Amgueddfa Blog

Pitch Black: a recap and review

Pitch Black was a weekly festival that occurred over a month in association with the National Museum Wales. It was a showcase and celebration of Black artists and their work. I attended these sessions, and this blog post is a recap and personal review.

Education is a cornerstone of life with aspects of this coming not only from schools but also museums and other institutes which play a very important role. Heritage is a part of the education in which museums teach and Pitch Black aimed to showcase this in a more unusual and interactive way.

How ‘great’ is Britain?

Our education system fails us all. Schools do not clearly explain the atrocities that led to the UK we know today – one built off the back of slavery and colonisation. Built in prejudice which stems from colonialism perpetuates myths of Britain’s ‘greatness’, to the expense of hearing the histories and experiences of Black and non-Black people of colour. Many white people experience some degree of discomfort when Black people challenge this status quo, are these two experiences connected?

Pitch Black, in my opinion, was a platform to allow Black artists to express themselves and force the audience to question certain aspects of our collective past. It is meant to make us see the Black narratives and experiences in what we perceive as mostly white history.  Most people want to ignore and hide away from the past, but this festival is taking place to showcase to everyone that Black artists are taking a stand and will not be silenced.

A range of beautifully dynamic and thought-provoking pieces were completed over the four weeks of the Pitch Black showcase, ranging from a cine-poem to dance and visual arts pieces. Each piece had a distinctive voice and message that the artists was trying to purvey, and this came across clearly and very visibly. The artists Q and As also allowed the audience to be further involved with the process and history of the performances.

The Black art and artefacts tours that investigated the museum’s collections, highlighting previously neglected stories, was also highly eye opening as it showed just how two dimensional complex museum collections have been curated and viewed. Even though I feel I had quite a good education about Black History, the slave trade and issues of colonialism. I had very little knowledge of to the deeper meanings behind the paintings and artefacts that were explained and described in the tours. Education in the United Kingdom does not prepare you for the harrowing sides of British history and culture. From David Hockney to Henri Gaudier- Brzeska the art world has many Black influences which are never discussed and are basically hidden from public consumption. Is this simply the United Kingdom’s way of systematically ignoring the country's past? Education is key and through art, education is what the viewer receives.

This education needs to be delivered in the right way - representing the viewpoints of those it affects the most. Not watered down, not worrying about people's reactions, but true, raw and honest. The artists, their families and ancestors had to go through so much to be where they are today and yet many of the workshops and pieces still had one central message: Hope.

Pitch Black showcased that while colonialism and slavery are essentially white heritage – a legacy of what Britain and other colonial forces did, the heritage and legacy of Black communities is resilience;  the will to keep fighting, to celebrate their strength and beauty and retain Hope. Pitch Black did not dwell on the negatives. Yes, these artists could have focused on this aspect of their journeys, but the beauty was more prevalent. Of course, discrimination and racism was presented to the viewers but also ideas of home and family, which all came across as a beacon of positivity.

The platform of Pitch Black has allowed Black artists to showcase their stories and work. Having many voices from many differing backgrounds allows for a richer life experience. Every aspect of everyone’s lives can benefit from a multicultural input and art, heritage and culture are no different. The UK is a melting pot for different nationalities and races, this comes with difficult historical legacies and everyday challenges that we need to work together to acknowledge, challenge and overcome.  We need to recognise how uneducated many of us really are on Black history and experiences, we need to challenge our own prejudices and deepen our insight and capacity for empathy – art and in particular the Pitch Black showcase can provide new experiences and insights, help us to broaden our horizons.

As for the individual pieces I took something different away from each one. June Campbell – Davies’ piece made me very emotional. The story that was told was so honest and heartbreaking. It was very contemporary, and the message was subtle but so much history was packed into the short performance. With the camera panning to some of the portraits surrounding the room I got a real sense that this performance in this room was reclaiming space that had for too long been denied to Black people and their stories. This piece being called ‘Sometimes we are Invisible’ was a very apt name as when the performance was over the materials and chairs which were used were all that was left. The complete removal of June from the scene made the set even more atmospheric. There was also a voice over to the piece which had snippets about Britain from the past. The whole performance was a little unnerving as you never knew what exactly was going to happen next. It was so well presented and really resonated with me and made me think of so much, not just whilst watching but also after. This piece really left you asking questions and rethinking everything.

Gabin Kongolo had his work focused on in week two. His cine poem entitled ‘Ndáko’ which means ‘Home’ in Lingala focused on the journey of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Wales. Even though the start was more down beaten as the piece went on it became more and more hopeful. The issues were shared it in such a personal way. Also, the mix of Lingala and English tied the piece to the artist's roots, and I felt like this gave a better insight to the culture and made the piece even more hard hitting. Even the music throughout mirrors the happiness of the family. What I loved about this piece is the joy you can see on the families faces and the stories that Kongolo told in the artists Q and A, they were so lovely, and I am sure made the whole audience think of home.

