The Spirit of Sankofa

(Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that means “go back and get it” it is symbolised by a bird with its feet facing forward and its head looking back. The spirit of Sankofa encompasses taking from the past what is good and bringing it into the present to make progress in the future). 

In June, I was privileged to attend Heritage Dot conference at the University of Lincoln. The premise of the conference was to explore digital horizons in relation to cultural heritage, and I was invited to speak about Archiving the Past, Reflecting the Future, an initiative by Serendipity supported by the Heritage Fund to document and share the cultural contribution of the African and African Caribbean community to the East Midlands.

Archiving the Past, Reflecting the Future grew out of Lost Legends, a project to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Black History Month in 2017. Lost Legends was a great success in uncovering the hidden histories of the African and African Caribbean community in Leicester, capturing archival material, oral histories and creating an exhibition, publication and documentary short. Much of the archival material was donated to the Black Cultural Archives in London for preservation, a fantastic national archive; however, there is a real need for a regional hub for the documentation of Black cultural legacy. Without affirmation of Black British history, there is a perpetual sense of displacement.

At Heritage Dot I was also interested to hear more about the work of organisations such as Wikimedia, and the Media Archive for Central England (MACE) in preserving histories in digital formats. 

As we have already uncovered through the Larry Gains: Heavyweight Champion exhibition, Manifest: Black Dance 1940 – 2019 exhibition, since the 1930s, and before, there have been countless trailblazers who have shaped arts and cultural heritage in the region. Recognition of those who have come before is essential, as it informs contemporary practice. Access to and recognition of the work of pioneers of African and African Caribbean heritage is significantly underrepresented in mainstream archives, museums and education programmes. I hope that Archiving the Past, Reflecting the Future and the launch of the next exhibition and digital archive in October will provide another step forward in both documenting and sharing archival materials out of the African and African Caribbean diaspora, providing a resource for research, increasing sense of identity, informing artistic practice and our future. 

We will also be publishing the next in our series of publications Black Dance: A Contemporary Voice in the autumn, capturing the perspectives of those who contributed the conference during LDIF19 and unpacking the dialogue around Black Dance.

Over the summer, keep an eye on social media, our newsletters and the blog for more information. In the meantime, visit the Black History Month pages to book your places for the events happening throughout October.