Amgueddfa Blog

On Portals

Gesiye, 23 November 2022

There are many different kinds of portals. They can be physical spaces, periods of time, dreamworlds and rituals. Anyone can make them. My favourite kinds of portals are stories: our doorways to freedom and lessons on shapeshifting.

A still from Gesiye's film, showing a woman dancing on a beach. The photograph has a blue filter over it
A still from Gesiye's film, showing a woman kneeling down on a beach with a rock formation behind her

Stories can be the most dangerous portals. When a story becomes the only one that can be told, when it is wielded by those in power and used to suppress other narratives, the portal becomes calcified. Like a thing that wants to change and grow but no longer can, we get trapped halfway through the portal, tense and afraid, unable to see ourselves

For me the pandemic was a portal of sorts. A sudden opening, disconnecting me from regular life, a space created where there was none before. And time: to process, to rest, to anxiously worry about survival and whether or not I’d really washed my hands before I ate those chips yesterday. It wasn’t easy: like many others I lost my home, I lost my income, I lost relationships. This pandemic portal was full of a grief I couldn’t run away from. Everyone had their own hurts and the air was thick with it. Slowly, stubbornly, I realised it was best to sit with the discomfort. I used the space to shout and dance, to get lost in the forest, to grow plants. I used the time to write, to reach out for help, to dream and to create. The land was my guide, and in that space-time I met myself again.

A still from Gesiye's film, showing a beach in Trinidad and Tobago. The perspective of the image looks through a rock formation

 

Portals beget portals. Some doors can only be accessed by going through others. I was sitting under a tree with my sibling when the idea for The Wound is a Portal first whispered itself to me. From the beginning, the work knew itself: I would create a portal, a space for healing and for community. This portal would take the form of a series of tattoos: each one unique but similar to the next so that they could create an animation. The intention was simple: connection.

A still from Gesiye's film, showing a woman relaxing with her head in another person's lap.
A still from Gesiye's film, showing two men in conversation. One wears a blue tshirt, the other a blue shirt with the buttons undone.

My experiences tattooing and being tattooed had shown me that tattoos can be a powerful tool for addressing and healing trauma. Pain is a portal. This ritual is a meditation: bringing our bodies and minds to the present, reminding us of our agency and serving as a permanent marker of belonging.

It’s easy to forget yourself when you are trapped in a calcified portal. We have been hurting in so many ways. The air is thick with it. This work isn’t really about Picton. It’s about Portals. It’s an offering. I wanted to create a space for a group of Black Trinidadians to meet and talk about the stories of our families. A safe space where we could sit with our pain, one where we could talk about race and share our experiences candidly. I wanted us to connect with each other and to connect with the land. I wanted to create a space for us to see ourselves.

A still from Gesiye's film, showing a woman holding up a crystal so the light shines through it.
A still from Gesiye's film, showing a person in the process of being tattooed

Tattoos are some of the most fluid portals. Like us, once created, they are always changing. In The Wound is a Portal, eight participants between the ages of 20 and 78 volunteered to receive a tattoo inspired by the island and by breeze blocks, a common architectural feature throughout the country—our way of letting the outside in. The work developed over eight months to incorporate the mythology of our island and to include interviews with participants, dance and writing.

A still from Gesiye's film, showing three smiling people in conversation on a tropical beach.

 

My creative process is spiritual, it’s joyful, it’s honest. These days, it feels like my role as an artist is to stay open, to witness and experience life in all its beauty and horror and still be able to stay soft, flowing from my centre, grounded in possibility. I’ve poured myself into this work, lovingly tending to all of its parts, creating space for healing and dreaming, and witnessing change in myself and my community. Now it’s here, out in the world, a journey taken together. All this time I thought that I was making a portal, now I realise that it was making me.

A still from Gesiye's film, showing a sandy beach, clear sea water and the shadow of a person dancing
A still from Gesiye's film, showing a person making a cup from clay
A still from Gesiye's film, showing a blue sea with a bird flying in the distance

 

See Spirited for yourself as part of the Reframing Picton exhibition at National Museum Cardiff until 3 September 2023.

 

Film Stills. The Wound is a Portal, Gesiye, 2022, Trinidad.

