Birmingham’s Aston Hall is preparing to host art and dance events, including a panel discussion, to mark South Asian Heritage Month.

The special Mughal Miniatures cultural sessions, which includes a panel discussion about Mughal art with experts, will require booking and due to take place on Saturday 29th July at Aston Hall. 

The family event will feature vibrant South Asian dance performances by the Birmingham-based Sonia Sabri Company, and visitors will also discover the exquisite traditional art of Persian and Indian miniature painting.

Aston Hall celebrates South Asian Heritage Month with art and danceGreta Zabulyte
Aston Hall celebrates South Asian Heritage Month with art and dance

The Sonia Sabri Company will also give a specially created performance piece called Mughal Miniatures at Aston Hall which invites visitors to step back in time, into the glory of the Mughal period, with performers in sumptuous costumes creating vibrant and colourful mini worlds of dance, music and puppetry.

Mughal Miniatures takes inspiration from the splendour and beauty of traditional painting which originated from the Mughal courts of 9th and 10th century, but still practiced today. The style is multicultural and inspired by a whole range of cultures. The resulting art is a colourful celebration of diversity and humanity.

The performance is immersive and the audience can help the dancers – who have grown tired of the restrictive frames in which society traps them in – to break free not only of their pictorial frames which cages their bodies, but they can unshackle themselves from society’s rigid expectations.

The dancers in the Mughal Miniatures performance break out of their framesSonia Sabri Company
The dancers in the Mughal Miniatures performance break out of their frames

The Mughal Miniatures performance will be presented in two scenes which celebrate the delicate balance between the world of man and the natural world, and how harmony brings spiritual and physical healing.

Scene 1: The Awakening – meet a Bharatanatyam/Classical Indian dancer, who dares to indulge in some Breakin’ style dance in an attempt to escape society’s control over her life. On the outside she appears to be a pristine, virtuous Queen of the Mughal court, adorned with the finest silks and jewels but she is also a woman of the world with something to say.

Scene 2: Animal Paradise – step inside an elegant Mughal Garden with water and plants that calm and soothe the mind and soul. A colourful and flamboyant peacock dances and parades in the monsoon rains with a princess, an elephant gently leads a regal procession and antelopes race through the forest.

The costumes in the Mughal Miniatures performance are vibrant Irina Mackie
The costumes in the Mughal Miniatures performance are vibrant

Anyone who wants to participate can learn a short dance which they can perform for the Mughal royal family and showcase their moves in the celebratory finale.

Performances will rotate throughout the day to give multiple opportunities to view the acts, and pop-up performances are also planned including drop-in family arts activities for children.

A special panel discussion is also planned at Aston Hall where attendees will be welcomed with a drink in the splendour of the Great Hall, with a chance to view a miniature of Arjumand Banu Begum from the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery collection.

Portrait of Mumtaz Mahal (Queen Arjumand Banu), 1840-1890BMAG
Portrait of Mumtaz Mahal (Queen Arjumand Banu), 1840-1890

The audience will then move up to the Long Gallery to hear Sonia Sabri (Artistic Director of the Sonia Sabri Company) and leading academic experts, including Dr Neelam Hussain from the University of Birmingham and Dr Malini Roy from the British Library, as they discuss the cultural significance of Persian and Mughal miniature artworks, their multi-cultural roots, and modern debates around the representation of women in and decolonisation of such works.

Mughal Miniatures panellist Sonia Sabri is a teacher and a multi award-winning dance artist and choreographer, and considered to be one of the world’s leading Kathak dancer.

Wolverhampton-born Sabri was inspired to explore Classical Indian dancing by her father when she was 8-years-old. Despite being bullied at school, and being introverted and shy, dance allowed her to boost her confidence and she gained valuable experience by taking Kathak dance classes at the Midlands Art Centre in Birmingham.

Wolverhampton-born Sonia Sabri has used dance to transform the lives of womenSimon Richardson
Wolverhampton-born Sonia Sabri has used dance to transform the lives of women

Sabri has been creating work that spans from the presentation of classical roots of Kathak to explorations of contemporary approaches. Her productions reflect an appreciation of Western and Eastern cultures which allows audiences to break down cultural barriers and view the world with fresh eyes.

Her visionary approach to South Asian dance has created a fresh, unique style of Kathak by reinventing it from within, by pushing boundaries and generating work that is original in concept and exciting and relevant to a contemporary audience.

Sabri also uses dance as a platform to highlight female emancipation, and for society to understand the rights of women to purse their happiness in a world that is still mired in inequality and swift social and moral judgement. She wants to challenge restrictive cultural barriers that women contend with on a daily basis and inspire society to embrace a more tolerant attitude that allows freedom and removes fear.

Dr Neelam Hussain is an academic at the University of Birmingham MIAH
Dr Neelam Hussain is an academic at the University of Birmingham

Also taking part in the Mughal Miniatures panel discussion is Dr Neelam Hussain who is a historian specialising in the intellectual and cultural history of the medieval Islamicate world.

She has worked with departments across the University of Birmingham teaching on modules in Islamic history, art history, Islamic studies and research methods. As part of her work with the Mingana Collection, Dr Hussain has worked on various projects and exhibitions on the Birmingham Qur’an Manuscript.

Dr Hussain has presented her academic research and her advocacy on increasing the engagement of minority groups and people of colour in the arts and culture sector at national and international conferences. She has also published on this subject, with the aim to suggest ways to close the participation gap in the museum and heritage sector.

Dr. Malini Roy is the Curator of Visual Arts at the British LibraryBritish Library
Dr. Malini Roy is the Head of Visual Arts at the British Library

The third guest invited to the Mughal Miniatures panel discussion is Dr Malini Roy who is the Head of Visual Arts at the British Library in London.

Dr Roy is a researcher, tutor, historian and a specialist in Indian miniatures, and in 2012 she curated the Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire exhibition at the British Library.

Her interest and passion for the subject has opened up the art of India to a whole new generation of people in Britain. She provides a detailed social, religious and political backdrop to the art which makes for a deeper understanding of the astonishing miniatures produced in India during the Mughal period.

Aston Hall’s Mughal Miniatures day will showcase and celebrate South Asian art and dance, and give visitors a rare opportunity to discover and enjoy performances in a beautiful setting.

Tickets for the event can been booked here.

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