The Midlands is an undefined area located in the heart of England.
In 2014, the Midlands population was estimated to be 10 million and its largest city, Birmingham, had 1.1 million inhabitants. During World War II, Birmingham was heavily bombed, and an intensive redevelopment programme was put forward during the following two decades.
The post-war fast growing economy, combined with the independence status declared by former British colonies, made possible a large inflow of immigration to the Midlands and the UK. But the UK seems to always have had a complicated relationship with its immigrants. The British Nationality Act 1948 attracted many people from the former colonies who were welcomed as they were needed to fill gaps in the labour market for both skilled and unskilled jobs. In 1961 immigration reached the rate of 135,000 migrants per year, and in the following year, the first Immigration Act was issued. Other similar Acts followed in 1968 and 1971, and each was gradually more restrictive to the influx of migration from the former colonies. By this time, the UK seemed to be shifting it‚Äôs target, and in 1973 it became a member of the European Community, opening its doors to a new immigration. In the subsequent years many people arrived in Britain, predominately from Southern and Eastern European countries. Brexit was voted in 2016. Since the British Nationality Act 1948, Birmingham‚Äôs population has grown around 12%. Nowadays, 58% of the population is White British, while 27% is Asian British (of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Chinese backgrounds), and 9% is Black British (of Caribbean or African backgrounds). The ethnic distribution on the city‚Äôs territory shows a concentration of the minority groups in the inner city, while the white population occupies mostly the edge crown of the city. This double ring is explicative of how religions are distributed in the city ‚Äì Christianity corresponds to the outer circle and the other main religions are located in the inner circle. In Birmingham, 46% of the population is Christian, while 22% is Muslim, 3% Sikh, 2% Hindu, 0.45% Buddhist and around 20% is stated as non religious. Birmingham is one of the most diverse cities in the UK, and therefore the main focus of my research. With all the data and statistics left on my desk, I started to wonder around the city and soon merged into Birmingham‚Äôs compelling multicultural scene, witnessing how the British Landscape has assumed new shapes that mark the presence of people from all around the world.
My focus is on the city‚Äôs most prominent groups with backgrounds from the former colonies. These are defined as ‚ÄúAsian British‚Äù and ‚ÄúBlack British‚Äù, and constitute more than a third of the population. They are British citizens with a very strong connection to their Asian and Afro-Caribbean roots. The establishment and contribution of these communities is reflected in the many aspects that define the social and cultural landscape of The Midlands, including music, art, food, architecture, fashion, and faith. Having been here for more than two generations, their richness comes from a double cultural heritage. Such layered identity can be witnessed, for example, in architectural expressions where facades with details that are typical of the British architecture, are blended with exotic elements.
My work gives special emphasis to these transitions where both cultural heritages are visible and maintain a certain balance between themselves.
During my research, while collating stories and facts that described a new British identity, I found an old book reporting an early world. It was an old atlas, from 1972, named ‚ÄúLands and Peoples‚Äù, and its pages told an insightful perspective of the global world at that time.
It is a surprisingly captivating narrative, and I have been working to intersect my vision with that told in its pages. This is how this atlas became the thread in which I tell the stories of the people I met, and the places I visited, and challenge the reader on the meaning of identity and cultural belonging.
Attilio Fiumarella is a visual artist interested in the social environment. He works using different approaches and mostly base his work within the documentary and architectural photography.
His body of work, “The Swimmers‚Äù has been awarded the first prize at RBSA Urban Life 2015 and recently he was finalist at Aesthetica Art Prize and Head on Portrait Prize.
Attilio’s work is held in a number of private collections, in the UK and abroad. His work has been displayed in Italy, Portugal, Spain, Georgia, India, Australia and UK in both group and individual exhibitions.
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