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Credit: Yinka Shonibare

“Inspiring beyond imagination”: art education project, The World Reimagined

The World Reimagined is set to be one of the largest art education projects for racial justice the UK has ever seen. Commissioned artists are bringing to life the reality and impact of the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans through trails of large globe sculptures, aiming to stimulate dialogue, raise consciousness and create social change. Here, we take a closer look and speak to local commissioned artist Michele Curtis about her inspiration, creation and hopes for the next generation…

This month, The World Reimagined – a ground-breaking, vibrant art education project that aims to transform how we understand the Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans and its impact on all of us – will launch trails of large globe sculptures across seven cities across the UK including Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool City Region, London and Swansea.

From 13 August – 31 October, 103 sculptures will bring to life the reality and impact of the Transatlantic Trade, inviting the public to engage with the dialogue and actions of making racial justice a reality. Organisers hope to inspire and galvanise communities to better understand what it means to be Black and British.

Each trail will consist of 10 globes. The artists’ creations will respond to nine themes that make up the project’s Journey of Discovery. The themes range from ‘Mother Africa’ and ‘The Reality of Being Enslaved’ to ‘Still We Rise’ and ‘Expanding Soul’. The tenth globe will be designed by an artist in collaboration with community groups.

The trails are being delivered in partnership with global public art producers, Wild in Art, who have a proven track record of creating world-class events which entertain, enrich and inform. Their previous work includes the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic mascot trail, the award-winning Bee in the City in Manchester, and Rockets around Leicester.

Above: Bristol-based artist, illustrator and graphic designer Michele Curtis

Across the UK, alongside the official presenting partner SKY and supporter Bloomberg, Kick It Out is the UK trail map partner. Local businesses have also supported as globe partners in Bristol including: Natracare, GE, Osborne Clarke, University of Bristol, UWE Bristol, Bristol City Centre BID and Broadmead BID. The World Reimagined has been awarded grants by Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Portal Trust, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and The City of London Neighbourhood Fund. To complement the globe trails, an accompanying learning programme will link artists and young people through resources which encourage a creative and critical exploration of our shared history in order to help build a more equitable future.

Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye, Artistic Director of The World Reimagined said: “Art has the unique ability to invite dialogue for us to collectively process, participate and reflect. Artists remind us of who we are and help us to imagine who we can be. I am excited for the country to engage with these globes and am deeply grateful to have such incredibly talented, open, and thoughtful artists involved.

They offer us multivariate angles from which to understand the Transatlantic Trade of Enslaved Africans, and its legacies. I hope the power of this project will contribute to an equitable and inclusive pathway forward.”

Ahead of the launch, we spoke to local artist, illustrator and graphic designer Michele Curtis, who is one of the nine artists to be commissioned for the Bristol trail. Michele is the founder and executive director of Iconic Black Britons, an organisation which aims to increase engagement in the arts particularly for marginalised groups. In 2015, Michele held The Seven Saints of St Pauls’ exhibition. Overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response of those in attendance, she quickly realised more needed to be done. Two years later, what started as a one-off exhibition has become a creative movement that is changing the very landscape of Bristol and improving the city’s social and cultural health. There are now seven large-scale murals and an accompanying heritage tour and mobile app to help people learn about the rich history of the St Pauls’ Carnival and the contributions made by the Windrush Generation.

Tell us about your connection to Bristol and your previous work and exhibitions in the city…
I’m a proper Bristolian. My family is now five generations deep in the city, beginning with my grandad who invested in properties in St. Pauls in the 1950s. My connection to Bristol is what inspired my Iconic Black Bristolians exhibitions and the Seven Saints of St. Pauls creative placemaking project. With the lack of monuments and lack of accessible information regarding the achievements and contributions of the African Caribbean community in the city, I was inspired by the intangible cultural aspects of our history and wanted to showcase the community through exhibitions, murals and the Seven Saints of St. Pauls mobile app.

Can you talk us through your idea for the globe sculpture and what theme you are focusing on (Mother Africa, Expanding Soul, Still We Rise)?
I would say it spans all three themes. Following the consultation session with the community, it was clear to me that there is great pride with regards to the cultural aspects of African history, which I felt was important to include in the design. However, it was evident that there is still a lot of pain and unhealed trauma that is generations deep. My practice has always focused on the positive aspects of Black history; therefore, my design focuses on our healing from the past, unity and pride in ourselves and our community. My intention is to convey hope and encourage a sense of self-actualisation in the design. Whilst still honouring our cultural heritage and history.

Where did you find your inspiration for this piece?
Cleo Lake, the Community Coordinator and I held a community consultation at the St. Pauls Learning Centre. This provided the opportunity to listen to the views of community. Through this session I was able to draw inspiration for the design through the discussions around the themes.

How does it feel to be a part of one of the largest art education projects for racial justice the UK has ever seen and what makes this project so unique in your opinion?
As an artist and heritage interpreter, I’m very selective with regards to my practice. I am literally still in shock and awe that I am privileged enough to be a part of such an innovative project. For me, this project is unique in both its execution and the opportunities it has provided for the creative industry in the UK. The way in which they have managed to create and fund a national project that has a mass collaborative approach is inspiring beyond imagination. The World Reimagined with support from Bristol City Council has connected a network of creatives to tell a painful and polarizing part of British history in a professional and supportive environment. I’m am very proud to have been considered and included.

Why is this project so important to you and what do you hope people from all parts of the country will take away from it, especially the younger generation?
The 2020 pandemic and the BLM movement in the US sparked a seemingly mass awakening regarding racism, white privilege and allyship. With statements like: “We’re all in this together”, regarding the NHS frontline staff. I unfortunately remained sceptical that we really are embarking on real change. Why? Because, I’ve seen and heard the same thing my entire life and have heard the horrific experiences of family members, friends and fellow diasporans who all had the same experiences. Lest we forget, the many enslaved Africans who rebelled against their enslavement, the various civil rights movements in both the US and UK, the various riots throughout 1980’s UK, Stephen Lawrence, Child Q, the Black women mortality birth rates, the failings to protect Black girls and boys within the British education system, disproportionately being diagnosed with mental illness, the adultification and criminalization of Black children and the list goes on. All of these injustices are due to the colour of our skin, based on the same eugenics that was used to enslave us. We have been fighting for basic human rights for hundreds of years… I’m tired and I do not want to pass the baton. My hope is not only will this project have an impact today, but will also have a lasting legacy that will once and for all give us peace so my grandchildren are not regurgitating the same traumatic experiences my great grandparents told my grandparents, my parents told me and I tell my children. I hope that we don’t have to keep fighting and pleading our case for equality and continue to keep reliving our intergenerational trauma in order to do so. I hope this project illuminates all that needs to be seen and understood so we can finally begin to heal.

What are you most looking forward to at the launch of the trail in August and what do you hope it will do for Bristol in particular?
There are very talented and respected artists involved in the project. I’m really looking forward to seeing all the other globe designs. As mentioned above, I think the themes are fantastic, so I’m interested to see the artist’s interpretation. I’m also interested in seeing the response from the public too and generally how the project is received as a whole. With regards to what I hope it will do for Bristol, Bristol is renowned worldwide for being a creative and innovative city, I feel it will add to the legacy of our city.

The World Reimagined project will run in seven cities across the UK from 13 August – 31 October. Find out more at: theworldreimagined.org

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