About Hardeep Sahota: Bhangra Lexicon

Bhangra Lexicon is the world’s first ‘visual dictionary’ of movements found within this beautiful artform, carefully compiled by World Bhangra Day founder, the Huddersfield-based dancer, Hardeep Sahota.

Bhangra is an energetic form of dance and music originated in the Panjab by farming communities during the spring harvest festival of Vaisakhi. Sahota has explored, documented and catalogued over 300 dance movements and gestures from Bhangra and its sub-genres to create a unique record that gathers together a rich body of knowledge, ensuring its preservation for future generations.

An exhibition of photographs from Bhangra Lexicon was exhibited in The Kitchen and alcoves in YSP Centre.

Watch some of the moves from the Bhangra Lexicon here:

The works in this new exhibition grew out of Sahota’s research. He collaborated with photographer Tim Smith to create dynamic images that give physical, even sculptural, form to the fleeting nature of dance through the fascinating medium of light painting. Dancers performed key moves whilst holding coloured lights in semi-darkness, so that every nuance of their actions was traced using long exposure photography. Flowing movements translated into bright, almost calligraphic strokes, capturing the individual character of each dance style. For this series, Sahota extended his enquiry into other genres and disciplines, including Irish dancing and Breakdancing as well as Bhangra. The atmospheric, vibrant photographs were taken in the evening at locations across Yorkshire, including YSP’s Formal Garden.

In images made using light painting, the person performing the action usually remains anonymous in the shadows, with the only focus being on the light. However, Sahota was keen that the costumes and cultural identities of the participants played an equally important role, so they are also illuminated using targeted flash. He describes how the creative collaborations between himself, the photographer and dancers are empowering for the participants, through working together to enmesh different disciplines and increase understanding of each artform.

Sahota’s academic enquiry to date has examined ephemeral elements of Bhangra moves, the movements or ‘Mudravan’, from the traditional ‘Puratan’ moves and how they correlate with specific Dhol (drum) beats, to more contemporary ‘Samakali’ interpretations that have evolved over time. The project’s exploration of the relationship between movement and image to present a formal ‘repertoire’ of Bhangra steps also acts as an online resource for learners to inscribe into their practice.

While the phenomenon of Bhangra now has a global reach with varied audiences around the world, its history, scope and depth are still not fully appreciated and so cannot be celebrated as they deserve to be. Sahota’s work strives to honour and extol this rich narrative through embedded research, vibrant performance and the meaningful bringing together of performers and communities.

Hardeep Sahota
Hardeep Sahota is a Huddersfield-based practitioner and specialist in Bhangra. He wrote the book Bhangra: Mystics, Music and Migration, which explores the origins of this folk song and dance from the Panjab in South Asia and its development into part of modern British culture in the hybrid soundscape of British Bhangra and beyond. This originated in academic research and the Heritage Lottery-funded Bhangra Renaissance project. Through ethnographic research, oral history interviews, performances, photography, story-telling and community activity it celebrates the past contribution of all those involved in Bhangra. This ground-breaking work provides an in-depth history of the spiritualism of performance and song, and an overview of the artists involved in influencing its development, as well as contemporaries leading the way of Bhangra’s renaissance amongst the South Asian diaspora in the UK and around the world. Hardeep is an Affiliate Fellow at the University of Huddersfield, in recognition of his research and work with the local community.

Tim Smith
Tim Smith is a freelance photographer and film-maker based in Bradford who works with a wide range of people to create exhibitions, publications and multi-media projects. Yorkshire and its diverse communities have provided the inspiration for much of this work, and acted as a springboard for many national and international projects. His work has been toured to over 20 countries overseas and is showcased in a dozen books.
Arts Council Funded Project

Find out about the life and work of artist Hardeep Sahota in our artist interview, designed to support young people to achieve their Bronze Arts Award:

This project is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England. Elizabeth Smith: creative consultant, bid writing and evaluation for Hardeep Sahota.

Photography by Tim Smith. Film by Danarjan Singh Sahota.