Social issues are at the heart of Jaskirt Boora’s photography. Born in Birmingham, her work centres around engaging with her local community, and capturing ordinary people. Whether this is through her ‘People, Place and Sport’ series, a celebration of the diverse community in the West Midlands through looking at sport, or ‘Birmingham Lockdown Stories’, Jaskirt shines a light on people through her photography. Her work is not just visual, capturing audio conversations with her subjects, and there’s a book to convey the ‘People, Place and Sport’ project.
Jaskirt describes photography as a way of doing “something about all of these social issues that really trouble me and really upset me.”
“To avoid that anger I channel it into something positive that I can give back to the community.”
This is very much the message you receive from her ‘People, Place and Sport’ project. Each of her subjects – regardless of age, gender or ethnicity – is displayed as powerful in different ways.
‘People, Place and Sport’ combines Jaskirt’s love of sport with her interest in going out and talking to people. This led her to approach community clubs across a range of sports, from bowls to MMA. Subjects were shot in their local sports clubs or where they trained, with Jaskirt and her assistants chatting to them to ensure they were comfortable. Instead of posing them, she likes them to feel natural, focusing on the framing and the lighting.
From April till the end of August the exhibition will be located across eight different exhibition sites, displayed alongside a code for the audio where you can hear the subjects in their own words. The locations are not where you’d expect, however. Rather than white wall art galleries, some sit in Birmingham Coach Station or St Paul’s Square among other places. This is central to the message behind Jaskirt’s photography. Art existing in public spaces means anyone can come into contact with her photography, reaching wider audiences, rather than art being limited to a certain group of people.
“Accessibility is paramount because some of these communities might not even go into those white wall galleries that are really intimidating spaces. But they would go to a park or they would walk through a town centre. They would go to these kinds of spaces and that was really key in where we were thinking to show them.”
Jaskirt contrasts her images of people actively participating in sport, with photographs of empty sports venues. These are chilling in comparison and reflect the emptiness of these spaces due to lockdown. The pandemic has fed into her photography especially through her ‘Birmingham Lockdown Stories’. Jaskirt aimed to capture members of the community’s experiences of lockdown by photographing them in a space that represented their lockdown. For some these spaces included the parks they would walk through or their own back gardens.
Her portrait of Doctor Mavi won the Portrait of Britain award. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery also obtained twelve of her portraits for their permanent collection, showing how her work also documents social history, through looking at the pandemic.
Previously, she has volunteered at the women’s refuge. Together with the women at the refuge they created a zine telling their stories alongside images they shot on disposable cameras. She aims to volunteer at the refuge again, feeling her work is not done there.
In the meantime she has been commissioned by the BBC to make a short film as part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival. It places Jaskirt out of her comfort zone as she is used to only producing still images. However, the subject matter seems to align with Jaskirt’s interests, focusing on the journey of an individual through grassroots sports. This project coincides with the Commonwealth Games, which will be held in Birmingham later this summer.
For Jaskirt, the Commonwealth Games is a double edged sword. The Games on the one hand has driven investment and attention into the arts and sports in Birmingham, and she hopes the summer festival will liven up the city. However, the history of the Commonwealth and its links to the British empire means the Games can be associated with the issues and atrocities that were a product of colonial rule. One positive Jaskirt has noticed however is that “the festival hasn’t shied away from going ‘Okay. We know people are uncomfortable with the Commonwealth Games but let's make some work on it.’”
She adds there are people receiving funding who are “talking about issues to do with the Commonwealth and the issues to do with colonialism.”
This seems to be a better approach than to hide the history in favour of the event, allowing the Games to go ahead but making people aware of the issues with the Commonwealth historically.
It is fascinating to see photography that reflects the ordinary and diversity of communities in the West Midlands. Jaskirt’s portraits feel as if they will persevere, especially her ‘Lockdown Stories’. We may always recall the pandemic as a dark time, which it was for many in terms of loneliness, loss of family members and decline in mental health. However, Jaskirt communicates the moments of joy, regaining community and neighbourliness, and displaying people in the places that might have brought them some happiness during the pandemic, which is important to do amongst other social issues.
To see ‘People, Place and Sport’ in full head to the various sites in Birmingham where they are displayed. These can be found on her website https://www.jaskirtboora.com/ alongside her other projects.
For the full interview head over to Voice’s YouTube.