Anand Chhabra with his Space Station art project. Part of the SUPNAA: Dreams of our Fathers exhibition

SUPNAA: Dreams of our Fathers by Anand Chhabra

One family’s hopes of a new life are explored in ongoing photography project SUPNAA: Dreams of our Fathers.

The series tells the story of Anand Chhabra’s parents migration from India to the UK in the 1960s and their formative years in the Black Country and Midlands.

The 1960s saw a mass migration of Punjabis to the UK.

Despite being invited by the government, they arrived during tensions and protests.

The 1964 Smethwick election is considered the most racist in UK history.

In 1968, Enoch Powell gave his notorious Rivers of Blood speech.

Despite this, SUPNAA: Dreams of our Fathers is a story of hope, dreams and positivity in the face of adversity.

As Chhabra says: “This is the story of the people who have given me life.”

Anmol Chhabra plays with a PSLV model of the India Satellite Launch Vehicle. Part of the SUPNAA: Dreams of our Fathers series.
Anand Chhabra’s brother Anmol toying with a replica PSLV model of the India Satellite Launch Vehicle which he bought in India as a reminder of their father’s ambition © Anand Chhabra

Personal hopes, dreams and faith

Supnaa means dream.

Images directly connected to Chhabra’s family’s own hopes and faith make up SUPNAA: Dreams of our Fathers.

They sit in four categories – family photos, portraits, ephemera and conceptual images.

The conceptual images are not always recognisable but are laden with meaning.

Chhabra describes them as dreamscapes.

“Together these photographs, in a nuanced way, attempt to describe my family’s story along with their particular gestures and poses.”

Ananand Chhabra's father with an astronaut's helmet drawn around his face to represent his love of space. Part of the SUPNAA: Dreams of Our Fathers series.
Dad the Astronaut © Anand Chhabra

Dreaming of space

A recent focus of the project has been the dreams of Chhabra’s father, in particular his love of space.

“He was always fascinated by space,” says Chhabra.

“He took the day off to watch man landing on the moon. That was quite something – he never took a day off.”

One of Chhabra’s favourite images is Dad the Astronaut.

Taken before the moon landing in 1969 it encapsulates his positive outlook on life.

“I have drawn an astronaut’s helmet on this picture as my father was so fascinated by astronomy and his unfulfilled ambition for me was to be an astronaut,” says Chhabra.

Space Station depicts Chhabra at 10 years old holding a school art project.

“My father was very excited when I bought this home and took a picture next to the poster of space exploration, he put up in the study room.

“He kept the Space Station sculpture until the day he died.”

A PSLAV model of the Indian Satellite Launch Vehicle. Part of SUPNAA: Dreams of our Fathers.
PSLV model of Indian Satellite Launch Vehicle © Anand Chhabra

An untold story

The story of early Punjabi migrants to the UK remains largely untold photographically.

In 2016, Wolverhampton’s photographic archives contained almost nothing about the Punjabi community despite them making up around 15 per cent of the total population.

“Our identity and who we are hasn’t mattered,” says Chhabra.

He hopes to address this as SUPNAA: Dreams of our Fathers continues ‘further and deeper’.

SUPNAA: Dreams of our Fathers

Anand Chhabra was runner up for the Spectrum Portfolio Award at FORMAT Festival.

SUPNAA: Dreams of our Fathers is available to view online as part of FORMAT21: Control until 5 March 2023.

Click here to find out more about Chhabra and view the exhibition.

A physical exhibition will be held in October. Check the FORMAT website for updates.

Spectrum Photographic provided a a 20 x 24” print as part of Chhabra’s prize.

Main image: Space Station © Anand Chhabra