Pratibha Parmar

Sari Red

3 July – 13 July

Sari Red

1988, 12 mins, colour

In memory of Kalbinder Kaur Hayre

“Invisible winds carrying words of hatred” Sari Red.


Made in memory of Kalbinder Kaur Hayre, a young Indian woman killed in 1985 in a racist attack in England, Sari Red eloquently examines the effect of the ever-present threat of violence upon the lives of Asian women in both private and public spheres. In this moving visual poem, the title refers to red, the colour of blood spilt and the red of the sari, symbolizing sensuality and intimacy between Asian women.


Sari Red (1988) is a video poem, a poetical memorial to the death of one young Indian woman at the hands of racists. It references nationalism, neo-Fascism, Britain in 1980-90s, immigration, hate crimes and fighting back for self and dignity. The video makes a break with the ‘master codes’ of cinema by using culturally specific signs and symbols to create a mise-en-scene of this loss and bereavement.

My work criss-crosses boundaries helping audiences make the connections, think outside of particular, personal points of identity and look at different kinds of struggles with a view to illuminating what it means to not merely to exist but to co-exist.

These connections, across nation, race, gender and ability make for a critical and rigorous examination of identity, empathy and what it means to be human.

The forgotten histories, subjectivities, realities and every day struggles add yet another component. In my work, I have sought to reclaim the overlooked, the censored, the wilfully forgotten, and to reflect these narratives back so that audiences have the opportunity to do the same.


That Moment of Emergence by Pratibha Parmar – quotes from essay published in Queer Looks (1993), edited By Martha Gever, Pratibha Parmar, John Greyson

“By reflecting on my own working practices as a filmmaker and video artist, and in unfolding my personal and historical context, I hope to be able to contribute to the ongoing development of a general theoretical framework for discussing the cultural and political significance of black arts in postcolonial Britain. It is a framework that differs from previous forms of cultural critiques because of the ways in which it seeks to centralize the black subjectivity and our experiences of difference. The more we assert our own identities as historically marginalized groups, the more we expose the tyranny of so-called centre.

I came into making videos and films from a background in political activism and cultural practice, and not from film school or art school. As an Asian woman I have never considered myself as somebody’s ‘other’ nor have I seen myself as ‘marginal’ to an ubiquitous, unchanging, monolithic ‘centre’.

There is a particular history that informs the thematic concerns of my work as much as my aesthetic sensibilities. That history is about forced migration to an England that is intensely xenophobic and insular, an England that is so infused with outdated notions of itself as the Mother Country for its ex-colonial subjects that it refuses to look at the ashes of its own images as a decaying nation, let alone a long-dead empire.

When my family, like many other Indian families, arrived in Britain in the mid-sixties, anti-black feelings were running high and ‘Paki-bashing’ was a popular sport amongst white youths. It was in the school playground that I first encountered myself as an undesirable alien, objectified in the frame of ‘otherness’. All those of us perceived as ‘marginal’, ‘peripheral’ and the ‘other’ know what it is like to be defined by someone else’s reality and often someone else’s psychosis.

We can read ourselves against another people’s pattern, but since it is not Ours…we emerge as its effects, its errata, and its counter narratives. Whenever we try to narrate ourselves, we appear as dislocations in their discourse. Edward Said4”

“I do not speak from a position of marginalization but more crucially from the resistance of that marginalization. As a filmmaker, it is important for me to reflect upon the process through which I constantly negotiate the borderlines between shifting territories…between the margin and the centre…between inclusion and exclusion…between visibility and invisibility”

“What we have been seeing in recent years is the development of a new politics of difference, which states that we are not interested in defining ourselves in relation to someone else or something else, nor are we simply articulating our culture and sexual differences. This is not a unique position, but one that is shared by many cultural activists and critics on both sides of the Atlantic. We are creating a sense of ourselves and our place within different and sometimes contradictory communities, not simply in relation to…not in opposition to…not in reversal to…nor as a corrective to racism and homophobia, we locate ourselves not within any one community but in spaces between these different communities.”

The website of Pratibha’s production company, Kali Films, can be found here


“At the same time, red and blood denote positive images of the survival of Indian cultural traditions, traditions that celebrate red as the colour of India, of the Great Goddess of India, of “the very essence of energy, of joy, of life itself” (Erikson). Red is the colour of women, of femininity, the colour of the clothing of Indian women, the sari.” Women Film-makers of the African & Asian Diaspora: Decolonizing the Gaze, Locating Subjectivity, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster.

“The video works most sharply, however,by repetition and accumulation. The phrase “blood against the wall” reoccurs on the soundtrack, and red liquid splashed on a brick wall reiterates as an image. These are not nature’s consoling repetitions. They are cold, piercing warnings. At times images overlie each other. reducing simplicity and complicating reality. And at times voices tumble, echoing, vibrating suggesting various perspectives on the awful event.

The complexity of the aesthetics, including the visual superimpositions and overlapping of sounds, in addition to the poetic, repetitive quality of both the images and the voice-over, makes us aware of representation as representation. The vision of the world in Sari Red is clearly contingent on the where and when of the video’s maker. As if she were following Ruby’s directive, Pratibha Parmar gives her images of the world in such a way that we understand them to be dependent on her political and social situation, as well as her intellectual and aesthetic mission. Born in the resistance and opposition to singular views of lived experience, the video is part of a larger social movement to query the construction and proliferation of one dimensional views of cultural identity.” Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning, Louise Spence and Vinicius Navarro.


For a profile of Pratibha see the website of her production company, Kali Films



2013 Alice Walker Beauty in Truth
2006 Nina’s Heavenly Delights


2008 Playing Dead
2000 Sita Gita
1997  Wavelengths
1994  Memsahib Rita


2008 Diversity in Motion
1998 The Righteous Babes
1990 Brimful of Asia
1996 Jodie: An Icon
1994 The Colour of Britain
1993 Warrior Marks
1992 Double Trouble Twice The Fun
1991 A Place of Rage
1991 Khush
1990 Flesh and Paper
1990 Bhangra Jig
1989 Memory Picture
1988 Sari Red
1987 Reframing AIDS
1986 Emergence


Actress: Chila Kumari Burman

Voiceover: Shaheen Haque

Other Voices: Gurinder Chadda, Paul Adabie, Pratibha Parmar and Rashid Meer

Slides: Southall Black Resistance – Chila Kumari Burman and Keith Piper

Researcher and Production Assistant: Jemini Pandya

Soundtrack: Trevor Mathieson

Camera: Pratibha Parmar

Editors: Bruna Fionda and Pratibha Parmar

Post Production: Anarres Video

Written and Directed: Pratibha Parmar


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