Illuminating the art of Bhangra

Illuminating the art of Bhangra

‘Bhangra Lexicon’ by Huddersfield-based dancer Hardeep Sahota offers a ‘visual dictionary’ of Bhangra dance movements captured in energetic light paintings 

A new photographic series conceived by Hardeep Sahota, a dancer and founder of World Bhangra Day, is giving the art of Bhangra a new visual twist. 

‘Bhangra Lexicon’, now on view in a digital Yorkshire Sculpture Park exhibition, sees the motions of Bhangra transformed into glorious optical explosions that echo the vitality of the dance. The energetic series, created in collaboration with photographer Tim Smith, makes use of a long-exposure camera, in which the nuance of each gesture is captured in vivid, sinuous strokes akin to calligraphy. 

Bhangra, a dance form that originated in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan, was traditionally performed by farming communities to hail the arrival of the spring harvest festival Vaisakhi. By studying, cataloguing and documenting 300 dance movements, Sahota sought to develop a ‘visual dictionary’ of Bhangra and its subgenres, preserving it as a visual repertoire for contemporary practitioners and generations to come.

Hardeep Sahota, Bhangra Lexicon, 2021

Hardeep Sahota, Bhangra Lexicon, 2021. Rashmi Sudhir, Mohiniattam - South Indian classical dance. Photography © Tim Smith

To create the images, dancers from various disciplines – including Irish dancing, breakdancing and Bhangra – held coloured lights during their performances. Their routines were shot in semi-darkness in different parts of Yorkshire, including Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s Formal Garden. The series explores how each movement correlates with the beat of the Dhol, a double-sided, barrel-shaped drum which forms the rhythmic foundations of Bhangra music and dance. 

Bhangra Lexicon offers a new physicality to the ephemeral nature of dance, a fusion of creative forms and a celebration of global Bhangra as it’s never been seen before. § 

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