We caught up with the Birmingham-born poet, performer and curator Rupinder Kaur who explores and champions South Asian culture in Brum and beyond
Rupinder Kaur’s celebrated debut poetry collection Rooh, which means soul in Panjabi, was released when she was only 22 years old. Published by Verve Poetry Press, it’s a collection that pulls down borders combining English and Panjabi cultures using words from Panjabi, Hindi, Urdu and English. Rupinder began her route into poetry through spoken word in Brum and doesn’t shy away from often-avoided dinner party chat tackling religion, politics, gender inequality and regularly questioning orthodox views head-on. Mentored by poet Rachel Long and awarded a grant by the Arts Council, Rupinder is now working on her second collection which promises to be just as striking as Rooh.
Although Rupinder says some of her old work makes her cringe, those days of discovering her style and evolving through events and spoken word must have been exciting too. Rupinder reckons Birmingham’s spoken word scene is as good as any and thinks moving to London to find your voice and pursue a creative career isn’t necessary anymore. She is a perfect example. Rupinder has founded Azaad arts which explores traditional and contemporary arts in South Asia and in Birmingham.
Azaad means free and reflects Rupinder’s belief that artists should be able to express themselves without censorship. Rupinder is working on a project titled Sada Chidiyan da Chamba, which means Our Temporary Nest of Birds, exploring Panjabi wedding folk songs through the female narrative and earlier this year was named one of the BBC’s new creatives – the broadcaster’s talent development scheme offering commissioning opportunities to emerging creatives.
In terms of South Asian culture, it’s a great time to be in Birmingham. The city’s Transforming Narratives project seems a natural fit for Rupinder’s exploration of the region’s culture. The three-year project, managed by Culture Central and supported by Arts Council England and the British Council, aims to establish Birmingham as a global centre for contemporary Pakistani and Bangladeshi arts. The project spans visual arts, music, dance, theatre and combined arts and uses digital technology to link artists and creative organisations.
Rupinder’s involvement in the project is through Gully Zine which she created with friends and fellow creatives Nafeesa Hamid and Kamil Mahmood. Gully creates multidisciplinary zines giving a voice to South Asian artists linking up creatives in Bangladesh and Pakistan and ‘offering diaspora communities in Birmingham a vivid reality instead of an imagined homeland’.
Rupinder had planned to travel to Pakistan to take up an artist’s residency to explore the culture from a female perspective but unfortunately coronavirus scuppered that and she’s not sure when it will happen now. There’s a script recording scheduled this month as part of the BBC new creative scheme and the second collection of poetry to finish among other projects, so Rupinder’s pretty busy!