Imagine

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The Cultural Context

Introduction

Coordinated by Kate Pahl, University of Sheffield

Concepts: Representation in visual, narrative, creative writing, oral and cultural terms; collaborative ethnography and socially engaged arts practice; community histories, co-production

We experience civic engagement through lived experience, and we imagine better futures from that lived experience, through art, through building, through locality and through writing and expressive forms. In this work package we begin by thinking through the ways in which arts practice might be involved in ‘imagining better futures’ and developing momentum towards their realisation in collaboration with the Site Gallery, Sheffield. We then move to revisiting the modernist dream that is Park Hill Flats, and use the timely moment of the redeveloped Park Hill to re-imagine the future through the lens of the past in collaboration with Museums Sheffield. Young people are at the heart of this process and in collaboration with the Hepworth Wakefield art gallery, young people in Wakefield will imagine a better future by examining its past and present through exploring landscape art as well as through oral history work with grandparents and parents. We will develop a collaborative ethnographic project with young people in Rotherham, imagining better futures through revisiting past histories through the ‘Silk and Steel’ oral history project with youth groups. A project exploring writing in the community will investigate how women develop resilient intellectual and creative identities in post-industrial, ‘masculine’ environments in Rotherham through writing, with a focus on creating cultures of resilience and transformation. Finally, ‘Reading for resilience in a prison community’ will aim to understand the role of the imagination in development of resilience and hope in offenders. The project will investigate if engagement with optimistic imaginative texts allows for a more hopeful understanding of one’s life to emerge.

Project List


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Revisiting the modernist dream: Park Hill revisited

Project team: Prue Chiles, Architecture, University of Sheffield/(Newcastle from October) Susan Reid, Russian and Slavonic Studies, University of Sheffield, Kim Streets, Museums Sheffield, Paul Allender and Louise Ritchie, RA’s. This project will explore the newly renovated Park Hill flats in Sheffield, an iconic modernist building.

  1. Through interviews with local residents, stakeholders and people with memories of the old Park Hill, a picture will build up of domesticity, everyday living and how the residents interact with the building, the concrete and the space.
  2. Usually it is the objects and personal belongings that people are comfortable to talk about to understand their living environment. We would like to construct/devise a way to explore through models, drawings and visual imagery the spaces they are making into their homes and work with residents to allow and enable them to discuss the space and the fabric of the building, the aesthetics of the environment they live in.
  3. Looking at very different commentaries on Park Hill from both architectural and social commentators we aim to distil the essence of its power and weakness as a place to live.

Using the concept of possibility and principles of hope as explored by Ernst Bloch in his critical understandings of Utopia we aim to explore our ways of becoming familiar and fond of contemporary/modern architecture and learn how to communicate this better. From this a film will be commissioned and shown in the galleries in Weston Park Museum, Museums Sheffield.

The project started in January 2014 with the RAs starting in February 2014 as a job share (0.4) team until January 2016.

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Writing in the Community: Listening voices and telling stories.

Co-produced with Zanib Rasool and a group of women who met on a Thursday morning in a community library. Special advisor: Debjani Chatterjee. We explored contemporary issues of women’s identity through interaction with poetry, particularly from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and contemporary autobiographical and fiction writing by the women.

The project started in January 2014 and ended in April 2015.

The Imagine Project would like to acknowledge the participation of Dr Shirin Teifouri who contributed to this research as a researcher and key participant.

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Reading for resilience in a prison community: an investigation into the transferability of open reading techniques to the way that personal futures are imagined by offenders

The aim of this project will be to understand the role of the imagination in development of resilience and hope in offenders. The project will investigate if engagement with optimistic imaginative texts allows for a more hopeful understanding of one’s life to emerge.

In her previous work, Dr Elizabeth Hoult from Birkbeck, University of London has researched the interplay between reading literary texts and understanding adult resilience (http://www.palgrave.com/page/detail/adult-learning-and-la-recherche-f%C3%A9minine-elizabeth-chapman-hoult/?isb=9780230338838). A key finding was that particularly resilient adult learners (those who have faced significant trauma, disadvantage and setbacks and yet who still thrive and succeed as mature students) might be characterised as being able to perform the following capabilities (among others):

  1. They engage in open readings (of texts and of life in general), resisting closed meanings and final answers;
  2. They are open to the unknown and to transformation.

