Teenagers aged 14 to 19 from the London Borough of Newham participated in this video project in the summer of 2007.
Assisted by video artists and historians, the young people uncovered sites related to historical racism and anti-racism in the West India Docks area of London. They then expressed their interpretation of this history and heritage creatively, using digital media and their imaginations.
At the end of the five-day workshops, each young participant had produced a short film, or 'video art postcard', informed by their workshop learning. There are 33 videos in total.
The bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade provided an opportunity to revisit its history and develop new work on slavery and anti-racism.
For Manifesta and Runnymede, it proved to be an ideal occasion to devise a project that would enable young people to engage in work exploring connections between slavery, resistance and contemporary issues of racism. Using video as a medium allowed us to propose alternative means of expression, using artistic creativity and imagination.
Focusing on the links between history and local history, Video ART Postcards was designed to inspire young people about contemporary struggles against racisms and injustice by looking at the legacy of slavery and the abolitionist movement locally. The aims of the project for the young people involved were to:
"I learned how brutal slavery was"
Watch Shiwan's film: Memories eating me up
The starting point for tackling such an emotive and often difficult issue as racism was the commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade and the physical traces of slavery in their local and contemporary environment. The Museum in Docklands - built on the foundations of the old West India trading docks and with its many artefacts - was a particularly rich site of exploration for the teenagers.
The project centred on the statue of Robert Milligan (trader/MP/West India lobbyist), the West India Dock founders' wall and the Museum in Docklands. Historians highlighted that the trade funded much of the city's industrial and financial success. The Museum is itself located at Warehouses No. 1 and No. 2, where sugar, rum and coffee produced in the slave plantations were stored.
"I enjoyed going to Docklands and seeing useful images and monuments to inspire me"
Watch Crystal's film: Journey for freedom
After touring the West India Docks and the Museum, the young people began to make connections between the past and the present. Assisted by video artists, they developed their own personal ideas and used digital video as a means to capture images and work with sites, symbols, marks/traces while expressing their personal views, feelings, questions and emotions.
"It was a revealing insight to a history which is not, sometimes, openly discussed. Making the film allowed me to express feelings that are constrained within us"
Watch Fienga's film: Connections!
Rather than using the written word for expression, the young people were encouraged to reflect on the issues raised and to react, report, question and express themselves creatively, through video. Helped by the workshop facilitators (video artists and historians) each of them developed an idea and a narrative, and prepared a shooting script.
The following days were devoted to filming in small groups, with young people helping each other with sound, camera work and performance, as well as researching sounds and images from the past on the internet. Once they had collected their images, the editing phase started where the young people learned to: organise their images to ensure that the key messages were delivered; convey emotions and tensions, by adding music and sound; develop and use a narrative voice. The young participants gained new skills and engaged with new subjects including: social research, the links between local and global history, media education, campaigning, team work, artistic expression and promotion.
"The workshop was fantastic because the tutors showed a lot of support for our ideas, but at the same time, they gave us the freedom within the project"
Watch Amina's film: You can only imagine
"I wanted to put a sense of the past and the future. I've got different images, I've got me acting as a slave"
Watch Rita's film: Slavery abolished or established?
The aim of Video ART Postcards in exploring the slave trade and its legacy was to help young people tackle issues related to racism and social exclusion and to understand anti-racism and cultural diversity. Young people have opinions on these issues and are eager to have their own voices heard. The project helped them express their opinions in a format that allows us to put their voices on public platforms.
"The experience was wonderful. The staff was incredibly supportive and enthusiastic which made me enthusiastic. And I couldn't be prouder of the end result, not just mine but the whole group's videos were fantastic. The experience really opened my mind to the full history of London's East End"
Watch Orena's film: Masked
The 33 videos - one per young workshop participant - were premiered at the Museum in Docklands as part of the public opening of their new permanent gallery London, Sugar and Slavery on 10 November 2007. Selections of the Video ART Postcards will be incorporated in educational materials for use in formal and non-formal learning situations.
The videos were also showcased on the BBC London website.
Video ART Postcards is a joint initiative between Runnymede and Manifesta designed to demonstrate links between contemporary and historical struggles against racisms and related injustice, and looking in particular at the legacy of slavery and the abolitionist movement.
Video ART Postcards is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), with support from the Association for Cultural Advancement through Visual Art (ACAVA), Forest Gate City Learning Centre and the Museum in Docklands.
For more information contact Manifesta co-director Marion Vargaftig at email@example.com.