‘The ocean is always looking for a way into your boat’ by Omikemi puts you on edge from the minute it starts. The sounds of waves and percussion made you worried for the characters involved. This spoken poem highlights the idea of loss and the struggles in life, but also how you are able to dream beyond this and find yourself and others. I personally felt that the whole piece was quite organic and natural. I went away from watching the video feeling slightly saddened but understanding that the artist was looking for an improved future. I love the root of this piece as it is an interesting starting point, looking from a care background but I feel that this adds to the effect of the piece on the viewer but also with links to the LGBTQIA+ and disabled communities there are many accessible aspects for many different groups of people.

For the final week Yvonne Connikie was in the spotlight with her piece entitled ‘A time for new dreams’ which focused on the Windrush generation in South Wales. The inclusion of actors of multiple ages and genders gave this piece a unique twist as it tried to give some insight to a whole community and made the piece interesting to watch. From the little child to the elder individuals I felt many different emotions as you reacted differently to every person included in the piece. The idea of dreams is so open, and it really allows the viewers to see the people better and dreams are so personal and sharing them feels almost like you are now holding a secret with these people. The changing of season and backgrounds which can be seen in the video gave you a real sense of time. Dreams are not granted overnight but rather dreams are the future. I think the biggest take away with Connikie’s work for me was the sense of peace.

Overall, Pitch Black was an eye-opening experience for me. It perfectly highlighted the duality of being Black in Wales and was a highly accessible way of learning more about Black lives and art. For more information on the showcase please go to: 

This blog was written by one of our Amgueddfa Cymru Producers. Youthled projects across the museum are part of the Hands on Heritage initiative, made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund's Kick the Dust Grant.

To see more of Pitch Black and other projects we run, follow us on Instagram @bloedd_ac and check out our website to find out more about how young people can get involved Young people | National Museum Wales 

Thanks to The Fund and all our National Lottery Players - keeping our fingers crossed for you! 

Remote interviewing for Refugee Wales project

Remote interviewing for Refugee Wales project

لو  كنتُ في سجن حقيقي.. وكان هناك خمسون سجين سيكون عندي مالايقل عن خمسة أصدقاء… ولكن أنظري الى حالتي هنا… لايوجد أحد حولي…

If I was in a real prison… say there are fifty prisoners in one room, you would at least make friends with five of them… But here, look at my situation. There is no one around.

Salih, Cardiff, 2020

Towards the end of 2019, I began working as a Research Associate at the AHRC funded project “Refugee Wales: The Aftermath of Violence”. The project is a partnership between Cardiff University and Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales. Its aim is to record the stories of refugees in Wales, inform Welsh government of what we’ve learnt from them, and archive them as part of the national collections. My role is to record interviews with Syrian refugees who have settled in Wales since 2011.

I am an Arabic-speaking Iraqi and new to Wales myself, so my first challenge was finding willing participants from the Syrian community. Once I had been introduced via a gatekeeper, I started meeting potential participants to gain their trust and confidence and to explain the project further. Establishing a relationship of trust with people whose lives have been in turmoil is not straightforward. My days were ebbing and flowing between positive and negative responses, encouraging and disappointing reactions, scheduling and rescheduling of appointments, rejections and last-minute cancellations. I succeeded in completing my first interviews in February 2020 and had others planned. Then came the COVID-19 lockdown on 23rd March. 

When it became obvious that this situation would last some time, we decided reluctantly to experiment with remote interviewing. One of our team, Beth Thomas, is an OHS trainer who advised us, after discussion with her colleagues, on the options available. Our choice of method was decided on the following principle: that it should be as simple and secure as possible for the interviewees. We used a mobile phone connected to one channel of a Zoom H5 recorder, with the other channel recording the interviewer via a clip-on mike.

It seemed straightforward. Nevertheless, I struggled with the number of wired connections. I experimented with family and friends.  I wondered what kind of interview it would be if I was unable to see my participants. I also wondered how my interviewees would feel about not seeing me. How could I expect the participants to be at ease telling their life stories to someone they are unable to see?

The other option was to connect the Zoom H5 in the same way to the audio output of a computer, to record the audio only of a Zoom video interview. This made more sense to me as it would enable me and the interviewees to see one another. However, most of my participants were unhappy with this option because they either didn’t have a computer, had no access to Zoom, or they had problems with WiFi. 