This project, which is being co-constructed with a group of offenders, will explore whether it is possible to teach some of these life capabilities to learners in a prison, through the structured reading of fictional texts (including film).

The project involves a small group of offenders working with Dr Hoult on a range of science fiction films and books.

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Silk and Steel – stories of Tassibee.

Co-produced with Khalida Luqman at Tassibee women’s centre this project seeks to explore the history of Tassibee together with the history of the women who attended. Younger women will conduct oral histories of these older women’s stories. Researching though mixed & multi-media making engaged sessions, with women of all ages from the Tassibee community, who will then be exploring through bringing together artworks, images & projections, positive and affirming messages from their personal and collective standpoints on issues including the changing role & expectations of women, within the family, wider community and for themselves.

Project begins September 2014.

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Art, practice and the imagined future at The Hepworth Wakefield

Project team: Clare Griffiths (History, University of Sheffield), Rebecca Andrew, (RA), Natalie Walton, (The Hepworth Wakefield) together with artists Gillian Brent, Rebecca Birch and Jen Southern, and young women from a rent deposit scheme in Wakefield.

This project uses art and history to examine ideas about place and identity, past and future. It began with a series of workshops, field trips and activities, working with young people in Wakefield. These sessions were documented in field notes, and in visual records and responses produced by the girls themselves. The sessions encouraged them to experiment in making, culminating in the creation of landscape collages themed around the ideas of horizons and aspirations for their own future and the future of Wakefield itself. High-quality reproductions of these art works are going on permanent display in the offices of the Rent Deposit Scheme in Wakefield. The girls were also prompted to react to the environment around them in varied ways, including work with visual representations from the collection at the Hepworth, and mappings, past and present. As part of its gallery display of topographical art, the Hepworth is currently showing three paintings from the stores, selected by the participants in the project, accompanied by the girls’ responses to these works and the reasons for choosing them. The display also features a brief introduction to the Imagine project. The ongoing research will continue to keep in touch with the young people involved in this first stage of the project, and will develop further ways of connecting place, art and local residents in the Wakefield area, including plans for enhancing interpretation of the Gott collection. This collection, held at the Hepworth, is rich in topographical prints of Yorkshire, stretching back over a long period, and recently made fully available to the public in digitised form. The project is concerned to explore the potential of that collection, and to find new ways of enhancing visitors’ appreciation of the gallery and its holdings. The work of the RA is building on the work with the young people to further research on the emerging themes of place, art, landscape and history.

The project started in January 2014 with the RA starting in April 2014 half time for one year, and will run until end December 2015.

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Writing in the Community: Silk and Steel

Zanib Rasool/Shahin Shah collaboration. Capturing heritage/life stories and their personal journey through writing, poetry and art. Reflecting on the past, exploring the present and thinking about the future. Sharing similar experiences as first generation British Muslim women, the strong heritage and identity with the past, acknowledging and valuing what their parents contributed to their lives. Memories of childhood and growing up in the 70s, experience of school and the impact of racism on their lives. Exploring lives of Muslim women today and contemplating the future and the role of women like them in society and in making change happen.

Project is from January 2014 – end 2015.

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Writing in the Community: Where I am from.

Deborah Bullivant will explore with a group of Eastern European Roma heritage girls in a local school in Central Rotherham issues of identity, resilience and transformation through writing, song and creative arts.

This project began in June 2014.

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Writing in the Community: A History of Pakistani women’s activism in Rotherham.

Co-produced with Zanib Rasool together with Kate Pahl, exploring the rich history of Rotherham’s women activists with a focus on diversity and inclusion. The questions here are concerned with recording through oral history the ways in which women set up resilient organisations within Rotherham to empower local women and the long term legacy of that work in creating future women leaders from underrepresented communities.

This project began in July 2014

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Art, practice and the Imagined Future: The Site Gallery

Project team: Jessica Dubow, Geography, University of Sheffield, Richard Steadman-Jones, English, University of Sheffield. David Bell, RA, Laura Sillars, Judith Harry and Cassie Limb, Site Gallery.

In this project a series of residencies will lead to an exploration of ways of thinking about art and utopia. Through looking at the work of artists Helen Benigson, and Rory Pilgrim, emerging concepts of utopia and imagined futures will be explored. At the same time, a series of interviews with contemporary art practitioners will contextualise the project.