Thank you to everyone who supported and participated in this work.  
Commissioned by Amguedddfa Cymru in partnership with the Sub-Saharan Advisory Panel  
Participants: Robbie Price, Safiya Hoyte, Adam ‘Mar” Andrews, Alicia Viarruel, Dawn-Marie Alexander, Kevon Samuel, Nadine Marshall-Joseph, Joan Ballantyne  
Production Manager: Lisa-Marie Brown  
Production Assistant: Neisha Rahamut  
Researcher: Timiebi Souza-Okpofabri  
Interviewer: Tracy Assing  
Stylist: Suelyn Choo  
Composer: Omar Jarra  
Location Sound Recordist: Jelani Serette  
Director of Photography: Mikhail Gibbings  
2nd Camera Operator: Aviel Scanterbury  
Drone Camera Operator: Renaldo Celestine Matamoro  
2nd Drone Camera Operator: Avery Smart  
Designers: Meiling & Kaleen Salois  
Colour Grader: Shane Hosein & Maia Nunes, Rheanna Chen, Melanie Archer, Bunty & Rory O’Connor, Justin Koo, Stephanie Roberts, Nicholas Thornton, Pomegranate Studios, Nigel & Debbie Souza-Okpofabri, Eileen & Vernon Phipps, Urban Hudlin, Ancestors Known & Unknown, The Land.

Reframing Picton – from idea to exhibition

Reframing Picton project group, 22 November 2022

The Reframing Picton exhibition has now opened at National Museum Cardiff.

The exhibition is a culmination point for over two and a half years of work for Amgueddfa Cymru and its community partners, the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP) and both organisations’ outreach programmes – the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel Youth Network and the Amgueddfa Cymru Producers.

In this blog, one of the young people involved in the project since the very beginning gives us an insight into the project, guiding us through the key stages of the Reframing of Sir Thomas Picton.

Date: Dec 2021

We’re well over a year into this project so this entry is well overdue: let’s get to it.

What is the project about?

Amgueddfa Cymru’s collection includes a portrait of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton, the highest-ranking soldier to lose his life at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. In addition to the oil portrait, plaques and statues were erected around Wales decades after Picton’s passing; these memorials have remained into the 21st century. 

Why make a change now?

On 25 May 2020, a father accused of using a counterfeit $20 dollar bill became a murder victim; the perpetrators were four Minneapolis Police Department officers. The victim, George Floyd, whose brutal end was captured via cameraphone and disseminated globally on social media. George Floyd’s murder served as a catalyst for protests and demonstrations starting in Minnesota, Minneapolis, spreading across North America, South America, Australia, Eurasia, and of course Africa. By 6 June 2020, global solidarity with George Floyd and against racism manifested in massive public pressure placed on the governments of countries across the world to address the racism within their societies; Wales of course held demonstrations from Cardiff, Swansea and Carmarthenshire to Wrexham and Bangor in the north.

This is where I enter the frame. I was part of the team that planned the demonstrations in Bangor, Caernarfon, and Llandudno. The Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP) and the SSAP Youth Leadership Network took note of the work being done in the area and eventually, working alongside SSAP and SSAP Youth Leadership Network, brought the opportunity to get involved in the Reframing Picton project.

So I was recruited as one of the black, African-British, young(ish) activists for at least 3 reasons:

  1. My filmmaking and photography capabilities              
    I’m a filmmaker and photographer. On 6 June I was part of the team capturing the demonstration in Bangor.

  2. To make a decision regarding what to do about the portrait              
    A huge proportion of this project has been reaching a decision regarding what to actually do with the 2.14m x 1.37m, gilt-framed, portrait of Picton. We decided it should be removed.              
    Primarily, humans unintentionally associate scale with importance hence an oil painting of this size has always been a “flex”; or to be more proper, a display of status hence the intent of making such a large painting is to convey the importance of the subject. The team being aware of this underlying message of veneration towards Picton, in the absence of the violence he was responsible for, led us to the decision to remove the portrait.

