The Birmingham Surrealist Laboratory: unlocking community, religion and the avant-garde in a super-diverse city

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Abstract

The Birmingham Surrealist Laboratory investigates the ways in which new digital facilities can help unlock complex issues of art, community and cultural sensitivity in a super-diverse city. The neighbourhood of Balsall Heath was home to the Birmingham Surrealist Group during the 1930s–1950s, which was arguably the locale for Orthodox British Surrealism nationally. Today, Balsall Heath has been identified as falling within the lowest 5% of neighbourhoods for multiple deprivations, and is home to a majority-minority community associated with conservative Islam. The neighbourhood offers productive ground for working through how digital technologies can be used to investigate multiple barriers to mainstream, and more subversive, manifestations of art, culture and heritage in an area with a conflicted past and high disengagement with institutions. The Birmingham Surrealist Laboratory project works directly with minority communities to open multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral dialogue that has significant insights for cultural and urban geography, arts industry and policy. Using multi-touch digital facilities at the Digital Humanities Hub, we tested the ways in which Surrealism translates to community participants recruited from Balsall Heath. This project aims to improve understanding on how the often irreligious and overtly sexual and violent symbolism of Surrealist art is encountered by diverse community groups from different ethnic and religious traditions. These perspectives locate experiences of avant-garde art and its legacy within a local landscape of fast-changing social, material and religious relations that shape individual agency in cultural engagement.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPublic Art Encounters
Subtitle of host publicationArt, Space and Identity
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRoutledge
ISBN (Print)9781472468796
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017

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