Panchayat was a collective of artists and cultural practitioners founded in London in 1988 by Shaheen Merali and Al-An deSouza* in consultation with Bhajan Hunjan, Symrath Patti and Shanti Thomas in response to the need for greater representation of Southern world and First Nation artists. The name ‘Panchayat’ refers to a council of village elders on the Indian Subcontinent. Alongside its curatorial and educational work, Panchayat initiated a practice of collective archiving, led by Merali and deSouza, to record the creative and intellectual contributions of artists of South Asian, Caribbean, African and Indigenous heritage to British and transnational art history from the late 1980s to the early 2000s.
Initially called the Panchayat Arts Education Resource Unit, this archival collection and library was based originally in Old Spitalfields Market and was deeply informed by the culture and politics of East London. In 1997 it was moved to the University of Westminster Library, and then in 2015 it was donated to Tate Library, where it was designated a special collection and is accessible to all members of the public for research, learning and imaginative enquiry.
The collection consists of books, slides, exhibition publications, journals, photographs, videos and documentation. It addresses intersecting questions pertaining to race, gender, sexuality, colonialism, (dis)ability, migration, exile, political Blackness and Third-Worldism. Collated files of ephemera dedicated to individual artists allow for in-depth engagement with their practices and trajectories, as do folders related to specific subjects, themes and countries.
This online research resource provides art historical, cultural, socio-political and institutional context for Panchayat. It surfaces crucial histories of network building, organising, solidarity and kinship among artists of colour in Britain, practices of countering erasure and maintaining collective memory. At the heart of the resource are five conversations orchestrated by the two keepers of the collection, Shaheen Merali and Janice Cheddie. These will be accompanied by further reflections including essays, profiles on key individuals associated with Panchayat and a guide to accessing the collection at the Tate Library.