Amgueddfa Blog: Community Engagement

Spirited

Laku Neg, 26 October 2022

Spirited is an immersive installation in honour of fractured African traditions that feed and underpin our island culture in Trinidad and Tobago.

 

The Vision

In dreaming this work we thought about women. We knew about Luisa Calderón whose torture became well known during the infamous 1806 trial of Picton. We found reference to Present (a young enslaved woman executed by Picton for attempting to run away), in a Bridget Brereton history book. V.S. Naipaul’s Loss of El Dorado informed us of Thisbe, who was accused of sorcery and condemned to death - hanged, decapitated and burnt at the stake - her head placed on a pole. These women are essentially our ancestors. We considered questions such as: what would they say if they were able to speak through us? How can we honour them and transform their suffering - scream into song, torture into dance?

On seeing the drawings of Luisa’s torture we imagined her suspended figure as an elegant dancer. Captivated by the beauty of the human form, that motif would become a feature throughout the final piece.

Mary-Anne has a beautiful phrase: “6 aunties and a grandma -  embodying in many ways the kitchen space as a creative yard, a place for wisdom, disagreement, challenge, questioning and throwing lots of ideas into a pot - The kitchen, that yard aesthetic, was how we dreamed together. 

In dreaming, we imagined that anything was possible. We wanted to play with traditional and contemporary digital media and create an immersive journey, a dance.

 

The Work

While the kitchen yard aesthetic informed our dreaming, it was the Carnival yard aesthetic that informed how we made the work. At the heart of this was an invitation to be involved. 

Having worked in community arts, the intuition here was that, in order for people (such as museum staff) to have ownership over the work, they must feel part of it, so that they can deliver the message and share with others.

The making involved:

Collecting, Twisting, Weaving - “A tapestry of memory and understanding” The woven newspaper was the most communal aspect of our work - chosen as a way of utilising a handmade, something-from-nothing Carnival making aesthetic.

Metal work - Led by Cindy, we worked with Cardiff Engineering Company on the large centrepiece gallows structure. The intricate music box with a chocolate-covered wire Luisa, is a micro reflection of the macro centre installation.

Video & Photography - We produced 3 videos, each speaking to a different aspect of the journey we were symbolising through the 3 women. The photographs  aimed to re-imagine a childhood for Present, our women and all whom they represent.

Soundscape - We approached the audio as a continuation of the weaving. We invited and commissioned 4 musicians and composers to contribute pieces based on their interpretation of the environment we wanted to invoke. Interwoven are the spoken words of Luisa from a translation of Governor Picton’s trial.

Everyday hurricane Passing - This acapella by Mary-Anne is an invocation for Grandmothers we never knew and Nennen, women who cared for us in their absence, to dance.

‘Everyday Hurricane Passing’ but despite destruction, invasion, derision, separation, obstruction, bombardment, intrusion and denial, ever resourceful, we dream, we create riches, we dance and fight, we raise.

Painting - In this we wanted to engage an idea of transformation, with a particular focus on Thisbe representing warrior and healer. The limited and bright colour palette is in deliberate high contrast to Picton’s portrait.

The women - The presence, the actions and the duties of women are all pervading in the Caribbean. Our men were not allowed to be there to protect us. Through the narratives we know and the narratives we imagine, we centre these women within our paintings, wire work, photographs, videos and chocolate. We dance with beauty and the macabre - we tell a story of the named and step into the unnamed collective - the procession of those killed, tortured, wounded and maimed.

Creating the environment - The spiral is an echo of the centrepiece moving outward and inward - symbolising the processional. The colours on the wall represent the vibration and intensity of Caribbean colour and flavour.

 

The Resonance

This work is a celebration - we are still here.

 

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

Black Lives Matter - A speech from the opening of the Reframing Picton exhibition at National Museum Cardiff

The Reframing Picton group, 13 October 2022

Black Lives Matter.

For generations, even up to recent years, that’s been a controversial statement. Thomas Picton is only one of many instruments of the British Empire who exported, demonstrably, an opposing belief.

