Tamil Photography at The Brunei Gallery

By Charlie Allen

The Brunei Gallery in central London holds free exhibitions which reflect African, Asian and Middle Eastern culture and heritage.


Woman walking on fire at Mariamman festival in Ilford. Copyright Chiara Contrino

Chiara Contrino, 54, an Italian photographer living in Tottenham,  has been working with the Tamil community in North London since 2006. Her photography exhibition, Sacred London, was on display in The Brunei Gallery from January to March of this year, enabling the public to learn about the religious rituals and festivals London’s Tamil community put on and participate in every year.

The Brunei Gallery


The Brunei Gallery. Image by Charlie Allen

The Brunei Gallery, which is part of London’s School of Oriental and African studies (SOAS)has bee

n open since 1995 and puts on various exhibitions every few months. “Our aim is to present and promote exhibitions and the heritage and culture from all the regions studied by the School,” says John Hollingsworth, 43, who has been The Brunei Gallery Exhibition Manager for 17 years. This tends to be Non-European, and mainly focuses on Africa, Asia, Middle East, Far East and South East Asia.

“We have up to 12 exhibitions a year and try and involve the communities the exhibitions relate to in the UK and overseas, but our main aim is to introduce the subject to outside of the community.” Hollingsworth continues.

There are currently around 200,000 British Tamil’s in the UK, mainly in London. Many came to Britain in the 1940’s for work and to study. More recently, many came over as refugees because of the Sri Lankan civil war.

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Scared London Exhibition

“The Tamil community have been very interested and actually have participated in the exhibition by providing quotes about religious celebrations that are happening and information on the temples. But, the vast majority that have come to see the exhibition have been people from outside of the Tamil community,” School groups have also attended the exhibition.

“The photographs look like they could have been taken all at the same event but were taken over a six year period at several events. This is the first showing of her work we have had, and first showing in London,” says Hollingsworth.

Contrino has been working with the Tamil community in mainly Walthamstow, North East London.”I find it amazing the struggle these people go through to preserve their culture and tradition in a foreign land,” says Contrino.

Vivek Vijay, 24, a trainee traffic control engineer, is a Sri Lankan Tamil living in Wembley, North London. “Because we were born here, we don’t really know what it is like in Sri Lanka so it’s a good that we can come and educate ourselves and to learn about the different traditions such as Dance and Music.”

The WEFT World Eco Fibre and Textile exhibition also took place at the same time as Sacred London. “We’ve had two coaches of Fashion and Textile students, the other day from Cardiff. It’s an opportunity to see forty different countries textile traditions represented together.” adds Hollingsworth.

Listen to this podcast for full  interviews with visitors and the manager of The Brunei Gallery:


Copyright Chiara Contrino

Future Exhibitions

Another Tamil-related exhibition will be taking place at the gallery from the 18th April until the 22nd June. The exhibition, Colours of Change, is by the photography Stephen Champion who has been working in Sri Lanka over a period of thirty years.

“His early work is in the Tamil, rural areas of Sri Lanka. He has got many beautiful and intimate photos of communities, villages and towns which sadly don’t exist anymore because of the war. Many places he photographed were wiped off the map. His post war photos show the rebuilding of the country and the healing between different communities.

“He is very sensitive to his subjects. Some images are quite subtle; as subtle as you can be on the subject of war. There are some beautiful portraits and the way he has taken them you are immediately drawn to the very beautiful face of the individual. Then you look down and see they actually have artificial legs but it’s not the first thing you notice. The photos aren’t forcibly trying to project a message onto you.”

“We are probably one of the few major London venues left that look at Africa, Asia and the Middle East.”

Other links:



http://www.passionparade.blogspot.co.uk/ Tamil Journalist, Dushi Kanagasabapathipallai has been working as in Sri Lanka for 20 years. She has given Roam some of her photos to use on the Tamil community.


12 thoughts on “Tamil Photography at The Brunei Gallery

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