New digital art experience exploring Bristol’s legacy of enslavement seeks participants

An art project exploring sites in Bristol connected to the legacy of enslavement and countered with creative dance inspired by the culture and history of dance of the African diaspora is looking for people to take part.

Decolonising Memory: Digital Bodies in Movement, a UKRI-funded Citizen Science project led by former Green Party Lord Mayor of Bristol Cleo Lake, Kwesi Johnson, Co-Founder and Creative Director of The Cultural Assembly, and Dr Jessica Moody of the University of Bristol. They are assembling a team to research Bristol’s memory of transatlantic enslavement through historical and creative methodologies, and collaboratively design new performance-based memorial interventions centring African culture.

The project includes a series of monthly workshops starting in November 2021 and running through to summer 2022, culminating in dance-based memorials created by the project team which anyone will be able to view through an augmented reality app.

The project has three phases, though all three will work interdependently, feeding ideas and inspiration back and forth and into each other. Phase One will identify and research ‘sites of memory’ in relation to Bristol and transatlantic enslavement through historical and creative research methods. These ‘sites of memory’, as identified by the project team will focus on places around the city which are associated with Bristol and enslavement. They might be connected to specific historical events, be created through a layering of stories over time, be existing memorial sites which commemorate this history, sites of resistance, antislavery and challenge historically and now or be contested places of debate and tension or which jar with us in the present day, for example through sites which celebrate enslavers, where the project will seek to intervene with new creative memorialisation.

Phase Two responds to and develops this research through collaborative work drawing on practice-led creative interventions with a focus on dance and movement. This practice-led work will form both part of the research process into the deeper meaning of these sites and build towards the design of new memorial dance pieces, creating new performance-based memorials which draw on African diaspora dance culture to dialogue, counter and intervene in these sites. Project members will explore the significance of dance in relation to the history of enslavement, African-centred creative expression and dance as a medium of healing. In this way the project aims to collaboratively design a new folk dance for Bristol.

Phase Three brings this collaborative research together through the creation and sharing of memorial performances via an augmented reality app developed by Kwesi Johnson and The Cultural Assembly in collaboration with Digital Technologists, Michele Panegrossi and Luca Biada from FENYCE. The dance performances will be recorded against the sites identified and researched by project members and will be able to be viewed for free by anyone through a smartphone.

Dr Moody, Senior Lecturer in Public History said: “We believe that the full history of transatlantic enslavement as well as its complex ongoing legacies cannot be understood solely through standard historical, scientific or academic methods. This is an area where the creative arts make a powerful and necessary intervention in research and engagement.

“Through sharing the creative responses developed through this project via an augmented reality app, we can add alternative narratives and engagements with this history and its legacies onto sites in Bristol chosen by our project team members.”

Through this collaborative research and intervention the project aims to find out more about how Bristol’s history and memory of enslavement, and its legacies connect to ‘place’, use creative methods to reach deeper into this meaning and connect past and present and build something positive together, for reflection, community and healing. The project will create new collaboratively designed digital memorials which challenge, counter and dialogue with existing sites of memory in Bristol in ways which both acknowledge the truth of these sites and Bristol’s history of enslavement and also bring new narratives to these spaces, valuing different forms of knowledge and understanding and centring African culture, history and experience.

Project team members who participate in the whole project – set to end in August 2022 – will develop collaborative research skills through historical and creative methods and be part of a memorial intervention in the city which will live on through the app and in the new folk dance created by the project. By taking part, project members will also have access to other courses, training and citizen science research projects run by UKRI.

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