Colin is the Chair of the Council of the Institute of Race Relations; he’s a member of its editorial working committee for the journal Race And Class. Over four decades he’s been an academic documentary film and theatre maker, TV commissioning editor, and in the last decade he’s been particularly involved with museum and archive development.
Colin is really going to try and address square on the question, the big, ‘So What?’ why are we having a Conference like this, why is it important that we are archiving carnival; Colin is going to make the case for the carnival archives. Thank you, Colin Prescod.
Hello everyone and thank you for welcoming me. This is poor, Tola this big gap, this big space between this stage, the people over there, it’s unnecessary. Actually I feel alienated by it, and I’m mentioning it in order to make myself feel easier about it. It doesn’t solve it, but I’m feeling easier by just mentioning it. This is poor planning it seems to me, there’s no need for a big gap, it would actually help if we were to be much more together. Understand me that’s not a criticism, I’m just pointing out something really obvious, it has effect yes, it does that.
I’m going to be quick as I can be, partly because, and I think I can be quick, the things I want to talk about, to address, I think Hilary has already begun to talk about this, saying, why are we here, how are we here. I think already Paul has begun to actually underline that as well. I will nonetheless go on to do what I was going to do in a quick way.
I want to answer just three questions in a way:
• Why are we engaging with an archiving project?
• What are we up to when we engage with an archiving project?
• How are we to do our archiving?
A kind of why, what, how, simple structure to what I want to say, and to do the why I want to use an anecdote.
Over the last weekend I was at a conference at the London Metropolitan Archive, it was called, ‘Arts and Activism Conference’ It was a conference that came out around working around the archive that’s been deposited at the London Metropolitan archive by two really important activists in 20th Century Britain. They happen to be black activists, they were from Ghana, they were part of the community actions that we now call, ‘anti-racist struggle’, but to many black communities in this country they were called, ‘the Huntleys’; Jessica and Eric Huntley, two really important elders. They founded a publishing house, they founded lots of campaigns and movements, they were the first people to publish major people like Dr Walter Rodney, and they would personally archive.
This was the seventh conference of the Huntley Archive of the London Metropolitan Archive. I sit on the committee that organises this stuff. I’m really pleased to say we had a seventh conference. It was an exciting conference. We tried to work the conference using the archive, something from the archive, what these people did, and relate it to things today, building a whole theme around it. You will see why I’m saying that at the end of these very brief remarks I’m making.
Coming off that conference, I was asked to do the final words for the conference, and to sum up what I’d been listening to, what had been happening all day in the conference, I came up with the phrase, I said to these people, ‘what I’ve been hearing you saying is “we must cherish”, that means to say love and value, “we must cherish our collective memories”, and in so doing cherish, that’s to say love and value, our history, the history that we’re making.’ Simple phrases, but in a way I think they relate to why you’re doing archive here and how we’re doing it.
At this moment, we live in a time where all over the country there are lots of people who are getting up and deciding that it’s important to establish, if you like, peoples’ archive. I’m calling it, ‘peoples’ archive’, in this case remember ‘peoples’ carnival archive’. Why, because more and more of us have begun to realise that if we don’t insert these things into a historical record they won’t be there. More and more of us are realising that it’s not just for the record, for ourselves we have to do it, for the record we have to do it, and for informing and educating other we have to do it, because if we don’t do it this stuff tends to disappear, or it gets under beds, or wherever else it is, and it’s not out there, available.
So the first part of my why answer is because for ourselves we want to make the archive, because we actually begin to believe what we’re doing is important. This is important, when people get to this point we are at last realising that what we do is important, it makes us, therefore, value all the things we do in making our carnival, a special value, we big ourselves up on it, so that’s the first part of what I’m trying to say.
By the way we should note it’s not just us in Luton that we’re doing this, it’s not just us who might have been involved in the Caribbean initiated carnivals in this country doing it, it’s all the people doing all the carnivals. I’m very aware of the fact that here, Luton, it’s an interesting challenge. We say ‘yes of course there’s a special refreshing thing that happened with the Caribbean based carnivals in the UK up and down the land at the end of the 20th Century’, but actually I’ll also admit we discovered connections with older, if you like, indigenous carnivals that have been going on all the time, and that there’s some use to us connecting with those and actually sharing across those carnival experiences.
It seems to me that Luton’s archiving is stuck, in a good way, with that sense of mission. Yes of course we want to reflect this thing that’s actually caught the imagination, the world’s imagination, the European imagination, this new vital Caribbean presence, but at the same time Caribbean’s themselves in doing this we’ve discovered that we can connect to other traditions of carnivals.
