New art installation is more than just a garden

Sarindar Dhalial's thesis work explores Windrush Scandal

Sarindar Dhaliwal's art installation outside Mac-Corry.
Sarindar Dhaliwal's art installation outside Mac-Corry.
Photo supplied by Sarindar Dhaliwal

If you’re looking to play a game of cricket, avoid the new pitch nestled in between Mac-Corry and Ellis Hall.

The two patches of greenery on a concrete courtyard is part of an art installation for Sarindar Dhaliwal’s PhD thesis.

The piece uses plants and everyday objects to represent issues of immigration and marginalization. To many walking by, they may appear to simply be oddly shaped gardens, but they’re actually contemporary art pieces.

The installations are part of Dhaliwal’s final thesis project. The work partly focuses on the recent Windrush Scandal, in which British government policy may force Punjabi and Trinidadi immigrants to leave their homes after living in the country for decades.

For Dhaliwal, this work is more than just representatives of the struggles these immigrants endure—it’s her own story. Born in the Punjab in 1953, she immigrated to England as a young girl before coming to Canada.

Dhaliwal represents these challenges through her artwork.

“As a visual artist, my work has always been about autobiography, and especially about my childhood. It tries to take traumatic and dissonant moments from childhood and recreate them in a more beautiful way,” she said.

To represent the autobiographical ties between her family and contemporary politics, Dhaliwal created the two installations outside Mac-Corry. The first piece is called “From Left Field”. The piece is a cricket pitch—but on a slope.

The slant means a game of cricket isn’t actually possible on this pitch.

“For me it represents so many immigrants, especially here in Canada. They have come here with a [trade], they’ve been trained, but they can’t practice,” Dhaliwal said.

Dhaliwal created the piece with the fictional story of a 19-year-old Caribbean man in mind. He arrived to Britain in 1948 on the Windrush boat with 500 other Black men. Back home, this fictional character was a trained cricketer but he can’t play professionally in Britain so he works as a bus driver.

The slanted cricket pitch represents his struggle; the difficulties plying his skill on the pitch mirror his difficulties in England.

The second piece looks more like a regular garden, albeit more sparse. But closer inspection reveals it’s filled with exotic plants like chili peppers and marigolds.

They’re planted to look like a house from a bird’s eye view, representing interweaving cultures.

The garden’s architecture changes with the seasons.

“In the Spring, the doorways and the windows had a huge variety of daffodils and that represented English-ness. And so the daffodils bloomed and they were subsumed or polluted by sort of more exotic plants such as Chili Peppers and Marigolds.“

The house itself represents the story of a woman who came from the Punjab in the '50s and it represents the challenges she faces trying to integrate into the host culture.   

“But [The British culture] doesn’t want people who don’t look like them. I think that’s happening quite a lot right now. There’s this constant ‘go back to your own country’ and it seems to be worse. All of a sudden we’ve gotten as bad as it was in the fifties,” Dhaliwal said.

According to Dhaliwal, it was racial tensions like this that sparked backlash against the Windrush immigrants that are the focus of her research.

“They had the right to live in Britain. It wasn’t until the British people kind of freaked out about it that they put controls in place,” she said, adding the people who are being forced to leave have established lives in Britain.

 “These people have lived here for sixty years. They’ve had jobs, they’ve paid taxes, and they are being told now that they have to go back to this country that they haven’t seen for so many years,” Dhaliwal said.

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