It quickly became clear that almost all my participants were happier using WhatsApp on their smartphones, as this was how they normally connected with their families overseas. WhatsApp allowed us to conduct video interviews while recording audio locally on the Zoom H5, using the same setup as before. The only drawback was bandwidth and WiFi reception. I had some remote WhatsApp interviews which went well, with reasonable sound quality, and a disastrous one because I was unaware of how bad the WiFi was at the interviewee’s end. Other challenges ranged from dealing with the noise of children at the interviewee’s house, street noise, postmen and deliveries at my door or their door, my next-door neighbour’s loud music and my smoke alarm going off whenever my daughter burnt her eggs! 

In some ways, the pandemic strangely helped strengthen my relationship with interviewees. I have even developed strong bonds with some of my participants which transcended social distancing rules and highlighted our common vulnerability as human beings. They were more than mere research subjects but persons who need to be listened to and be supported in a very difficult stage of their resettlement. However, that involvement occasionally made it difficult to draw the line between supporting others and protecting yourself.

Salih was introduced to me as a Syrian refugee who met my requirements for project participants. All I knew about Salih was that he was a Syrian-Kurd who was resettled in Cardiff a few months before the first lockdown. I introduced myself over the phone and asked if he was interested in an initial remote meeting. Salih interrupted me saying: “I wish you could visit me and my wife in our house. I am in a wheelchair and my wife has some health problems. We only have one person who comes to check on us and brings us groceries… When our Home Office Caseworker comes for a visit, he talks to us through the living room window, hands us documents to sign, asks a couple of questions and leaves… We barely talk to people.” He became very emotional and asked me to help him reunite with the rest of his family who had been relocated in Germany. I explained to Salih that I was a researcher with no hand in policy making. Despite this, he was determined to be part of the project and have his voice heard.  

The phone call upset me. My inability to improve his situation made me ashamed of asking someone like Salih, who was painfully lonely, to narrate his personal story of suffering and survival remotely. Next morning, I called Salih and asked if he and his wife were happy for me to visit them wearing a facemask and maintaining social distance. We agreed to meet the following day. 

After taking all the necessary precautions; wipes, a facemask, Covid-19 declaration forms etc. I went to Salih’s house.  Salih opened the door while leaning on his walking frames. He greeted me in his Arabic-Kurdish accent and led me into a dark first -floor flat, with one small window being their opening to the outside world. Salih’s wife sat on a small mattress on the floor. She had hardly any Arabic but could understand some of what I was saying as I saw her nodding at times. She made us a tasty Syrian coffee and uttered few words in Kurdish which Salih translated to me as: “I am so pleased to have a guest for whom I can offer coffee again as I used to!”

It was a short, emotional and tiring interview. I have kept in touch with them and have promised to revisit once lockdown is lifted. But I feel heavily burdened with helplessness, sorrow, and anger at their situation. 

We are talking through virtual windows, barely touching the lives of those beyond the pane.

Radhika Mohanram

I can trace the origin of this project, Refugee Wales, to 2009 when the civil war in Sri Lanka came to a bloody end when the government forces defeated the LTTE (Tamil Tigers).  The stories of the immense suffering of the Sri Lankan Tamil civilians flooded the media and, then, these stories disappeared.  Being an Indian Tamil myself, I followed the news of the final days of the civil war obsessively as these were narratives of my “cousins” in South Asia, and we were linked by language, culture, religion, food habits, mythology, families, and  with a commonality of memories and practices.  It is estimated that between 100,000-200,000 Sri Lankan Tamils live in the UK, with a large number of them arriving as refugees from 1983 onwards.  The civil war in Sri Lanka lasted, off and on, for over 5 decades and Sri Lankan refugees who arrived in this country have lived here for more  than 2 generations.  

No sooner had the Sri Lankan civil war ended, then the Syrian civil war began in 2011 and it is still ongoing. The war has currently resulted in over 13 million Syrians who have been either internally displaced within Syria, or in neighbouring countries, or in Europe and the rest of the world.  Germany has over 800,000 Syrian refugees and the UK, a paltry 18,000-20,000 of them in 2021. The body count of Syrians who have died in this exodus is still not fully accounted for and the bottom of the Mediterranean sea, which is considered to be the deadliest migration route for refugees, has become a graveyard for them.  

Neither the Sri Lankan Tamil nor the Syrian refugees sought refuge in the UK so they could shop in Tesco and take jobs away from the locals.  They left their countries under desperate circumstances—the daily bombings, the kidnapping of children (and youth) by rebel soldiers forcing them into becoming child soldiers, the rape of women and children, the loss of jobs, homes, family members—spouses, children, parents, siblings--the lack of food, safety, and a full night’s sleep; it was the precarity of life.  

