News / Race Equality

Encouraging conversations on race equality in Bristol

By ellie pipe, Tuesday Oct 15, 2019

Yoko Ono’s exhibition in The Georgian House Museum provides the backdrop for a pop-up feature that aims to encourage conversations and actions on race equality.

Curated by a collective of poets, activists and academics, the miniature exhibit highlights the social injustice that runs deep in Bristol, celebrates the city’s black culture and heritage, provides links between the past and present and puts forward ways in which individuals can make a difference.

“I now think it’s time to go out into the city and reclaim buildings and change the narrative that’s been told,” says poet Lawrence Hoo, who contributed to the pop-up.

//Kabbo Hue Ferdinand, Lawrence Hoo, Clive Smith and Joanna Burch-Brown are just some of the people involved in the pop-up exhibition

Gathered just outside The Georgian House Museum one recent Wednesday lunchtime, Hoo and three others involved in the work articulate why it’s important for them and everyone in the city to ensure facts are highlighted and stories told as part of the journey towards positive change.

Looking up at the grand Georgian buildings on Great George Street, the poet marvels at the wealth and power of the white landowners who profited from the transatlantic slave trade.

“That’s what they were up against,” says Hoo. “Even faced with such power and control, individuals still stood up to them.”

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Illustrated with images from St Paul’s Carnival and with uplifting poetry by Bristol’s own Urban Word Collective, the pop-up exhibition was created in response to Yoko Ono’s letter inviting Bristol to ‘move with grace, move with joy, move with love’.

Yoko Ono’s letter to Bristol

Musician Jimmy Galvin, who curated Yoko Ono’s Interventions/2 exhibition, had said he hoped to prompt conversations about the city’s history of slavery and contemporary injustice, and that it would lead to dialogue between communities.

The piece will be in place until December 31 and reflects contributions from nearly two dozen individuals and grassroots organisations, brought together by Joanna Burch-Brown, senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Bristol.

“Debates over racism tap into profound differences of experience,” explains Burch-Brown.

“These conversations can often lead towards a hardening of feeling, from people on all sides of the conversation.

“Yoko Ono has spent a lifetime using art to promote unity and joy, to startle us out of complacent acceptance, and prompt us to imagine positive futures. Her message is that peace and love are the destination.

“Like Ono, in these panels we have aimed to be forthright in highlighting social injustice, while always orienting ourselves towards positive paths forward.

“We hope that more communities will be inspired to follow up with positive, creative responses.  Every voice is important.”

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Read more: Yoko Ono to host exhibition in Bristol

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Anndeloris Chacon of Bristol Black Carers, Shaun Clarke, Marie-Annick Gournet, Michael Jenkins, Lottie Kennett, Charmaine Lawrence, Ros Martin, Vanessa Melody, Idren Natural, Clive Smith, Aisha Thomas and St Paul’s Carnival are just some of the contributors.

Speaking about its importance, //Kabbo Hue Ferdinand, of the Urban Word Collective, says: “Bristol has recognised 91 languages being spoken within its bounds. We can create safe space for us all to tell our own stories, in our own time, in our own words, by our own means and in our own languages, when we feel safe and allowed to do so.”

A poem by Vanessa Melody Smith is incorporated within the exhibit:

“World changing
So amazing
As mind clears and hearts open…
Peace, joy, compassion and love
The very essence of who I am.”

The team hope to make the project available as a template to teachers and community groups across the city, which can be adapted to raise awareness on these important issues.

The pop-up exhibition is also set to do a tour of major Bristol venues after a three-month run at The Georgian House Museum.

Award-winning filmmaker Clive Smith has recently completed a new documentary: The Windrush Journey of Mental Health. Speaking about the exhibition, he tells Bristol24/7: “Stories need to be told by the people who have experienced them and know what they are talking about.

“It’s important these stories are told here and in the rest of the world.”

Visitors can leave their thoughts and views on the issues raised on the panels at The Georgian House Museum or share their stories on twitter using the hashtag #RaceEqualityBristol or they are invited to email Dr Joanna Burch-Brown: artf-impact@bristol.ac.uk.

Images of St Pauls Carnival are included in the exhibition. Photo by Chris Bahn

Read more: Empowering retelling of the transatlantic slave trade story

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