this project will therefore be on what has been described as “the drama of the domestic and the everyday” (Laydeez do Comics): issues outside the public sphere, and therefore often overlooked, but of central importance to the lives of Bangladeshi women.

Through representing and sharing women’s stories and heritage as comics, we hope to challenge preconceptions; to widen representations of migrants from those (often negative portrayals) commonly seen in the media; and to put forward alternative representations that focus specifically on women’s stories and experiences.

During the second stage of the project this autumn, we will be organising a celebration event for the local community and showcasing the project at local community festivals and national comics events, as well as running sessions in local schools and a workshop for teaching/social/community work students at MMU. We’ll also produce a resource pack to encourage and support other organisations wishing to undertake similar activities.

Sarah McNicol

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