I’m unsure where I heard this but it’s stuck with me since:

“The instant a subject becomes aware they have been exposed to propaganda, that propaganda ceases to be effective”

In the case of Thomas Picton and his legacy, drenched in the blood of Africans and Native Caribbeans, was sanitized, valorised iteratively while he lived and especially following his death. The murder of George Floyd spurred people and institutions into gear, Amgueddfa Cymru were thankfully one of those institutions.

At the heart of the idea of empire is a differential sense of importance. Some places are more important than others, setting up the Metropole and the Colony. A center and a periphery. The prevailing narrative has always been fundamentally white supremacist, at the expense of Africans and Natives. The British Empire used the metropole-colony model to evade accountability for events driven by people like Picton.

Reframing Picton represents a divergence from this narrative. 

In the time we worked on this project we made a point to expose, not erase history. It was essential that we directly involved people connected to Trinidad, where Picton entrenched his reputation for barbarism during his tenure as Governor. 

Amongst the goals for this exhibit is the creation of a site of conscience rather than indoctrination. To create a dialogue between museums, the governments that fund them and the communities they serve. To create healthy ways of addressing.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a quote that I think encapsulates the purpose of the project most pertinently:

“If we want our future to be better than our past we need to challenge which aspects of our culture we preserve, build upon and deconstruct”

Patchwork of Memories – Remembrance and grief during Covid 19

Loveday Williams, 13 July 2022

In 2020 Amgueddfa Cymru and Cruse Bereavement Support Cymru came together to support people across the country through their grief and create a lasting memorial full of memories to those lost during the time of Covid-19. It involved creating a square patch containing a memory of a loved one, in which ever way people chose, in whatever words or images they liked. Each patch created demonstrated a visual display of lasting memories of someone they loved who had died, created in unprecedented times.  50+ patches were sent to the Museum and have been carefully sewn together to form a Patchwork of Memories.

For the last two year we have all lived very different lives, with change to our normal the only constant. Losing a loved one is always hard but usually we have the comfort of others and collective mourning at funerals to help us say goodbye and share our memories.  However, a death in the last two years has meant many of us being cut off from our support networks and our rituals or remembrance being altered.  

Rhiannon Thomas, previous Learning Manager at St Fagans said about this project “Helping people with grief is something that I am personally passionate about. Having worked with Cruse Bereavement Support previously to support families I felt the Museum was able to help families dealing with loss in a different way.  Amgueddfa Cymru and Cruse Bereavement Support Wales came together to create a project based around creativity and memory, the aim being to make a lasting memorial to those who have died during the pandemic.” 

Creating something is not a new response to grief, there are several Embroidery samplers in Amgueddfa Cymru’s collections made in memory of loved ones or marking their passing.   This sampler by M.E. Powell was created in 1906 in memory of her mother.   Creativity during difficult times of our lives can help all of us to express deep held emotions that we do not always have the ability to put into words. 

Bereavement Support Days

Alongside the Patchwork of Memories initiative, the Cruse / Museum Partnership also provide a safe inspirational space for the increasing numbers of children and young people awaiting bereavement support and help meet the diverse needs of bereaved children, young people and families who benefit from coming together to rationalise, explore and understand that they are not alone in their grief. 

A series of quarterly Bereavement Support Days are held in partnership with St Fagans, for children, young people and their families experiencing grief and loss. There is specialist support from Cruse staff and volunteers along with art and craft activities provided by Head for Arts and immersive Virtual Reality experiences provided by PlayFrame, which are light-hearted, allowing people attending the chance to make and create things that can be taken home with them and or captured and stored into a virtual memory box. The activities available are designed to stimulate rather that prompt.

