Saturday, 6 March 2010

Cape Town, Oral History, Museums and Artists

I have just returned from Cape Town, South Africa where I met with Sean Field, Pascale Neuschafer and Renate Meyer from the Popular Memory Centre, University of Cape Town. Their work disseminating oral history using film has resulted in a number of documentary films, which powerfully express the hard reality of life in Cape Town. They are exploring and implementing creative methods to disseminate their oral history archive, however, the old story of lack of funding is limiting some of their approaches. Through our discussions it became obvious that we share similar ideas and approaches to dissemination of oral history and my hope is that we can develop, a relationship which will prove beneficial to both the Centre for Popular Memory and the Duchas Archive.

While in Cape Town, I visited both the Jewish Museum and the District 6 museum. The Jewish museum has two sections, the first deals with the Jewish religion and Jewish Immigration to Cape Town. It tells the stories of families who came from Europe to Cape Town, many of whose descendants are part of the Jewish Cape Town community. The second section deals with the Holocaust and is a well thought through and ordered exhibition.

In contrast, the District 6 museum, which contains images, artwork, and artefacts from families forced out of the area, has a completely different atmosphere. While the Jewish museum is reminiscent of many western museums; the District 6 museum, on the other hand, is Africa. One’s eye is drawn to areas of interest, not alone on the walls but on the floor and towards the ceiling. Many museums, displaying the same number of exhibits would have a sense of being overworked not so in District 6. This may be because it reflects the intensity of living in District 6; the hustle and bustle of living in close quarters in a vibrant and diverse neighbourhood.

One of the most interesting pieces of work I found was an instillation in a small room; the walls were roughly plastered with ordinary household items barely visible beneath the plaster. It portrayed a profound sense of what has been lost, but also what is emerging from within the District 6 area. I found this a very strong piece of work, reflecting issues of memory and loss while raising questions of the future.

There have been a number of interventions by artists in the museum and this is reflected in the diversity of approaches used to engage with the stories of the area. The range of artist’s interpretations illustrates the diversity of experience of living and leaving District 6 while at the same time connection and recurring themes are present.

While I was in Cape Town a public art event, “Infecting the City” took place. A number of the interventions/installations dealt with Cape Town’s past, slavery, apartheid, current lack of employment, poverty. Seeing these works on the streets confirmed to me the strong role creative practitioners can play in disseminating the experiences of those who have lived through conflict and oppression.

Friday, 18 December 2009

What is the role of the creative practitioner in a post-conflicted society

This is one of the questions I am addressing in my research. I am interested in creating dialogue with creative practitioners throughout the world and came across an interesting site today. One of the featured web pages is http://www.wkv The following quote is copied from their text.

"Our aim here is to reconstruct an alphabet of visual memory that addresses the constant tension between memory and forgetting, concealment and revelation, in the Chilean context; but how can this tension be reproduced in the exhibition context?"

The work of CADA – Colectivo de Acciones de Arte (1979 – 1985, RCH)demonstrate the significance of the role of the creative practitioner in Chile during the dictatorship. Their interventions challenged the censorship of the time by creating a highly visible form of protest.

In Northern Ireland, memory and forgetting are part of the ongoing discourse that surrounds the conflict These issues are particularily interesting in the context of an oral archive, offering more questions than answers, as they feed into the collective memory of a community. My belief is that creative processes and practices offer new possibilities and platforms for dissemination of oral history, with its multiplicity of standpoints, which in turn offer new methods of exploration, challenge and understanding of issues in a post-conflicted society.

And so the journey of exploration into the role of creative practices and technologies in the dissemination of an oral archive in a post-conflicted society begins.

Ethics and the Web

This blog is concerned with questions relating to the dissemination of the Duchas archive. One of the first proposals for dissemination of the archive was to secure a web presence, however, this raises many issues, funding, ethics, who decides what goes on line and what does not. Since its inception in 2000 contributors to the archive have been made aware that the archive is a public archive, however, technological advances have added a new dimension to what is considered the public domain since the inception of the archive. There is a very different sense to having ones story heard in a building locally to having it out there on the world wide web. This raises an ethical question, while the contributors have signed consent to have their stories heard in the public domain, should they be consulted as to whether they want all or part of their stories on the internet? Needless to say there are all sorts of implications in addressing this issue. What format does a new consent form take, is it enough to write to the contributors or should somebody go and discuss the issue with them. Both strategies involve staff time as well as other costs, however, the archive is committed to ethical practice. These are questions which need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Archive

In response to the experiences of the Nationalist community of West Belfast, the Duchas Oral Archive project was established in 2000, its aim being to document life in West Belfast during the Troubles. Since its inception, the project has created an oral history sound and personal photographic archive containing 100 interviews, which reflect a range of experiences. The collection is situated at The Falls Community Council Offices where it can be simultaneously read and listened to. To access the archive it is necessary to make an appointment by contacting Falls Community Council 275/277 Falls Road, Belfast BT12 6FD Tel 028 9020 2030.