Daljinder Johal

"I’ve been inspired by the passion from others to not accept the stereotypes of the city, but make it a more creative and welcoming space for all"

What do you do?

I’m a creative (and honestly very nosey person) so I work across journalism, marketing, curation and production in addition to being a writer, publishing my fiction and essays in anthologies and magazines.

I’ve been involved in everything from outdoor festivals, podcasts looking at invisible disabilities, digital exhibitions on craftivism and theatre looking at social media identities online through an LGBT+, South Asian and intersectional feminist lens. But connecting it all, is my aim to create challenging, but ultimately joyful work that provides opportunities for connection and I choose projects in order to platform the unconventional or unheard stories of others.

A few of my recent projects alongside working with Leicester-based NPO ArtReach (and Journeys Festival International) include working with companies across the UK including the LGBT+ organisation Gaysians, in the vibrant Midlands arts scene with She Wants a Dog, or making worldwide connections as an Assistant Managing Editor with the literary journal, Asymptote.

How did you get to where you are?

I was born in Leicester, but studied English and French at the University of Warwick. Though I spent most of my time joining societies and working on events!

Like most English students, I was part of the university newspaper and contributed to the various literary journals, but I also helped to market an international current affairs magazine, organised society balls as well as produced community events in Coventry for families and for the environment. I did all of this without really thinking why - even when it meant filming outside in the freezing cold for hours on end as part of the film society!

Now, I can recognise it was because I love meeting new people and sharing a passion for creativity. But it was my time abroad in Paris, running around the city for the European Independent Film Festival and then at Cannes Film Festival, where I realised that I wanted the variety (and stress?) of a career in the arts.

I graduated and returned to Leicester in order to launch myself at every opportunity I could get to build a freelance career while working at coffee shops or in retail. Generally, I have got to where I am because of the support of others. I’ve been lucky to connect with other supportive producers and creatives. Whether it’s sharing knowledge to solve a unique problem or a night out bowling and dancing, their support has been invaluable.

Why do you love what you do?

Because the arts make people happy, create memories and provoke change. I grew up in a family that didn’t engage with the arts regularly. But I still remember being taken to the New Walk Museum as it was free or later, seeing my first Shakespeare play and realising they weren’t boring - even half of the plots were the basis of my favourite 90s rom coms!

I want to help others create these memories, but importantly open up who has the ability to enjoy the arts and expand the range of stories on offer.

A quote from Junot Díaz always inspires me:

There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. [...] And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

Why are you based in Leicester?

I’m based in Leicester as I’ve come to appreciate the city more as an adult. I’ve been inspired by the passion from others to not accept the stereotypes of the city, but make it a more creative and welcoming space for all.

I love how you can go down to the Lanes and shop at quirky independent shops before eating your bodyweight with the best gelato. I look forward to its huge city celebrations like Diwali or huge Bonfire Night fireworks, but also a day spent at Melton Road haggling at the fabric shops, getting jabelis and of course, bumping into friends and posing in front of the city’s street art for the gram. With the efforts of many, it’s now easier to discover the heritage of the city after spending a weekend rambling around Bradgate Park, Foxton Locks or Rutland Water.

Yes, it’s not London or a big city, yes, it has its issues, but even when people have a huge whinge about the city, people care.

What next?

I’m part of the BFI NETWORK’s Creative Producers’ School to brush up on my knowledge and am hoping to venture back into film - if anyone has a great idea, reach out! Similarly, I’m looking at organising a film night in Coventry thanks to Film Hub Midlands, but would love to bring something to Leicester.

Otherwise, I’m working a lot in audio from my commission with Rural Media and the BBC’s New Creatives to a radio show/now podcast with Gaysians, but I’m even just taking some time to develop my producing and curating skills through mentoring.

At some point, I might take a break but maybe there’s an amazing project around the corner - so I’m open-minded!

Social media accounts to follow:

Facebook: /DaljinderJohalCreates

Twitter: /DaljinderJohal

Instagram: /daljinderjohal