Diasporan voices at the centre of global connections – an idea at the core of New Media Networks (NMN) – the company I co-founded with Akim Mogaji in 2008. We work internationally in every sense with the creative process at the heart of our activity and delivered through audio/visual production, training and research.
A strand of our work has been with and through various members of the Commonwealth family of organisations across the globe. As with so many opportunities, it was happenstance that led us to Tate & Lyle’s collection of films. At an Away Day held in the company’s still working Refinery in east London, I saw container ships landing the unrefined cane, diggers moving the sugar mountains around, computers running the refining machines and hundreds of boxes of sugar rolling back into containers. Walking through their small ‘museum’ with many black and white photographs on display, I asked ‘if there were any films?’ to be shown ‘the collection’, still in original cans and just waiting to be viewed by someone with interest. NMN asked for and three months later, was given the license to the films for educational purposes by Tate & Lyle.
The following year, together with our wonderful expert partners from the Film History Department at Birkbeck University, we were awarded a Creativeworks London Creative Voucher to explore ‘The World in a Cube’ – a creative conversation about Commonwealth issues involving Diasporan voices, communities of interest, film historians and a global industrial giant – a dream becoming reality.
“I was surprised that the sugar was shipped back to Ghana – that was extraordinary. The first film was in the West Indies where all gets put together… the road that my mum lived on (my parents are from Jamaica), that road is still the same with the sugar cane growing but there’s no factory anymore. There’s a whole population of young people who now go to Florida to cut the sugar cane but it’s the same journey…”
A contributor’s response at one of our discussion sessions after viewing extracts from ‘British Refined’, one of the six films we had semi-digitised
I began this journey interested in archives, and also as a learner. During the course of the project, we held ‘focus’ discussions with academic and informal historians, museum curators and collectors, Tate & Lyle employees (including management), community organisations and individuals. With each grouping, history was contested, ‘lively’ views exchanged and the films deeply appreciated.
We had found and confirmed a wide appetite for discussion, but was there one for creativity? Indeed there was – we put out a challenge to young and emerging filmmakers to create new short films comprising their audio/visual responses to the archive content using a small selection of the Tate & Lyle material. We held a special screening for them and their response to the challenge was terrific, with funny, moving and truly novel exploitations of the material and then we knew that this approach was and is a rich seam for us to pursue.
At the end of 2014, I was appointed as a Non Executive Director for Communication and Information on the UK National Commission for UNESCO. Within my area sits an extraordinary programme i.e. ‘The Memory of the World’, with the vision that “the world’s documentary heritage belongs to all and should be fully preserved and protected for all”. This has led me to working on policies for UNESCO with national UK experts from the British Library, the National Archive and more, also to presenting the UK’s response to a formal Recommendation on Access to Archives at the UNESCO General Conference, within the allotted 3 minutes of course. It is the most extraordinarily noisy field of work where I still have my L plates on but now have gathered a greater sense of what I don’t know and enough confidence to lead on a current new development for us. This is a collaboration with artists, media producers to work with researchers and lecturers from Westminster University on the creation of a new living digital archive for art.
Thank you Creativeworks London for providing the opportunity to help to make any of this happen.
Image: From British Refined (1960), Courtesy of Tate & Lyle Sugars