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Print and Matter x Balsall Heath Library

April 3, 2024

Abeera Kamran, a typographic researcher is presenting a powerpoint.

In April 2023, Moseley Road Baths reached out to Print and Matter, marking the start of an inspiring collaboration. Print and Matter is an innovative project, started by Sofia Niazi from One of my Kind (OOMK), that offers public workshops and a free art school opportunity. Each series explores a unique theme and allows participants to meet creative practitioners from around the country, develop skills and create content that is then launched on both local and national platforms. After speaking to Librarians and experiencing Print and Matter’s workshops and talks at Gap Arts,  Moseley Road Baths had an initial conversation with a team of their artists (some of which had come from their recent programmes) the opportunity to develop participatory and socially engaged activity and printed pieces in connection with Balsall Heath Library, and in particular the Urdu collection.

From research and consultation, we knew Urdu was widely spoken in Balsall Heath. However, due to a history of systemic cultural regulation (deliberate or otherwise), and the elitism within language hierarchies, Urdu has often been dismissed and devalued, particularly in western literary spaces. This is something that is still evident in public libraries, and reliant upon librarians themselves having knowledge and interest in languages other than English, thus reinforcing a barrier affecting many within the local area. Literature, and books, are more than the the written word – in any language – with world building, images, and oral traditions providing further richness and insight and making libraries, books, and reading more accessible and relevant to a range for audiences. Moseley Road Baths, therefore, wanted the programming to actively invite audiences to re-imagine Balsall Heath Library beyond books and the written word, and to think of it as a space in which ideas, languages, and all stories (real or imagined) are explored, nurtured, and preserved. Developing a bank of learnings from organisations, like Print and Matter, Open Theatre and JAAG Collective, Moseley Road Baths developed a vision and provocation that invited organisations, a steering group, and creative practitioners to bring their ideas, disrupt the ‘traditional’ and often ‘elitist’ concept of a library, and enact change. 

Five artists from Print and Matter (Anam Zafar, Sofia Niazi, Abeera Kamran, Aaisha Akhtar and Unaiza Karim), had the provocation in mind as they began a residency at Balsall Heath Library. During this time they got to know the collections, the space, library team and the regular library users – as well as interrogating the different barriers to the space and programme. They used their unique perspectives to develop five participatory workshops and interactive printed art for our Exchange Festival. These workshops included: 

Wor(l)d on the Street – A family friendly workshop in which you could design your own high street using multilingual stamps and cut-and-paste buildings significant to the local communities in Balsall Heath. 

Recipe Zine Workshop – Using recipe books in the library collection for inspiration, participants were invited to consider how to collect, write and illustrate recipes and make a simple zine from them. Audiences were encouraged to share their favourite recipes and the stories/memories associated with them. 

Urdu Typography – Abeera Kamran, a typographic researcher, shared the fascinating and often tense relationship Nastaliq, the style of script popular for writing Urdu has had with technology. She discussed Urdu’s rich print culture and reflected upon some of the challenges the language faces in a technology driven world.

Radical Potential of Libraries | A space to dream workshop – A workshop exploring the radical potential of libraries and how they can be used as a space to dream.

Cultural objects – In this workshop participants chose an object to draw connected to their culture in some way. Participants were invited to share some of the words/ stories/ memories embedded in these objects.

All of the printed materials are available to view and read – please check them out! Keep your eyes peeled for more work by Print and Matter.

Social Media: @printandmatter



This project was part of Diving In, made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund 

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