Wolverhampton Arts and Culture is delighted to announce the acquisition of 10 new photographic portraits of the Punjabi community in Wolverhampton by artist Anand Chhabra into Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s permanent art collection. Three of the portraits will also enter the National Portrait Gallery’s photographic collection.

The 10 portraits were taken as part of Citizen UK, a partnership project with the National Portrait Gallery and Citizen Researchers which aimed to document, explore and share the experiences, histories and achievements of Wolverhampton’s Punjabi Community. The project also explored how each sitter’s activism and sense of community shaped the city, feeding into national conversations about UK citizenship. The portraits are all accompanied by oral history recordings of the individuals featured, which will become part of the ‘Wolverhampton Voices’ oral history project at the City Archives. 

Just some of the local stories of courage and integrity conveyed through the project and in the portraits include that of former bus driver, Tarsem Singh Sandhu, who fought for 2 years for the right to wear his turban to work; Councillor Bishan Dass Bains, the first South Asian Mayor of Wolverhampton whose campaigns for equality and human rights improved the lives of thousands suffering discrimination; and Dr Kuli Kohli, Wolverhampton Poet Laureate and a leading figure within the city’s creative community. Kuli was born with mild cerebral palsy and has used writing to powerfully express her observations on life, she is passionate about supporting other Punjabi women in the city to find their creative voices. 

At the heart of the Citizen UK project was the work of 7 Citizen Researchers from the city who worked with staff from the National Portrait Gallery, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Anand Chhabra and Dr Kuli Kohli to first explore Wolverhampton and the National Portrait Gallery’s collections, identifying just some of those many people they felt should be represented and whose stories are vital for understanding the city’s identity and history today. 

The portraits were displayed as part of the Citizen UK: Punjabi Migration Histories exhibition a Wolverhampton Art Gallery from May to July 2023. 

The 10 portraits are of: 

  • Harbans Singh Heera, Founder of the Ad Dharm Brotherhood UK and former Shop Owner
  • Rajesh Mair, Owner of Mairs boutique and fashion design 
  • Mak Singh, Former Bollywood Actor and Councillor for Spring Vale Ward
  • Dharam Pal, Powerlifting Champion 
  • Bishan Dass Bains, Wolverhampton’s first South Asian Mayor
  • Tarsem Singh Sandhu, Former Bus Driver who campaigned successfully against the Turban Ban for employees of Wolverhampton Transport
  • Harjinder Kaur, former specialist community psychiatric nurse who was central to bringing greater knowledge of mental health and dementia to the South Asian community
  • Dr Kuli Kohli, Wolverhampton Poet Laureate (2022 to 2024) 
  • Sathnam and Surjit Sanghera, Sathnam Sanghera is the author of books including Empireland: How Modern Britain is Shaped by its Imperial Past, and The Boy with the Topknot, which documents his own experiences growing up in Wolverhampton. He was photographed with his mother Surjit at her home in Wolverhampton 
  • Jaspal Kohli, Builder, Community Member, and Presiding Officer for City of Wolverhampton Council 

The 3 portraits that have been acquired for the National Portrait Gallery Collection are of: 

  • Bishan Dass Bains, Wolverhampton’s first South Asian Mayor
  • Tarsem Singh Sandhu, Former Bus Driver who campaigned successfully against the Turban Ban for employees of Wolverhampton Transport
  • Dr Kuli Kohli, Wolverhampton Poet Laureate (2022 to 2024)

City of Wolverhampton Council Cabinet Member for Visitor City, Councillor, Bhupinder Gakhal, said: “The voices of the Punjabi community are so important. The people mentioned have been involved in major movements and milestones within the city.

“Citizen UK has enabled these iconic people of Wolverhampton to share their stories so that they can be held at the City Archives for future generations to learn and to add to.”

Dr Kuli Kohil said: “I have always longed for a sense of belonging, and although it has been a challenging journey, it has been one that is worth the effort. I have made it a priority to uplift and enlighten others so that we can come together and form a strong, understanding and supportive community. I am proud to be a shining member of the Punjabi community in Wolverhampton. I am truly overwhelmed to be featured at both Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, and I would like to thank Anand Chhabra for taking amazing portraits of local Punjabi people who have contributed to making Wolverhampton what it is today." 

Liz Smith, Director of Learning and Engagement at the National Portrait Gallery, said: “Throughout our recent period of closure and since reopening in 2023, we’ve been working hard to ensure our visitors return to a Gallery that presents a wider range of voices telling a broader story of national culture. This is why we are particularly delighted that the ambitious Citizen UK project – delivered in partnership with Wolverhampton Arts and Culture, Citizen Researchers, Anand Chhabra and Kuli Kohli – has resulted in such a wonderful series of photographs, and 3 new acquisitions for the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection. These new works will help us share the stories and significant impact that Wolverhampton’s Punjabi community has had on both local and national life.”

For more information visit Wolverhampton Arts and Culture.