An online event on Sheba Arts Facebook page on the 11th of June celebrated the lives of Kurdish and Iranian people in Greater Manchester and launched a digital exhibition created to document their history and culture. The exhibition is available to the public after the lockdow.
Gardens of Babylon, created by Sheba Arts and supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust, documents the oral histories of first-generation Kurdish and Iranian immigrants to help second generation family members connect with their heritage.
The project, which has been archived by the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust at Manchester Central Library, collects cultural memories, oral histories, poetry, songs and images of Iranian and Kurdish people in Greater Manchester. Fereshteh Mozaffari, the coordinator of the project, decided to produce the oral history project after a performance about the Babylon goddess Ishtar sparked positive feedback from children and parents in Kurdish and Iranian communities. “During the performance, which was commissioned by Journeys Festival in 2017, I spoke in Farsi and Arabic, as well as English,” she explains. “The children in the audience had such an excited reaction when they heard their native language. After the show, parents brought their children to me because they had so many questions. From then, I realised these children didn’t know about their history. These issues become more obvious as they grow up and they tend to hide their identity to fit in, so I wanted to create something that would help them to learn about and celebrate their history and their culture.”
Gardens of Babylon also produced 5 children’s workshops , two physical and 3 online. At the physical sessions, children and their parents heard the life stories of the interviewees and learned the poems and songs they’d shared during the interviews for the project.
Now the pilot stage of the project is complete and the oral histories are available to the public, Fereshteh and Sheba Arts plan to document more histories and create more workshops for Iranian and Kurdish children.
“It’s really ignited something,” says Fereshteh. “We still need to evaluate the project and be realistic about what we can go on to produce, but there’s a lot of potential. We didn’t get to interview those Iranian communities who speak a different language, such as Lori, Azari, Gilaki, or people who came from different parts of the country with different heritage and background.
“But there’s a growing demand in the Iranian and Kurdish communities for creative workshops for children, so we’d like this project to have a bigger impact. We want to create a legacy for future generations of UK-born Iranians and Kurds.”
For further information about the project, visit www.shebaarts.com/projects.html
Gardens of Babylon oral history archives are available to access on the ground floor at Manchester Central Library.
Watch the documentary made by Amang Madrokhy;