The project started in January 2014 with the RA starting in February 2014 half time for two years and the project will run until January 2016.

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Portraits of British Muslims by Zahir Rafiq

With the first portrait for this project I wanted to represent someone from the first generation of immigrants to the United Kingdom. I felt that a fitting subject would be my mother. ‘Mumtaz Begum’. The composition of the painting is of her standing in front of rolls materials and it is set in her shop. The narrative for this painting is that when my parents left Kashmir and arrived in Britain in the mid 60’s and subsequently settled in Rotherham, my mother had limited academic abilities. However she had a very keen interest in sewing. At that time it was difficult for Asian women to purchase traditional garments. Therefore women like my mother would provide a service to produce items of clothing that met the cultural needs of women from the Kashmiri Muslim community.

At the beginning my mother earned a modest income by providing a tailoring service and as a child my earliest memories are of always being surrounded by various colours of materials and watching my mother working at a manual sewing machine. I also remember how overjoyed she was when my father purchased an electrical sewing Machine for her, which meant she could be more productive. As words spread of my mother’s tailoring skills within the community, she decided to venture into selling material within the local area. Up until then purchasing such material required travelling either to Birmingham or Bradford. My mother would purchase stock and rolls of material and convert our living room into a make shift shop, with shelf’s stack with boxes and rolls of material propped against the wall. It was quite usual to see on one side of the room living room, a sofas, TV and on the other side a mass of coloured rolls of various silks and cotton. Eventually my parents made the decision to move to a dedicated business premises and they set up a shop in 1985. The shop is named after my Mother ‘Al Mumtaz Fabrics’ and it is still in business.

This portrait is all about my mother’s passion for fabric and a sense of pride in what she has achieved. Her persistence in pursuing her passion, from modest means to running and owning her own business. Even in the early days Asian women possessed an entrepreneur spirit and a freedom to follow their aspirations. Artistically for me the painting is about various expressions of textures from the rolls of material to my mother’s head scarf and face, and finally her coat. I want the painting to give the impression that she is surrounded by what she loves doing, and to convey the Knowledge that my mother has attained through the years about materials. The rolls of materials have a strong resemblance to books on a self, holding my mother’s knowledge and memories – hence the title ‘Material Knowledge’.

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‘Threads of time’: what it is like to be British for girls from minority ethnic communities in Rotherham

‘Threads of time’ is a co-produced participatory arts research project taking place as part of the AHRC’s Connected Communities Festival 2016: Community Futures and Utopias. This project will explore community hopes for the future through a collaborative history, poetry and art project involving diverse Rotherham communities, raising a beacon of hope for the town once again.

Through participatory art and poetry workshops the project will explore what it is like to be British for girls from minority ethnic communities in Rotherham, linking their past family and community history to create a more positive and empowering future for them.

The Connected Communities Festival 2016: Community Futures and Utopias is supporting high quality participatory arts research and research co-production activities on the theme of community futures and utopias across the UK. These activities aim to build upon, widen and deepen community engagement with the Connected Communities Programme of research and wider AHRC/RCUK-funded research.

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The Rotherham Project: challenges faced by young black and minority ethnic (BME) men

‘The Rotherham Project’ is a co-produced participatory arts research project taking place as part of the AHRC’s Connected Communities Festival 2016: Community Futures and Utopias. The project is founded on the belief that to build better futures and more cohesive communities, we must work collaboratively to discuss our past and present in a considered, honest and thorough manner – and to make those discussions meaningful they must be led by people from within the community concerned.

The project will develop a series of empowering educational and creative workshops aimed at providing young black and minority ethnic (BME) men with the opportunity to discuss the challenges of social isolation and conflict that are faced in Rotherham, in their own voice and on their own terms. The project aims to counter negative views that persist in the tabloid press and highlight the considerable work that exists to promote effective and enduring social cohesion.

The Connected Communities Festival 2016: Community Futures and Utopias is supporting high quality participatory arts research and research co-production activities on the theme of community futures and utopias across the UK. These activities aim to build upon, widen and deepen community engagement with the Connected Communities Programme of research and wider AHRC/RCUK-funded research.

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