A historic exhibition celebrating the triumphs and tribulations of East London’s Bengali Activists is due to open on 10 June at The Four Corners Gallery in Bethnal Green, London. Work by the photographer Paul Trevor will be on display in Brick Lane 1978: The Turning Point (opens in new tab), revealing the hardships faced by the Bengali community in the late 1970s when institutional racism was rife.
On 4 May 1978, Altab Ali, a Bangladeshi garment worker, was stabbed to death in a racially motivated attack in Whitechapel Park, London. The incident triggered a mass protest which took place ten days later on 14 May 1978 where more than 7,000 Bengalis marched from Brick Lane to Hyde Park behind the coffin of Altab Ali. This unprecedented uprising against racist far-right groups, now commonly known as The Battle of Brick Lane became a significant moment in the resistance to institutional discrimination and Trevor was there to document it.
In the exhibition, Trevor makes it clear that the show is as much about the photos from the protest as it is about the words that accompany them. Alongside 75 images, Trevor will also share powerful narratives from the original activists who were in attendance. “They say a photo is worth a thousand words, but sometimes, as in this case, words are essential. This project is an opportunity to add the voices of those who made history to the images of that story,” he says.
This project would not have been possible were it not for Four Corners Gallery (opens in new tab) providing the exhibition space and a group of volunteers at The Swadhinata Trust (opens in new tab), a Bengali heritage focus group, who have helped to identify and interview many of the original activists. With funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (opens in new tab) and a huge contribution of never-before-seen work by Paul Trevor, it promises to be a moving exhibition of insight and reflection.
Julie Begum, Chair of Swadhinata Trust, said, “It is important to commemorate Altab Ali Day to remember the racist violence the Bengali community faced in the East End of London, and to celebrate the community’s united defense to defeat the evils of racism.”
To see the images for yourself and discover the stories of the people that marched in the Battle of Brick Lane, head to the exhibition (opens in new tab) between 10 June - 23 September. Admission is free.