  3. Reach a decision on an artist to commission
    As a result of removing the portrait, the project team decided to commission artists to create art that would better tell the story of Picton; we were particularly interested in artists from Trinidad where Picton was the Governor from 1797 to 1801. Most importantly, the team was interested in commissioning a piece to better educate the audience about Picton, a mass murderer, rather than blindly memorialise the man. We expect the new additions to be ready to view in one of the historic paintings galleries at National Museum Cardiff by 1 August 2022.

As we speak, our team is allowing the artists some time to create, while we take time to build capacity. Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton will be remembered differently for future generations. As well as National Museum Wales removing Picton’s portrait, the Hall of Heroes of Cardiff’s City Council has decided to cover up the statue of Picton placed there in light of public pressure. 

The original aim of the project, Reframing Picton, does what it says on the tin. Our objective was for the audience to see Thomas Picton in a truer light, to reframe his character, and to include the seldom told stories; I hope at the conclusion of the project that we will reach that goal. 

Date: Feb 2022

What’s the project about?

 

The image shows a man, Picton, dressed in 19th-century military uniform. His dress includes a bright red jacket and white trousers. Picton's face is obscured by a white paint stripe that has been photoshopped on the image

The image used as part of the callout for the Reframing Picton project

 

The portrait that started this whole project. 

The protests led by Black Lives Matter around the globe in 2020, prompted by the murder of George Floyd, also triggered Amgueddfa Cymru to think about some of the characters within their collection. 

Thomas Picton, who died a Lieutenant-General and a knight, has his military exploits recorded in the prevailing history of the man. What is seldom discussed about the former Governor of Trinidad is the perspective of the inhabitants of Trinidad who had to live under his rule and the bits which the British Empire, and its advocates, wish to conceal.

Even today, Picton’s brutal legacy affects the people on the island. 

From Wales to Trinidad, roads are named, plaques and paintings hang, and statues and monuments are erected; all to memorialise a man with a reputation for cruelty and sadism.

We hope that this project allows the audience to view Picton through the eyes of some of the humans that lived around him, rather than the fabricated reverence we know was bestowed posthumously. 

Most importantly, we hope the audience can decide which side of history Picton sits on. 

Date: March 2022

Reframing Picton started as an idea that the SSAP's Youth Leadership Network engaged with. 

The SSAP used its network to partner with a dynamic team of Youth with Amgueddfa Cymru’s experienced staff. The project team that was assembled spent years deciding how to approach the subject of Thomas Picton through the Museum collection of items and a re-designed (or novel) exhibition. 

The entire process of creating a commission was new to me; some of the team had varied experience working with Amgueddfa Cymru, all of which came in handy as we progressed. I really had no appreciation for the amount of work it takes to review items from the museum's collection, curate them according to some criteria and create a captivating exhibition.

The museum supplied really capable and supportive people who truly allowed the Youth team to lead decisions: an entirely worthwhile experience.

Throughout the entire project I think there were two major decisions that felt the most important: 

1) Deciding whether the portrait should go back into public circulation, if so, how?

2) Reach a decision on the commissioned artists

The outcome of these decisions can only be answered by seeing the exhibition.

 

Date: 19th May 2022

A woman in a dark room, featuring photographs of black people, each with a tattoo

'The Wound is a Portal' by Gesiye

Two young people looking at the portrait of Thomas Picton

The Reframing Picton exhibition

Reframing Picton is a project whose mandate is inclusivity, particularly to the descendants of Picton’s victims. 

Reaching a decision on the commissioned artists was one of the most difficult processes of this project, not least because of the volume of applicants. I truly believe the process of wading through applications has the effect of further focusing the team's understanding of the project. As we saw the Artist’s interpretation of the call-out, it allowed us to cement the theoretical ideas we had about the project, and decide whether the artist’s ideas matched our collective vision of the project.

One of the museum staff captured the sentiment behind the idea of commissioning an artist perfectly:

The Museum acknowledges they are an institution that has been founded and staffed by white people. They know that a project that contends with so much squalid history with White Europeans perpetrating unquantifiable violence against Black Africans, as such the project should be led by African diaspora. 

Between the project team and the artist commissions, I have my expectations set pretty high as the people are so capable in their artistic craft and in sync with the zeitgeist.           

Date: 25th June 2022

What’s happening with the portrait

The Reframing Picton project will be unveiled soon. I have the typical combination of emotions you’d expect; mostly apprehension.

