Kiran’s diverse career history includes work as an artist, curator, and teacher; and encompasses award-winning national and international arts, cultural and human rights programs in the UK. After 9/11, for example, he developed folk and faith-based programs at National Museums Scotland; and he has created a number of peace and conflict resolution initiatives exploring issues of religious, ethnic, and sectarian conflicts in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In his other arts-led projects, he has tackled such issues as poverty, gang violence, modern-day slavery—working with refugees affected by war and persecution, including socially marginalized people such as migrant Roma communities. As an artist and community curator of St Mungo Museum of Religion in Scotland, Kiran developed one of the largest arts based anti sectarian project. Kiran went on to lead the Helen Keller International Arts award, establishing disability arts part of Glasgow’s Creative UNESCO City of Music. More recently as a Rotary World Peace Fellow, he has focused on the folklore of homeless persons through a shelter community and how to bring the together the international development community with arts and culture. As a folklorist, he emphasizes his interest in “the power of human creativity, arts, and social justice, and the notion of a truly multicultural society.”
Personal Statement – Examples of professional folklore related experience:
St Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art
In 2002, I was offered the full time post of learning curator at St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow, the UK’s only museum of religion. It was the first post of its type and therefore I was tasked to establish and build a program from scratch. I completed my master’s thesis St. Mungo Museum – Tackling sectarianism whilst in my new post which I used as an action plan to establish Scotland’s first citizenship and understanding sectarianism heritage project. I focused on sectarianism as a problem in which Scotland had few resources in which to understand this subject fully, by drawing from my original research. Without initially realising it, being an outsider to the city, as well as an English born Sikh, this opened up unique perspectives and opportunities to experience and work with people across the Christian denominations, including Protestant societies such as The Orange Order and Roman Catholic run Republican groups, such as The Hibernian Lodges. This allowed me to work with a diverse group of artists, poets and musicians and cross border community relations from across the divided communities within Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I developed a ‘Societies Emerging from Conflict’ partnership with Ulster museum, in Belfast, which used museum objects, including those I actively collected to explore the stories by people affected by the sectarian ‘troubles’. I worked directly with community leaders, people of diverse faith traditions, ex paramilitary members, as well as ‘football old firm’ supporters and territorial gang members, to collect stories, songs, jokes and sectarian related objects. This program went on to become one of the largest and most successful programs of its type in the UK and Ireland. Receiving official recognition from both The Scottish Government and The Northern Ireland Assembly, allowing me to develop these programs further and work directly with cross political parties from Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as learn and share models of practice with counterparts from Palestine, Israel, The Middle East and North Africa.
Exploring contemporary issues
In the lead-up to the 2007 bi-centenary commemorations of the abolition of the British slave trade, I initiated a city-wide coordinated response to marking this important and significant year which came to be known as “Towards Understanding Slavery: Past and Present”. I developed relationships and carried out research with Glasgow’s diverse and emerging African diaspora community, including people of different faith traditions, artists, poets and musicians. This led to the development of a community exhibition and public program that used objects from museum collections historically collected and interpreted through only western institutional Euro-centric structures. The African ‘Voices’ exhibition sought to reinterpret these objects through first-person narratives of artists from Scotland’s ‘new communities’, by encouraging the relinquishing of institutional control and empowering diverse interpretations of the aesthetics of cultural property. This work challenged the idea of ‘static’ culture and sought to utilize contemporary traditions drawn from African and Caribbean folk traditions, including developing the first Glasgow Haitian Voodoo alter, a Rastafari reggae sound system, and the commissioning of new art works for the museum collections on themes of ‘products of slavery’ by working with artists of mixed British and African Caribbean heritage.
Goals and aspirations
While I have managed to create, experience and form many interesting projects, I feel privileged to be continually learning from others I meet. The opportunity to learn and collaborate with other folklorists, community and cultural practitioners, artists, and people from diverse walks of life enables me to promote the use of social justice folklore and contribute to creating opportunities for more people to see folklore, traditional arts and emergent cultural expressions, as a way forward for peace and conflict resolution and prevention. I am continually harnessing my skills, in realizing the potential of using folklore to build sustainable peace-building initiatives across our societies, always in collaboration with others.