Decolonising History

Decolonising History

A Tamasha Digital Project for SOAS, supported by Arts Council England


“The discipline of History as we know it today is a product of the age of European empire. This has had profound consequences for our understanding of where ‘history’ happens and who shapes it.”  – Dr Eleanor Newbigin, SOAS University of London


For years, students and staff at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) have been active voices in debates about ‘Decolonising History’ – what it means in practice, and if it is even possible. Inspired in part by SOAS’s own uncomfortable past as a training college for officers of the British Empire, SOAS History department hosted five Tamasha playwrights on an access-all-areas basis. These five thrilling 20-minute audio dramas reflect what they found.


Exploring issues from politicised teaching, to the legacy of trauma, to the joys of discovering uncelebrated historical figures, these five plays showcase the power of drama to unpack big ideas in a human and relatable way. The dramas will be played to a live audience at four ‘gathered listening’ events in theatres and cultural spaces across the UK, starting with a world premiere at SOAS (London) on 8 October.


Accompanying the playback will be panel debates involving SOAS staff, students and playwrights – your opportunity to ask questions about the journey they have been on together, and about this fascinating subject. Of the 5 audio dramas, we shall be hosting playbacks from Amy Ng and Bushra Laskar:


A Form of Colonisation by Amy Ng
When SOAS History student Ai Ling Lo fails her latest essay on the last Chinese emperor Pu Yi, she goes to challenge her lecturer about her consistently harsh marking. Little does she realise this will set in motion a chain of events for them both, echoing the relationship between Pu Yi and his Scottish colonial tutor, Reginald Johnstone. A smart and timely examination of the power politics of teacher-student relationships across the centuries.


The Questions You Ask by Bushra Laskar
As Aisha Saikia waits in hospital for news of her mother, undergoing brain surgery after a debilitating stroke, an old classmate, Sunny, shows up to pay his respects to his old History teacher. But when it turns out that ‘Psycho Saikia’ told the two of them very different stories about a traumatic experience from her past, Aisha is forced to question everything she thought she knew about her mum, and herself.


Our panellists are:

  • Satinder Chohan – writer
  • Aisha Mahmood
  • Sarah Schell (SOAS)
  • Malakai Sargeant (Chair)


<<< TICKETS >>>

Tickets are £5 for general admission and £3 for students. Tickets can be booked here via Eventbrite.

Doors open at 19.00 and the event itself will start at 19.30.


Our panel includes:

Malakaï Sargeant (panel chair). Malakaï is a writer, producer, theatre director and dramaturg from pre-gentrified Hackney. He has presented work both as an artist and producer at venues including the Bush Theatre, SOAS University of London, Soho Theatre, Hackney Empire, the Royal Exchange and Battersea Arts Centre.

His commissions include Nationwide, Apples & Snakes, the RSC, the Royal Court Theatre and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The Latte Drinker that Split the Tea, his essay on social cleansing edited by Nikesh Shukla, was recently featured in the anthology 21 Stories From Britain’s Youth, published by Unbound (2019).

A Barbican Young Poets alumni and member of creative collective (In)Space, Malakaï co-founded and was Artistic Director of producing theatre company The S+K Project between 2014-2019, and is currently co-director of Afro-diasporic literary movement BORN::FREE. He is Tamasha’s Digital Producer and is currently Artist-in-Residence at Theatre Peckham. You can follow Malakaï on Twitter via @malakaisargeant


Satinder Chohan is a journalist and documentary researcher/assistant producer turned playwright from Southall, West London. Her plays include Zameen (Kali Theatre tour), KabaddiKabaddiKabaddi (Pursued By A Bear/Kali), 1984 (Vibrant Festival, Finborough Theatre) and Lotus Beauty, a Sultan Padamsee Playwriting Award Runner-Up.

As Writer-in-Residence at the Centre for Family Research (Cambridge University), she wrote Half of Me about young people born from Assisted Reproductive Technologies, first performed by Generation Arts (Lyric Hammersmith). She received’s 2013 Adopt A Playwright Award to develop Made in India (Tamasha Theatre), which toured the UK in 2017 and received the 2017 ACTA Award for Best Production.