At the heart of the issues with Thomas Picton’s portrait was always the scale, the ostentatious frame, and the elevated placement. The sentiment behind each of these factors is that of respect and reverence. Devoid of the context of how Picton rose to infamy, the issues listed need a solution.

The way in which you see the portrait presented in the museum's Historic Art gallery represents the sum of the Reframing Picton project team’s thinking. After spending so long working on this project avoiding the accusation of “erasing history” I believe we’ve struck an impressive balance. 

The Picton portrait will remain on show in an altered manner, amongst exhibits and Trinidadian artist installations that I hope will convey context on Picton.

Date: 14th October 2022

Picton Reframed – what now?

Reframing Picton the project has been finished for approximately 3 months now, with the unveiling taking place around 2 months ago.

I intimately remember my first time seeing the entire space, the ecstasy I felt over completing the project was very welcome after all the time and energy put into the project. Beyond the endorphins of finishing a task, I have a vague sense of pride in participating in the project because I believe the self-esteem of some unknown, future visitors will be lifted once they take in some of the facts covered within this exhibition. At least that’s what I hope.

Some of my most serious trepidation was around the artists and their outputs. Intrepidation quickly followed after my first viewing of the commissioned artist’s installations. I felt like the artists were exactly right, beyond that they accomplished what the AC-SSAP team never could; creating their exhibits as an interpretation of the artistic expression.

I participated in this project with the hope that future generations will have information and exhibits like Reframing Picton readily available to them and that they should not be daunted by museums and historical sites. I have personally found a new appreciation for arts, heritage, culture, and the work involved in preserving these aspects of society, and most of all, I hope more museums adopt working models that promote this degree of community collaboration.

Volunteering project wins an award!

Sian Taylor-Jones, 16 November 2022

‘Our Museum Garden’ at National Museum Cardiff has been presented with an ‘It’s Your Neighbourhood’ Level 3 – Advancing award by Wales in Bloom and the RHS. 

We are delighted to receive this award in such a short time. It’s a real testament to the hard work of the volunteers, who only started working on the project in March 2022. The judges recognized our “vision to make a positive change”, which is one of the objectives we set out to achieve during this project, and also one of Amgueddfa Cymru’s main commitments.

Volunteers have been working to improve the grounds of the Museum, clearing overgrown beds and creating new habitat for wildlife. A regular group meets every Thursday morning and a smaller group from Dimensions UK support the work. If you'd like to join us to make a positive change in Cardiff, go to Current Opportunities - Become a Volunteer | Museum Wales

 

 

Unusual new fossils from ancient rocks in Wales

Lucy McCobb, 16 November 2022

Unusual new fossils from ancient rocks in Wales

What did you do during the Covid-19 lockdown?  Did you enjoy getting closer to nature and seeing new things in your local area during your daily walks?  Two of the Museum’s Honorary Research Fellows, Dr Joe Botting and Dr Lucy Muir, did just that and more, when they discovered a treasure trove of new fossils near their home in mid-Wales.  Unable to travel far or access Amgueddfa Cymru facilities to further their work on ancient life, these independent researchers crowdfunded to buy microscopes that would allow them to study their new finds in detail.  The fossils belong to a variety of different animal groups, some of them rarely fossilized because they have soft bodies with no hard shells, bones or teeth.  Joe and Lucy are working with other palaeontologists from around the world to study the fossils and decipher what they can tell us about life in Wales’ seas over 460 million years ago. 

In a paper just published in the journal Nature Communications - led by Dr Stephen Pates of Cambridge University and also involving Dr Joanna Wolfe of Harvard University, Joe, Lucy and colleagues describe two highly unusual fossils from the new site.  The fossils are tiny, entirely soft-bodied animals that resemble a bizarre creature called Opabinia, which lived in Canada over 40 million years earlier.  A similar animal called Utaurora was described from rocks of a comparable age in the USA.  Whether the Welsh fossils represent true cousins that belong in the same family as the North American creatures is uncertain, but they certainly reveal that strange ‘opabiniid’- like animals lived in the seas for much longer than previously thought and had a wider geographical range.

 

Where are the fossils from?