Here is the film created by PlayFrame on Ekeko, the virtual memory space they have been creating alongside this project, installing objects, memories and stories donated by participants into a virtual memory box for people to enter and explore:

https://youtu.be/KoQE00ff-rc 

And a link the virtual reality memory space itself: https://www.oculus.com/experiences/quest/6371190072951353/

Alison Thomas, Cruse CYP Wales Lead said “Cruse Bereavement Support Wales provides in person support to children and young people within a variety of settings, so we see first-hand how difficult it can be for grieving children and young people. Their collective support on these days allows families the time and space to verbalise and begin to understand their loss and associated emotions. The focus of the Bereavement Support days is around children and young people, however, the benefits resonate through the whole family including the adults in attendance, some of whom require bereavement support on the day, most of whom stay for the duration and share a cuppa and chat with other bereaved parents and guardians. Following the session, the whole family can have a look around the Museum and spend time together in a safe and nurturing setting.”

Here are some of the written (in their own handwriting) evaluation feedback quotes from children, young people and parents / guardians who have attended the Bereavement Days:

'I feel calmer, less worried.  It was good being able to speak to people my age who understood what I'm going through.'

'I was very included in all the activities and was always involved in conversation.  There was a calm atmosphere making it easier to speak to people there.'

'I was very welcomed and was immediately approached by a friendly face.  It was very inviting and was easy to speak to people there.'

'HAPPY' 🙂

'Love 🙂 happy'

'Thank you Diolch, Diolch 🙂'

A mother of one of the young people said 'I feel much better than I did.'

Another mother said 'All was lovely, made to feel welcome, everything we did was good and the girls enjoyed themselves.'

The two memory quilts will be competed by the end of August 2022, following which we will hold a final project event with Cruse Bereavement Support Wales on 25th September at St Fagans National Museum of History, where we will display the two quilts and invite both the contributors who sent squares and the participants from the Bereavement Support Days to attend, along with the public, to see the quilts and share their experiences of taking part in the process.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Our Museum Garden June 2022

Sian Taylor-Jones, 24 June 2022

Our wonderful ‘Our Museum Garden’ volunteers have made a great start in the first 3 months of the project. We are on a mission to improve our museum grounds for biodiversity and the public. At the end of March we set about clearing the carpark and grounds of huge amounts of Irish Ivy (Hedera hibernica) and removing dead shrubs. It’s given us some great planting opportunities:

  • We have planted spring bulbs (for next year) under the trees as you drive into the carpark. There are snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and a variety of different daffodils (Narcissus spp.) We also added some geraniums and ferns for some later interest.
  • We have started to develop a herb bed. This isn’t intended solely for human consumption – but to provide for the pollinators too. The ‘herb bed’ has been planted up with rosemary (Salvia Rosmarinus), lavender (Lavandula), marjoram (Origanum marjoram), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), borage (Borago officinalis), angelica (A. archangelica), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). We have already seen lots of insect visitors to the patch.
  • There are the beginnings of plans for a small herbaceous border.

 

The volunteer group is also tasked with looking after the ‘Urban Meadow’. For the next few months, this patch of ground adjacent to Park Place will be alive with wildflowers and pollinators. We supported Plantlife’s ‘No Mow May’ campaign which encourages people to keep their lawns uncut to increase biodiversity. We surveyed the meadow at the end of the month and found a wide selection of grasses and 8 different flowers including bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens). We estimate at that time there were 4950 wildflowers within the space.

 

We will have an event running to celebrate National Meadows Day on Saturday July 2nd too. Come and join us, survey the meadow with us and make seed bombs to take away and start your own mini-meadow!  All the details you need are here: National Meadows Day | National Museum Wales

 

This project is funded by Welsh Government’s Landfill Disposals Tax Communities Scheme, administered by WCVA.

 

Nature Finds a Way

Alyson Edwards, 3 May 2022

The Recolonisation of Invertebrates on Restored Grassland:

I’m Alyson, a Professional Training Year placement year student from Cardiff University (School of Biosciences), currently working within the Entomology department at National Museum Cardiff under the supervision of Dr Michael R Wilson (researchgate.net). My interest in ecology, conservation and zoology ultimately led me here, and with no prior specialist knowledge in entomology (the study of insects) I jumped in at the deep end. Within a few months I was sampling in the field and identifying leaf- and planthopper species from Ffos-y-Fran (an open cast colliery site near Merthyr Tydfil). This  is currently undergoing the process of restoration so that it is converted from a colliery site to reseeded grassland.

