At first glance, the suburban district of Southall, West London seems the epitome of harmony. Home to 70,000 people, nearly half of whom were born outside the UK, it boasts Sikh Gurdwaras, Christian churches, Islamic Mosques, and Hindu temples. The dominant population is Asian, earning the area the nickname Little India and bilingual English/Punjabi signage.
But for Manny Melotra, who was born in the area and still lives there, that apparent harmony is an illusion. “If you’re a resident, you know a completely different Southall,” he says.
His project The Broadway explores the challenges people face there, in an area that’s also characterised by unusually high rates of poverty. “It’s an environment full of enigma, as people from various cultural and religious backgrounds find themselves living side-by-side in a space with its own challenges,” he comments. “I believe the people of this town are neglected.”
Melotra was raised by a single mother dealing with depression, and says photography helped him deal with some of his own challenges. “I found comfort in taking candid pictures of my friends, and people in my neighbourhood that I interacted with,” he says. When he looked what he’d shot he felt present, he adds, “rather than the usual feeling of passivity in my neighbourhood”.
Urged on by the lack of photographs of Southall, and the result of the 2016 EU referendum – which brought with it a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment – Melotra decided to start documenting his neighbourhood, and in particular “the conflicts people experience with their identity – reconstructing themselves from who they were back home, to who they are becoming in their new home in Southall, West London”.
“The question I keep asking myself is, ‘Can you recreate a sense of “home”,” he adds, “when “home” is being shared by people from various parts of the world, wanting to do the same?’”
The Broadway goes on show at the Free Range FR Awards The Old Truman Brewery from 01– 04 February 2018, alongside solo exhibitions by fellow winners Alexander Mourant and Multiplicity – a collective made up of two artists, Jessica Thomas and Clive Kudakwashe Timothy https://www.free-range.org.uk/cgi-bin/news.pl?yearID=24&blogID=1106%20 https://www.mannymelotra.com/