A Journey so far… a quick look back

I have never used the phrase “I don’t know” as much as I have this year, not least since Adeola, the case study’s Research Fellow and Visual Artist, joined a few weeks ago.

Now, I am not one for such phrases at the best of times. I know it’s down to the struggle to speak across disciplines, I as a Social Science Researcher, and Adeola, who identifies first as an Artist and second as a Researcher.  I have no second or part identity.  What I do have is a growing conviction that I must find ways to embed my research questions and preoccupations  within a participatory arts context – one that take into account the riches the arts and humanities can offer. It must be credible, it must be grounded in relevant theoretical frames and it must allow me to elucidate more tellingly the lived experiences of the people I work with and moreover, provide credible evidence that can be used to inform policy and improve lives.

So, I find myself uttering new troubling (and annoying) phrases as we seek to find common ground and to begin to move forward together on the work that needs to be done on the Representing Butetown case study.

 

Looking back, like the other case studies in which the overall project is rooted, a lot has been accomplished since we started.  Our latest case study report, Representing Butetown – Caribbean Elders Project 2013 – 2014, details our journey so far. This includes the launch event held 1st July 2014, in collaboration with the National Theatre Wales (NTW).  The NTW Assembly model is rooted in a performance debate that responds to a local issue in a creative setting. It can be described further as a community-led dramatic experience that nurtures an exploration of one or several issues important to the local community; space is left during the performance for the audience to debate and react. The performances developed by the creative team in the four days leading up the event sought to find ways:

  1. celebrate the historical and contemporary links and emotional ties people have/ have had to key places in Butetown (the churches, centres, pubs and streets);
  2. open up space for Caribbean migrants to reflect on the role key places and activities in Butetown may have on their lives when they arrived and settled in Cardiff
  3. give people space to share what ‘Butetown’ means to them today.

What a night!  Something for a future post! Other 2014 highlights include:

  • Work to transcribe and prepare to explore 29 interviews derived from two separate sources. Eleven were captured by Diverse Cymru as part of the All Our Stories project, with the remaining interviews collected as part of Video Viewbox: Butetown Carnival. This was was a pop-up installation created for the 2014 Butetown Carnival by our community arts partners, Simon and Anthony Campbell (15th Floor Productions) The aim was to create a space for carnival goers to reflect and share their thoughts on what the Butetown Carnival means to them.

 

  •  A workshop series developed by Keith Murrell (the community arts practitioner who directed the launch event), Adeola Dewis, Lynette Webbe (community health advocate) and Pauline Andam, ACES director. Having recently completed a documentary exploring the process of (re) presentation and engagement, (Re) Presenting Caribbean Elders in Cardiff (ACES),  the aim has been to conduct reminiscence-based workshops that allow Caribbean elders to reflect on and talk about their lives; the key circumstances that are shaping their older age in Wales; and notions of community, belonging and ageing that are of importance to them.

Mr loverman  roundaboutswaiting in the twilight   in the falling snowa

 

  • A comparative analysis of representations of ageing, agency and resilience in mid-late 20th- and 21st-century fiction that depicts the lives of older men and women who migrated to post-war Britain from the Caribbean. The novels allow us to explore representations of life in the UK for Caribbean older migrants. In so doing, we are also able to explore representations of British society and capture fictional accounts of how dominant (negative as well as positive) views of Caribbean migrants are perceived and addressed by the characters. For the purposes of this exploratory analysis, four novels have been examined: Joan Riley’s Waiting in the Twilight (1987), Thelma Perkins’ Roundabouts (2002), Caryl Phillips’ In the Falling Snow (2009 – Kindle version) and Bernadine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman (2013).

 

This work includes collecting  soliloquies and extracts from the novels such as the following taken from In the Falling Snow 

Earl   (on first impressions of England)

” ..even before I get off the boat England deliver a big shock to my system.  Looking down from the deck I see plenty of white men in dirty clothes hurrying this way and that way up and down the dock, pushing wheelbarrows, and spitting on the ground and shouting at each other. These people don’t look like the type of white men I used to seeing back home wearing club blazer and tie and walking about the place ramrod straight.  Jesus Christ, I don’t know England have such poor white men…I feel cold invading me body like it don’t care if it throw me down and finish me off right there and then on day number one, so even before I get off the damn boat England punishing my mind and my body and teaching me a hard lesson about what kind of place it is.” (p. 252, 4).

 

So work is progressing and elements are coming together. Our biggest accomplishment has been in finding ways to work with community, research and arts partners and colleagues. This case study calls for a particular focus on the creativity that is already present, and on the artists that have been working in our areas of interests for decades, and on the range of representations of value and significance that are already available. It also calls for a balancing of the pull of place and the pull of our focus on Caribbean elders. And of course, all this must be developed within an interdisciplinary, participatory arts framework, with a clear focus both on co-production of community representations of value to those who we are working with, and evidence of value to policy makers.

We have our work cut out.   At this point, looking back over the journey so far, to coin a friend’s phrase, so far, so good.

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