Sampling in the field at Ffos-y-Fran in July 2021

Samples were then frozen and analysed along with samples taken in 2017-2019

Sorting invertebrate samples using a microscope and forceps into labelled tubes of ‘Hemiptera’, ‘Coleoptera’, ‘Diptera’ and ‘Assorted’ before storing specimens in 80% alcohol for preservation

Identifying and analysing over four years of invertebrate samples, involved looking at 195 samples.  This took a fair amount of time but allows the rate of recolonisation over a 5-year period, total species diversity, richness, and population dynamics within the fields across the years and seasons to be calculated. Leaf- and planthoppers (Hemiptera: Auchenorrhyncha) were chosen as models within this study as they are frequently common within grassland environments and can be used as an indicator of recolonisation progress on man-restored environments and ex-colliery spoil sites. Colliery sites are a common landscape visible across the UK, especially in the south Wales valleys. Their ecological importance and possible biodiversity are often overlooked, however work by Liam Olds (formerly Natural Talent apprentice at Amgueddfa Cymru), continues to highlight this through the Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative (https://www.collieryspoil.com/about).

The 195 samples were sorted into tubes labelled as ‘Hemiptera’, ‘Coleoptera’, ‘Diptera’ and ‘Assorted’

Further sorting of the Hemiptera samples to species level in order to record population and gender numbers

I am currently in the process of analysing this huge data set and creating a report to show the findings. However, in summary, the data has shown a trend of increasing diversity of hopper species within the field since it was reseeded. In total, 33 species were identified from the site – highlighting the ecological importance these habitats hold. Interestingly, grassland species generally uncommon to the area such as the planthopper Xanthodelphax flaveola and the leafhopper Anoscopus histrionicus, were abundant across the site leading to interesting discussion points as to why this environment encourages their colonisation. Other observations and discussions have also arisen from different wing-morphologies (shapes) seen in specimens of the same species. For example, the discovery of long-winged females of Doratura impudica, which are commonly a brachypterous species (short or rudimentary wings) encourages thought on arrival and colonisation methods of certain species, which could potentially help analyse other environments under recolonisation and ‘rewilding’ programmes. 

Uncommon species of grasslands in the area, leafhopper Anoscopus histrionicus (male specimen) were observed frequently at Ffos-y-Fran.

Uncommon species of grasslands in the area, planthopper Xanthodelphax flaveola (male specimen) were observed frequently at Ffos-y-Fran.

Long-winged morphs of Doratura impudica, a brachypterous species (short or rudimentary wings), were observed infrequently across the site

Studying the recolonisation of hoppers at Ffos-y-Fran has allowed me to develop and gain numerous skills which I will take with me into my final year of university and beyond. Not only have I been able to improve on existing skills such as report writing and data analysis, but I’ve also had the opportunity to gain new skills such as invertebrate identification, mounting specimens and taxonomical drawing. I’ve also had the chance to use the Scanning Electron Microscopy and sputter coating, and I have also used the imaging equipment at National Museum Cardiff to create a ‘species guide’ of the 33 observed at Ffos-y-Fran to supplement the report and provide a visual aid. Within my first few months at the museum, I was also able to get involved in a data collection project run by Dr Alan Stewart (University of Sussex), analysing specimens within the Auchenorrhyncha collections to create spreadsheets for the eventual creation of species distribution maps as part of the UK Mapping scheme for this insect group. There are so many opportunities and experiences to be had within the museum!

Looking through the collections and understanding the role of a collections manager

Gaining experience in imaging by photographing Fijian spittlebugs in preparation of redescribing and describing new species

My time with Amgueddfa Cymru has been amazing, conducting research and joining the Natural Sciences team, and has solidified my desire to pursue a career in research. I believe my placement has given me a great start for a future career with the skills I’ve gained and developed through my work on Ffos-y-Fran and my secondary research project. The second project I am currently working on in collaboration with Dr Mike Wilson will provide an up-to-date redescription and description of new species of Fijian spittlebugs with the aim of publication of my first peer-reviewed scientific paper. Watch this space to find out more on the latter project ….