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Alex Croft at the Exhibition of Nabeelah Hafeez

Kala Sangam: Defining a Vision

Alex Croft talks to Sanjeevini Dutta about his hopes and dreams for Kala Sangam

Alex Croft is the Creative Producer at Kala Sangam in Bradford, and nine months into his new role, he is bristling with energy and fizzing with ideas. The new season’s programme has just been announced and it is getting noticed by the arts media. I pick up the phone to ask him more about the new currents rippling across Kala Sangam.

‘It was my dream job,’ Alex tells me over the line, ‘the challenge of filling the fantastic spaces in the building’. A grade-two listed building in the heart of Bradford, as the home of the organisation, is a big responsibility. To re-think approaches to bring in more locals, Alex has been re-defining the organisation’s ways of working. There appears to be a subtle shift from exclusively South Asian work to more broad- based ‘intercultural work’. ‘We are moving away from the traditional South Asian model of Indian classical dance and music to programming relevant work for all our communities: Indian, Pakistani, East European, refugees, to put them together in a melting pot and letting something new emerge’. To be fair Dr Geetha Upadhaya, the founder of Kala Sangam,  had always kept a strand of diversity in programming, but clearly Alex Croft is taking it a step further.

A part of the process is to understand and take on board what the cultural identity of a third or fourth generation Pakistani in Bradford would look like. ‘A person of Pakistani heritage would be as likely to be watching a film on YouTube as to be listening to music of his grandparents’ generation’. Alex clarifies that he has a deep respect for traditional arts, which have to be protected. He sees the importance of keeping the heritage alive not as a ‘museum’ piece (not his words), but favours alongside, exploring and extending the boundaries. So while the Bharatanatyam Academy will continue, the centre will also offer a generic South Asian dance class with a mix of styles and Bollywood as a way of first attracting young people. A new integrated dance class has also just been launched.

In his three- year plan, Alex has the ambition of achieving the reputation for programming the best of work created by the current generation of South Asian artists. ‘We have been speaking to Seeta Patel, Shane Shambhu and Kamala Devam, amongst others,’ he tells me. Together with bold programming, he also sees Kala Sangam as the go-to place for artists looking for a home to grow their work. ‘We want to be a creative incubator space, to invite artists to come, grow, take risks, make work that can tour around the country’. The scheme would be both for local artists and those outside the region. The presence of the artists in the building would create a lively hub fomenting ideas and artistic outcomes.

On 7 February an exhibition commissioned by Kala Sangam of poet-photographer Nabeelah Hafeez, ‘Through My Father’s Lens’, opened at the centre. The daughter of Bradford poet Mohammad Hafeez Johar, who captured the early migration experiences of the Pakistani community, the exhibition combines and layers words and images of Bradford then and now through the father-daughter duo.

      Memories of my homeland. These are burnt into my heart.

      But now this city is also in my blood.   Mohammad Hafeez Johar

This is the artistic challenge that Alex Croft is rising to: how best to represent both the heritage of the Bradford residents and also the changing faces of their identities.

You can listen to an interview with Nabeelah Hafeez on BBC Asian Network here.