In Homo Sacer, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben points to the distinction made by the Ancient Greeks between bios (the form or manner in which life is lived and which assesses the richness of life) and zoë (the biological fact of life) and suggests that in contemporary life that distinction has collapsed.  So, life now only means bare life, zoë.  The biological fact of life with all its potentialities and possibilities has been erased.  For the French philosopher Michel Foucault, modern power is about “fostering life or disallowing it.”  This is how civilian populations in Sri Lanka and Syria were perceived by their governments—a full life disallowed for some of its citizens so that they are reduced to a bare life, their only possibility being to flee.  This is how refugees are perceived in the current political climate with hostile environment policies, to be seen as only deserving of a bare life, to show how unwelcome they are.  

If by moving away from their country results in a total and complete break from their past lives for the refugees, a rupture from their histories and cultures, what this project hopes to achieve is to allow refugees to connect their past to their present, give them a voice, and a sense of belonging and that people are, indeed, witnessing their trials.  The Museum with the richness of cultural life that it offers, through its resources, will assist in enabling refugees to become citizens of Wales, and help them to transform their lives in the country that is now their home; it will facilitate and contribute to them leading their lives into the fullest of its potentialities and possibilities.  

And those of us who already live in Wales, how will these newcomers change our lives? By hearing their stories, we, too, will reach further into our potentiality, of the richness of diversity, compassion, being good hosts and helping them go through their transformation and, in so doing, initiate new ways of being and becoming Welsh.

This week (8–13 June) is Carers Week, which aims to recognise the contribution that unpaid carers make to families and communities throughout the UK. Carers Trust estimates this that this unpaid care would cost £530 million per day across the UK, if it had to be provided by health and social care services.

Many carers face financial difficulties, social isolation, or poor health as a result of their caring role. During the pandemic the pressures on carers has increased as many of the services on which they rely, such as community/day centres or respite services, have been closed. In addition, the total number is estimated to have risen by 50% (Carers UK), meaning Wales may now have as many as 600,000 adult and young carers.

Amgueddfa Cymru conducted a survey towards the end of 2020 to ask carers what our museums could offer. You can find out more about why we we want to provide activities or events specifically for carers, how we think museums can help and what led to the survey, in this blog post from last year.

Responses came from both adult and young carers and were fairly consistent in the activities that people were most interested in:

  • craft/art activities that people could participate in,
  • social time with other carers, and
  • information or talks that would be useful to carers.

About two thirds of carers were interested in activities that they could attend on their own, and two thirds in activities they could attend with the person they care for. (One third of respondents were interested in both.) There was interest in both online and in-person events.

We designed a three-month trial of online carer day sessions which started in May this year. Each day, on the first Tuesday of the month, has two sessions: 2.30–3.30pm for all carers of any age, and 5–5.30pm for young carers under 26. If you are a carer and would like to attend one of the sessions on Tuesday 6 July you can book a free ticket here.

So far sessions have included:

  • drawing activities (no artistic talent needed),
  • why and how to create a playlist for someone you care for,
  • the experiences of the Amgueddfa Cymru Producers running LambCam, and
  • discussion about our Objects of Comfort initiative.

Objects of Comfort shares stories of what objects bring people solace and comfort, and the programme includes discussion sheets that carers can use with people they care for. Sometimes conversation can dry up or become repetitive if you’re with someone all the time; carers have reported how the sheets have led to some great out-of-the-ordinary discussions. You can find out more about OOC and the discussion sheets here.

We have also created and recruited for a new Support Volunteer role to help us in supporting carers and others in getting involved with Museum events, collections and activities. The volunteers who have applied have some great experience and skills and once their training is completed they will enable us to offer an even better welcome and range of activities for those who would benefit from extra support.

One aspect of the Carer Day sessions that has proved harder than we’d expected is letting people know that they are on. So many of the places where carers would normally spend time have been closed and the organisations who work to support carers have themselves been under much greater pressure during the pandemic. Even if you’re not a carer yourself, you probably know one of the 600,000 people in Wales who are – why not let them know about our Carer Days, and maybe ask if there’s anything you can do to help them during these difficult times? Thank you.

If you’d like to find out more about the Carer Days you can do so here.

If you’d like to tell us what you think about the carer days, even if you haven’t been able to attend one, you can complete an anonymous short survey here.

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and The Edina Trust would like to congratulate the thousands of pupils from across the UK who achieved Super Scientist recognition for their participation in the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-2021.

A big congratulations to you all. Thank you for working so hard planting, observing, measuring and recording, you really are Super Scientists!

Winners of the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-21

Runners up for the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-21

Highly Commended for their participation in the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-21

Schools recognised as Super Scientists for their participation in the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-21

Schools to be awarded certificates for their participation in the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation 2020-21

Thank you Bulb Buddies,

Professor Plant