How can archival experimentation help us question national narratives told through the work of Black artists and artists of colour in Britain?
Sessions 1-4 were recorded and are available to watch via the event flyers at the bottom of this page.
Itinerant Imaginaries was conceived and developed by Creating Interference network members and associates Roshini Kempadoo, Barby Asante and Lola Olufemi. The network’s aim is to develop, explore and identify creative strategies to disrupt knowledge conventions and dominant discourses of the past. Creative works are seen as catalysts for change to past knowledge, for justice and transformation in the present. As the COVID pandemic continued, the proposed programme would contribute to arts making and institutional debates in relation to racism, gender, black diasporic communities and Britain’s colonial histories. The research questions posed were:
- How has knowledge of western colonialism been expanded upon and critiqued by black British artists creating contemporary screen-based media, performance and photographic works (1960s -)?
- In what ways have black British artists reconceptualised historical material found as published, official and unofficial colonial archives/narratives, through creating screen-based media, performance and photography works?
- How are black women and womnx artists creating screen-based media, performance and photographic works that expand and challenge current knowledge of colonial history?
With some months delay, Itinerant Imaginaries: Online seminar series and screen event took place in June and November 2021. The convenors (Roshini Kempadoo and Lola Olufemi) responded to the research questions by developing the following:
Three online sessions held over a two-day period (June). We began with a keynote address by Françoise Vergès, exploring her recent publication A Decolonial Feminism (2021) as a way of identifying the urgent need for cultural and social transformation through feminist perspectives. Our second seminar was an intervention from Director of Iniva, Sepake Angiama with Rose Nordin and Lauren Craig, to explore how DIY cultures can help rethink “official” collection processes. The third seminar ‘Troubling Collections’, saw Annie Jael Kwan (Asia Art Activism), Bisan Abu Eisheh and Chandra Frank contribute their work about activist cultural networks and black women movements as critical engagements to current national archiving practices.
The second iteration of Itinerant Imaginaries (November), was devised as an online discussion and in-person programme of short experimental films by black women and womnx artists. Archival Disorientation posed routes for displacing and rewriting authorised histories. Curator Nydia Swaby, Barby Asante, Ra Malika Imhotep and Nathalie Mba Bikoro explored performativity and ritual. The Regent Street Cinema in-person programme, curated in association with Cairo Clarke comprised of works by Ebun Sodipo, Grace Ndiritu, Jeannette Ehlers, Juliana Kasumu, Natasha Thembiso Ruwona, Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro, Otobong Nkanga, and Zinzi Minott. The films conveyed the complexity of art making and limits of conventional exhibition. The films challenged us to think transnationally and question the ways in which the national archive devises taxonomies of material.
Itinerant Imaginaries prompted us as researchers, artists, curators and activists to make visible the institutional and artistic limits defining British cultural archives. A highlight of the programme was the success of the screening and the subsequent thought-provoking discussion about the films. I was particularly pleased to explore recent work by women/womxn of the African diaspora who progressively and creatively engage with trauma and aftermath of colonial histories. A more nuanced discussion of the complexities apparent in the artworks addressing race, racism and notion blackness are still in their infancy. Itinerant Imaginaries provides the opportunity for further research to counter the potential of a regressive turn (return) about race and racism in national culture and political ideologies. After all, giving visibility to progressive change is crucial in the aftermath of protests about inequality and racism, where the COVID pandemic may be ebbing away, in the face of a climate emergency and whilst there is current economic and social value of black artistic practice.