The fossils were discovered in a quarry on private land not far from Llandrindod Wells (the exact location is being kept secret to protect the site).  The rocks in which the fossils were found were laid down under the sea during the Ordovician period, over 460 million years ago, a time when what is now mid Wales was covered by an ocean, with a few volcanic islands here and there.

 

What kind of animals were they?

The Welsh fossils resemble strange animals known as ‘opabiniids’, until now only known from much older rocks from the Cambrian period.  They lived in the sea and were soft-bodied, with a long narrow trunk which had a row of flaps along each side, thought to have been used for swimming, and pairs of stumpy triangular legs on the underside. At one end of the trunk, there was a fan-like tail. 

Their most distinctive feature was at the other end - a long proboscis sticking out the front of the head, looking a bit like the hose of a vacuum cleaner.  In contrast to the Cambrian opabiniids, the proboscis of the Welsh species bears a row of small spines.  The proboscis is thought to have been flexible, perhaps used to pick up bits of food off the seabed and to move them to the mouth, which lay behind it on the underside of the head.  Both the legs and the proboscis were ‘annulated’, meaning they were made up of lots of ring-like segments.  However, these were not truly ‘jointed’ in the way that a crab or spider’s legs are jointed.  Opabiniids are thought to share a distant ancestor with these and other modern jointed-limbed animals known as ‘arthropods’, but weren’t direct ancestors of them.

The larger of the two fossils is 13 mm long, including a 3 mm long proboscis. The smaller one is just 3 mm, with its proboscis making up just under a third of its total length.  There are some differences between the two fossils that suggest that the smaller one may be an earlier growth stage of the larger species, or it may represent a different species entirely.  In any case, both Welsh individuals were much smaller than Opabinia, whose fossils are up to 7 cm long. 

 

 

A Welsh name for a Welsh wonder!

All species, living or extinct, have a scientific name made up of two parts, a genus name and a species name.  One of the new fossil animals has been given the scientific name Mieridduryn bonniae.  The species name is after Bonnie, niece of the owners of the land where the fossil was found and fossil fan, in recognition of the family’s support and enthusiasm for the work being carried out on the fossils.  It’s fairly common for new species to be named after people linked to their discovery or who have done a lot of work on related species. The genus name is more unusual and comes from the Welsh words for bramble, mieri and snout or proboscis, duryn.  It was inspired by the small thorn-like spines that stick out along the length of the animal’s proboscis.  It is very unusual for a scientific name to be based on the Welsh language, as traditionally most are derived from Latin or Greek words.  The name Mieridduryn will stand as a lasting tribute to the fossil’s country of origin.

It was decided that the second fossil wasn’t well enough preserved to be able to name it as either belonging to the same species as the first one, or to a different species. 

 

What can I do if I find an unusual-looking fossil?

As these fossils show, there are still lots of exciting new things to discover in Wales.  If you find something that looks interesting and you're not sure what it is, our Museum scientists would be happy to try to identify it for you, whether it's a fossil, rock, mineral, animal or plant.  Just send us a photo (with a coin or ruler included for scale) with details of where you found it.  You can contact us via our website or on Twitter @CardiffCurator  We also have a number of spotters’ guides on our website, which will help you identify a lot of the more common things you’re likely to come across.

 

Weather Records 2022

Penny Tomkins, 4 November 2022

Hi Bulb Buddies, 

 

hope that planting day went well and that you are enjoying documenting weather data for our investigation. 

I want to say a big thank you to you all for your hard work on planting day. Together we planted over 18 thousand bulbs across the UK! Your fantastic planting day photos show that you had a great time.  

 

Weather records started on 1 November. There is a resource on the website with more information on keeping weather records. I’ve attached this here in case you haven’t already seen it. This resource helps you to answer important questions, such as why rainfall and temperature readings are important to our investigation into the effects of climate on the flowering dates of spring bulbs.  

 

Use your Weather Chart to log the rainfall and temperature every day that you are in school. At the end of each week, log into your Spring Bulbs account on the Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales website to enter your weekly readings. You can also leave comments or ask questions for me to answer in my next Blog. 

 

Let me know how you get on and remember that you can share photos via email or Twitter. 

 

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies, 

 

Professor Plant