New digital art experience exploring Bristol’s legacy of slavery is looking for participants


An art project exploring sites in Bristol linked to the legacy of slavery and countered with creative dance inspired by the culture and dance history of the African Diaspora is seeking participants.

Decolonizing Memory: Digital Bodies in Movement, a citizen science project funded by UKRI and led by former Bristol Green Party mayor Cleo Lake, Kwesi Johnson, co-founder and creative director of The Cultural Assembly, and Dr Jessica Moody from the University of Bristol. They bring together a team to research Bristol’s memory of transatlantic slavery through historical and creative methodologies, and collaboratively design new performance-based memorial interventions centered on African culture.

The project includes a series of monthly workshops starting in November 2021 and ending in summer 2022, culminating in dance-based memorials created by the project team that anyone can view through an augmented reality app.

The project has three phases, although all three work in an interdependent fashion, feeding ideas and inspiration into each other. The first phase will identify and research “sites of memory” related to Bristol and transatlantic slavery through historical and creative research methods. These ‘sites of memory’, as identified by the project team, will focus on places around the city that are associated with Bristol and slavery. They can be linked to specific historical events, be created by an overlay of stories over time, be existing memorials that commemorate that history, sites of resistance, anti-slavery and challenge historically and now or be contested places of debate and tension or that clash with us today, for example through sites that celebrate the slavers, where the project will seek to intervene with a new creative memorialization.

The second phase responds to this research and develops it through collaborative work based on creative, practice-oriented interventions focused on dance and movement. This practice-oriented work will both be part of the process of researching the deeper meaning of these sites and will be informed by the design of new commemorative dance pieces, creating new performance-based memorials that draw inspiration from the dance culture of the African diaspora to dialogue, counter and intervene. in these sites. Project members will explore the meaning of dance in relation to the history of slavery, African-centered creative expression and dance as a means of healing. In this way, the project aims to collaboratively design a new folk dance for Bristol.

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

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

“By sharing the creative responses developed as part of this project via an augmented reality app, we can add alternative narratives and engagements with this story and its legacies at locations in Bristol chosen by members of our project team. “

Through this collaborative research and intervention, the project aims to learn more about how the history and memory of Bristol slavery, and its legacies connect to “place”, use creative methods to deepen this meaning and connect the past and the present and build something positive together, for reflection, community and healing. The project will create new, collaboratively designed digital memorials that challenge, thwart and dialogue with existing sites of memory in Bristol in a way that recognizes both the truth of these sites and the history of Bristol slavery and brings also new stories in these spaces, valuing different forms of knowledge and understanding and centering of African culture, history and experience.

Project team members who participate in the entire project – which is due 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 that will continue through the application and in the new folk dance created by the project. By participating, project members will also have access to other citizen science courses, training and research projects run by UKRI.


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