Asian women & cars: Artist explores the Road to Independence


A NEW exhibition will explore the first generation of South Asian women who learned to drive in the UK – and the resistance they met while pursuing it.  

Asian Women & Cars: The Road to Independence is an art installation and film which features an array of stories by females who benefited from learning to drive.

For the project, artist Dawinder Bansal collected stories and photographs of migrant Asian women showing their experiences.

The inspiration for Asian Women & Cars, commissioned by Multistory, came after Bansal looked through old family photo albums.

Although she noticed many images of her father and brothers with cars, there was only one featuring her mother.

Throughout her life, Bansal said her mother had always wanted to learn how to drive – but never did.

In exploring women’s experiences, Bansal discovered they often found resistance when it concerned driving lessons.

Dawinder’s mum Joginder and brother Jaspal with their first family car

For instance, one Asian woman featured in Bansal’s film, who came to the UK in 1958, was expected to wed at a young age. When married, her family did not see a reason why she should learn to drive.

“It was very much a time when it was expected that a woman should be dependent on a man,” Bansal explained.

It was only in rare cases that women told her that their families had been supportive of their driving aspirations.

“Driving is a powerful thing – it is physical movement and being able to do anywhere and being able to do what you want and be completely independent,” Bansal said. “It wasn’t something that was encouraged at that time.”

Another individual, who is deaf, featured in the film spoke of her disability and how it affected her growing up.

Despite her hearing loss, she fought to go to university and driving was one of the things that she wanted to learn. However, when she started taking lessons, relatives and friends of the family questioned her motives.

“For instance, her father’s friend asked her father: ‘why are you letting your daughter drive? You should just marry her off,’” she said. “That was the attitude back then.”

Today, many south Asian women drive, and attitudes have seemingly changed. Young women are encouraged to pursue university, build a career and be independent.

The project also features contemporary images of Asian women with their cars

Bansal’s project, which is part of the part of Blast Photo Festival, aims to celebrate “the first generation who battled against patriarchy and traditional family structures to gain independence.”

Does she believe those traditional values still exist?

“I think there are some families that do still have those traditional values, where the roles are very divided,” she mused. “Once, women were encouraged to be resourceful in the home, but not outside the home as that was seen as the man’s world.

“But British Asians have been settled into the UK for quite a number of years and largely, things have changed.”

Bansal, who learned to drive when she was 24, is encouraging others to submit their stories and photographs to the project. As well as interest in the UK, she has received entries from Australia and India.

Her aim is to include historical images, but also feature contemporary experiences.

“I firmly believe that today’s photographs are tomorrow’s historical archives and records,” she said. “In 100 years, I know this archive will be of great value to future generations.”

The Asian Women and Cars exhibition is showing at The British Muslim School, West Bromwich, until June 29.

People can also submit their photos and car stories to