Satinder is currently writing Garlands for BBC Radio 3, adapting The Girl of Ink and Stars for a library tour across the East Midlands, writing short film Bussing and a novel about the Punjabi diaspora alongside other developing theatre, film and radio projects. #SatinderChohan


Aisha Mahmood is an experienced community focused activist, with a demonstrated history of working in the social services sector, and an academic foundation in anthropology. Skilled in social research, facilitation, consultancy and writing, her career has spanned across a decade, and includes studying at (and withdrawing from) Cambridge University.

Embedded within various communities in Birmingham, Aisha currently holds a role in the delivery of grassroots activities and organising. Alongside this, she recently carried out community facilitation and research for Transforming Narratives, and now sits on the steering board for the project, as well as the Cultural Leadership and Archive & Legacy subgroups. She is particularly interested in decolonial thinking and practice, accessibility and inclusivity, cultural transformation, and radical change.

Aisha’s work continues to explore what decolonising really looks like in practice; is it possible, or is colonisation a perpetually shifting, inevitable process? While we quite easily recognise white-instigated neo-colonialism, she poses to us as the diaspora in the Global North – how critical do we need to be of our own role in propping up hegemony? You can follow Aisha on Twitter via @AisjaMahmood


Sarah Schell is an international development and program management professional.

Previously as a Program Support Officer she supported USAID South Sudan’s $110 million Viable Support to Transition and Stability (VISTAS) program to facilitate peacebuilding; political transitions through meaningful dialogue; mitigating the further spread of violence; trauma awareness; and building inter-communal dependencies.

Sarah also worked with local and federal U.S. government agencies to develop district and state-wide environmental conservation legislation, promote small businesses, and advocate on behalf of the Washington DC/Virginia/Maryland hospitality and small business sectors. Sarah is well-versed in the fluid, contextually-complex nature of the current working environment of South Sudan.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Global Studies with a minor in Business Administration from Bryant University, and is currently studying at SOAS for a Master’s degree in Social Anthropology. You can follow Sarah on Twitter via @SarahASchell


The other playbacks in the project are:

Scar Tissue by Satinder Chohan
When sisters Neeti and Priya travel back to India to scatter their grandmother’s ashes, Neeti takes with her the final recordings their beloved Bibi made on her death bed. Haunted by her past and gripped by strange visitations, Bibi’s voice follows them on their journey, before revealing a devastating secret.

The Museum by Danusia Samal
Once upon a time, a desperate man accepted an offer he couldn’t refuse for a collection of highly personal community artefacts at risk from war. Years later his daughter, on a scholarship to a London university, seeks out the academic she holds responsible. What lengths is she prepared to go to, to reclaim this lost museum?

The Bigger Picture by Guleraana Mir
On a cold autumn day, a lone hawk is spotted on SOAS campus, killing and mutilating pigeons. Meanwhile, Saima is struggling to get her lecturer to accept the subject for her dissertation – sixteenth century Indian warrior queen Chand Bibi. How can women take up their rightful place in history when the records of their achievements are so sparse? The answer comes from an unlikely source. Is any of it real, or a product of Saima’s grief-stricken mind?



Tamasha means ‘commotion’, creating a stir. We have a 30-year history of reaching new writing audiences and specialise in making new work for the stage inspired by the ever-changing cultures of contemporary Britain. We aim to spark distinctive social discourse through compelling theatre experiences that place the voices of emerging and established artists from culturally diverse backgrounds centre-stage. You can find out more about Tamasha Theatre here.


SOAS University of London is the leading Higher Education institution in Europe specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East. Find out more about SOAS here.



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Date & Time

November 6, 2019 | 19:30 to 21:30


Impact Hub Birmingham


Entry Fee

Cost for Members: £5

Cost for Non Members: £5/£3

Updated on 04 November 2019