Turning point - a Black History exhibition

Turning point - a Black History exhibition

TURNING POINT is a landmark video installation I have been proud to create that is inspired by oral histories about the Black Caribbean experience after the First World War. The installation uses comedy and melodrama to tell four period drama stories set in Barbados and Jamaica in 1920.

Each story celebrates a distinct theme of this intersectional milestone (i.e., ‘turning point’) - distilled from my ongoing research. Our story themes are:

  • Black pride/ self-esteem
  • confronting sexual exploitation
  • gender identity
  • colourism/ class rivalry.

Audiences discover ‘triumphs of human spirit’, through compelling immersive storytelling. And we don’t lecture or portray victims. We entertain!

We have six target audiences that we hope are inspired by the stories and themes, including Dementia Support and Schools who we are very pleased to be engaging with.

"My Fellowship gave me new understanding of Black Caribbean heritage: which brings value, relevance and inclusion across Britain’s arts, learning, heritage, community development and wellbeing sectors." - Tony Thompson

In the UK today, the number of people from Black and Asian communities with dementia is increasing, faster than for the White British community (2018 Health and Wellbeing Alliance project). Along with public awareness, dementia support practitioners have highlighted a need for culturally relevant resources and staff training.

In schools meanwhile, teachers like Bristol’s Tanisha Hicks Beresford, are calling for resources and staff development that are more relevant (read Tanasha’s interview for the BBC) : “It’s not just about racism, there’s so much more to this world. You don’t want our students to come out and just feel, ‘I’m oppressed’. They need to see themselves in the world and be agents of change.”

TURNING POINT is currently being exhibited at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery until the end of May; anchoring a great programme of partner-led public engagement activities with all six of our target audiences: schools; young people; elders; dementia support; mainstream arts and heritage; general public.

This summer we take the project to Liverpool. We’re in London from October 2023 to March 2024. We hope to go to Birmingham in 2024 …and then on to other cities.

The Negro Aroused by Edna Manley (1937). Image courtesy of The Edna Manley Foundation, and National Gallery of Jamaica. Download 'The Negro Aroused - Tony Thompson blog'

How did my Fellowship Research influence TURNING POINT?

In 2012, my Fellowship travels to Jamaica, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago and Martinique, gave me new understanding of Black Caribbean heritage: which brings value, relevance and inclusion across Britain’s arts, learning, heritage, community development and wellbeing sectors.

My ‘way in’ to this new understanding was via the region’s neglected folk arts and fine arts c1900-1955. By 1920 a ‘New Negro movement’ was emerging in this distant corner of the Empire. The arts were only one expression of it: defiant creative expression rooted in people of colour at the foot of the colonial ladder, celebrating identity, culture, and human worth.

If I’m to single out one artwork that I discovered through this research it would be Edna Manley’s carving, “The Negro Aroused”(pic attached). She created this piece to express how ordinary people of colour were pushing up out of degradation - the Caribbean ‘New Negro’ movement after the First World War. For me it’s the signature work of this heritage!

A landmark project…

With King Charles III now supporting research of Royal connections to the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in the Caribbean, it is impossible to miss public discourse around the holocaust of Britain’s slavery system from the 1600s to emancipation in 1838. But to my knowledge, the Caribbean’s cultural milestone by the end of World War I has been ignored in favour of stereotypes.

To see what I mean, view the following clip from the Huntley Film Archives about the sugar plantations of Barbados in the 1920s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bQ8w1wczbI

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So, TURNING POINT is really a landmark project. It is enabling diverse stakeholders and audiences to engage with a milestone of British Caribbean heritage: discovering hitherto anonymous people of colour in the British Caribbean, not as ‘passive oppressed’, but real people with thoughts, feelings, and stories of their own. Yes, stories of tremendous suffering, but also incredible resilience and triumph!

But we’re also using comedy and melodrama to shape entertaining storytelling, driven by universal themes that are still relevant now: enabling school students and young people from diverse backgrounds to explore these issues creatively from their own realities today.

Where next?

Going forward, my organisation – Sweet Patootee Arts – aims to continue managing TURNING POINT’s public engagement programme of touring exhibitions and partner-led activities until 2026. Funding permitting, our project portal will launch this autumn – aiming to deliver sustainable benefit through public access to our stories and supporting resources.

TURNING POINT is at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery until 29 May.

If you would like to find out more about TURNING POINT and the resources mentioned, please contact Tony at contact@sweetpatootee.co.uk or visit www.sweetpatootee.co.uk/sweet-patootee-arts/. If you have fundraising skills, and you would like to help, please contact Rebecca at contact@sweetpatootee.co.uk.

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Twitter: @SPatootee
Instagram: @sweetpatooteearts


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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