If we think about that Caribbean carnival coming out of the Caribbean we know, those of us who have done a little bit of thinking, that in any case it has ancient connections with European carnivals. There’s an interesting, not just an archiving project, rethinking that comes when you start thinking about archive, you start thinking again about what you’ve done, and you start thinking again about how you connect to other peoples’ things.
The second question is the what, what are we up to? To slightly repeat myself I think we’re up to inserting our cherished memory, in this case carnival archives, into the historical record, knowing that what we do is significant. I like the fact that people are talking about archives now, because the point at which people like you start saying, ‘we must establish archives’, indicates that we’re having our own authority, we’re beginning to realise that what we do, what we’ve been doing, is of significance, and a part of the archiving will be actually promoting all that stuff.
The third thing of the what, it seems to me, is that we’re joining our histories and heritage with other histories, in this case of carnivals, underlining this fact all the time as we’re doing the archive.
Let me move to the how question. My anxiety, I think, yes my anxiety in coming here, and this is the main thing, I came to be a cheerleader really, to add my voice to this, part of the movement, but my anxiety for the archiving is this, it’s not enough to have an archive, it’s not enough to have a digital archive. It seems to me, from what I’ve been doing in the last few years around heritage, history and so on, why we’re part of it, that the archive must be actively open and imaginative. That’s to say we don’t establish an archive and let it sit there, we have to actively open and imagine. Full of the ‘what happened?’ full of the ‘who made it happen?’ full of the ‘how did it come to happen?’ material, materials that speak to all these aspects of what the carnival are that we’re all a part of. You have to work at making an archive worthy, vibrant. It doesn’t just do it because you collect what you want, you have to think some more about that.
Secondly, about my anxiety, it is not enough to have an archive, it must include living archive collections of what you’re doing and what you’re about to do. This is part and parcel of me saying that people come to realise that what they’re doing is significant, so it’s not just the old stuff, just collecting old stuff, but actually the stuff that connects to those traditions must be recognised as being important. We have to be self-conscious, if you like, collecting the archive as we go along; I use the term, ‘living archive’, as distinct from ‘recovered archive’.
The third thing I want to say on how we are to do our archiving, I think it’s not enough to have an archive it must be put to work. In order to make the archive maximally accessible, beyond those in the know about archive and heritage like scholars and journalists who we now have to go to see our own archive, if we’re making archives, if you’re involved in making an archive, the point is, yes to remember, yes to record, but also to reach, educate, inform others. In order to have that happen you have to work the archive, so it’s an anxiety. I know that Tola would have thought about it, I’m just underlining something it seems to me.
The really interesting and important thing at the end of the archiving project is to put it to work, to find more ways of making it go to work. This was the point of me telling you at the start, my brief remarks, recalling, it was just an anecdote, ‘last weekend I was at a conference … it as an archiving conference … it wasn’t about carnivals, it was about political activism, if you like … it was the seventh conference of this archive.’ I said to Jessica and Eric when I joined them first exactly what I’m saying to you now, ‘it’s not enough to have an archive, we have to find ways to put it to work’, and one of the ways to put it to work in that case is with conferencing.
It seems to me there are more exciting possibilities when it’s a digital archive, how you work that. I can see that every year approaching the carnival season, for example, this digital archive should find a way to do something that puts it on the scene, do you see what I mean, that reminds people that the archive exists, to take something out of the archive and profile it in a fairly big way. Working the archive is really key.
Last thing, you will note I’ve not directly referred to underscoring or supporting diversity or multiculturalism in what I’ve been saying, people often expect it with carnival. This is because I think we know that we belong now. This is whether we’re talking about Caribbean’s seven generations down, or whether you’re talking about the people who have been making indigenous carnivals here before the Caribbean’s came and refreshed the whole scene. We know that we exist, we are confident that we exist; we know what we’re doing. I want us to know the significance of what we’re doing. We don’t have to front ourselves with, ‘doing good stuff for diversity’, or, ‘doing good stuff for multiculturalism, that’s a fact the diversity side, it’s a fact that it’s multicultural, so I’m not pushing diversity and stuff, I’m talking about us standing on the authority of knowing the significance of what we do, that’s why we’re doing archive, that’s why we’re going to build the archive, and that’s why we’re going to work the archive for the good of all in our communities. Thank you.
Recording ends 12:35 minutes