9 Sep 2021
The inaugural year of our Formations programme, led by the Postcolonial Studies Centre (directed by Jenni Ramone and Nicole Thiara) in collaboration with Bonington Gallery, will close at the end of September 2021 with the segment Formation: Re-viewing. This final segment will be an opportunity to look back over the programme of 30 events including 15 videos now archived on our YouTube channel.
Thank you to everyone who has attended and supported our events, and a huge thanks to all of the participants and contributors to the programme. Having not done an online events programme before, we were excited to take advantage of the opportunity that online programming brings with hosting such a wide range of practitioners, knowledge and experience, and continue global conversations that were established and furthered in 2020 as a result of George Floyd’s murder, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Decolonisation agenda and COVID-19.
This blog post by no means covers all aspects of the programme, but will offer a flavour and starting point for the range of topics that were explored.
Our programme began in October 2020 with the launch of Honey Williams‘ specially commissioned work Snakey Friends II (Banned from Britain), 2020. This work, with its anti-structural racism message, acted as an emblem for the Formations programme, and was on display outside the gallery for the whole year. We are really pleased that our host institution Nottingham Trent University acquired this work as part of its Art Collection, securing the long-term care and display of this work. Honey’s piece will stay on show outside the gallery for another year at least, before it is sited elsewhere, so please take a look when you next visit the gallery. Honey’s commission was adjoined by a Q&A, where she expands upon what constitutes and informs her practice and thinking.
Our very first Formations event, as part of Formation: History was the book launch of Distinguished Professor Sharon Monteith’s book SNCC’s Stories: The African American Freedom Movement in the Civil Rights South (University of Georgia Press, October 2020). This included a Q+A with Poet, Director of Nottingham Black Archive and NTU doctoral researcher Panya Banjoko. It was great to work with Panya again after her Bonington Vitrines presentation in November 2019.
November & December’s segment was entitled Formation: Land, which considered dispossession, migration, and ways the human and land interact. This segment saw the first of several writing workshops led by the PSC’s writer in residence Eve Makis. This workshop encouraged participants to learn how to evoke a landscape using your senses, taking inspiration from the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Elif Shafak. The workshops with Eve remained very popular throughout the year.
In December we were extremely pleased to have supported the student led conference Longing to Belong, which raised questions surrounding our relationship with the term ‘belonging’. It focused on writers from the diaspora, asserting that their relationship with belonging is a unique and under-represented experience. The guest speakers included Eve Makis, Panya Banjoko and Helen Cousins.
The new year began with Formation: Memorials, extending many of the conversations and dialogues around public history and memorialisation prompted by such recent moments as the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol.
We were pleased to have hosted a discussion between Dr Jessica Moody and Professor Stephen Small, chaired by NTU’s Dr Jenny Woodley, with Purnachandra Naik. This lively event explored how the UK and USA’s histories are inextricably bound up with enslavement and yet, both countries have failed to fully recognise or interrogate these pasts.
Prompted by the shared circumstance of the pandemic, but its disproportionate impact upon people of colour, the next segment Formation: DNA explored related topics such as identity, care, inequality, disease and vaccination.
In April we hosted a conversation between KARVAN and Kwanzaa Collective UK, who have been working closely with five Black frontline workers to ask the question “How do you do a job that involves caring for others, when you are working within a system that doesn’t care about you?“.
With the ONS reporting that over 60% of COVID-related deaths on the frontline have come from ethnic minority backgrounds, yet ethnic minorities only make up about 17% of the NHS – with Black people being only 6.1% of that, this disproportion generates a lot of questions that desperately need answers.
Our May/June segment was Formation: Milk, looking at global practices and representations of breastfeeding in art and literature. In acknowledgment of Bonington Gallery’s own position, one of the events we hosted explored representations of breastfeeding in art history. This event featured Rebecca Randle, Learning and Engagement Coordinator, and Helen Cobby, Assistant Curator, both from The Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham who spoke to PSC’s Jenni Ramone about text and interpretation used within gallery and museum contexts, and the opportunity to utilise labels, panels and leaflets to better connect with audiences and elicit emotion.
In June we hosted the PSC’s online conference Patterns of Struggle and Solidarity, exploring the practice and study of cultural activism from disciplines across postcolonial studies. Across a collection of presentations, conversations, workshops, screenings and performances, questions were posed such as How do academics fit into the field of cultural activism? How do academics and activists conceptualise patterns of struggle and solidarity? What role does postcolonial research play in supporting and amplifying the voices and work of cultural activists, in particular in the fields of literature, art, film, craft and performance art? and How do cultural activists and performers engage with postcolonial studies? A performance highlight from the conference was by Dalit rapper Sumit Samos.
A material and subject very close to Nottingham was explored in the sixth segment of Formations, Formation: Lace – The global history of lace and its use in colonial contexts. This segment featured important research and knowledge that is related to the history of Lace, as well as working with practitioners local to Nottingham who continue a tradition of hand embroidery and craft as a form of community exercise.
We were delighted to work with Nottingham based artist Rita Kappia, furthering her series of Empowerment Doll workshops and projects. Firstly we hosted a Zoom workshop for 20 participants who were situated across the globe. The group followed Rita’s instructions to make themselves an Empowerment Doll. The workshop proved emotional at times, and showed the therapeutic potential of making a doll in the company of others, and exploring personal themes of identity and self-care.
Our second engagement with Rita was a specially filmed YouTube instructional video (shot by Reece Straw) that was accompanied by 80 free kits that allowed people around the world to make a doll following Rita on the screen. The free kits went very quickly, and pictures of dolls have been sent to us over the past few weeks.
As reflected by this post, the final segment Formation: Re-viewing will be an opportunity to look back over all of the topics and content gathered this year, so please explore yourselves. You can view all of the Formation talks on our YouTube playlist.
We are really pleased to be continuing Formations for a second year, so please check back to our website and follow our social channels for updates over the coming weeks.