The David Livingstone Birthplace Exchange group (six participants from African, Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds) have commissioned a new co-curated touch screen exhibit, a mixed media painting and creative writing that explore the legacy of the 19th century explorer David Livingstone highlighting the untold stories of his African crew members on the 150th anniversary of his death.
Now concluding a 2nd year of activity the David Livingstone Birthplace (DLB) community-led research group is one of seven projects hosted at different museums around the UK as part of the EXCHANGE Project, in partnership with the National Museum of Scotland and Royal Museum Greenwich.
This unique project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, has enabled community groups to explore experiences of empire, migration, and life in Britain through collections. The new touch screen exhibit and painting by Artist Josie KO will be unveiled to public for the first time as part of the permanent exhibition at David Livingstone Birthplace at a special community-led event on Saturday 13th May.
Also on show at the launch event will be a temporary exhibition of artworks made in collaboration with the Congolese Community of Motherwell and Thistles and Dandelions women’s group. Artist Natasha Ruwona and writer Clementine Ewokolo Burnley have collaborated on a new creative writing publication which will be available on the day and there will be live music and refreshments.
The participants have selected objects from the David Livingstone Birthplace collection to expand upon and reveal new stories relating to Livingstone’s African crew members. In particular, a fibrous urn belonging to Abdullah Susi and James Chuma, two of Livingstone’s most valuable crew members whose knowledge of languages and travel routes were pivotal to the success of his journeys. While there is limited knowledge of their story, the DLB Exchange group’s research, conducted through community members and industry professionals has included fibre analysis and microscopic imaging techniques that show the object is likely made from coconut coir, a material frequently used in the shipbuilding industry of the precolonial Indian Ocean trade.
Another new addition to the permanent exhibition is the mixed media painting from Artist Josie KO.
Josie is also a one of the DLB Community Researchers and her artworks have a powerful kitsch aesthetic full of colour and humour that playfully presents narratives of the Black British experience. KO’s painting entitled ‘Glittering Hidden Figures’ draws from the statue of Livingstone in Glasgow Cathedral Square encountered when she first moved to Glasgow. The statue depicts Livingstone as the central figure with enslaved African figures standing at his feet but in her painting KO aims to put a spotlight on the forgotten African figures and challenge colonial ideas about the superiority of European religions and cultures.
Throughout April and May, the DLB exchange group have led a community arts project entitled ‘The Lion, the Scot and Mebalwe’ in collaboration with the Congolese Community of Motherwell and Thistles and Dandelions women’s group. The title references Livingstone being attacked by a lion during an expedition in 1884. Mebalwe was a South African school teacher who saved Livingstone’s life though the event is often misrepresented with Livingstone as the hero. Over a series of workshops, the groups have used the story of Livingstone and the Lion and the Ray Harryhausen statue situated in the museum grounds as inspiration to create new artworks that uplift marginalised African figures such as Mebalwe. Facilitated by Josie KO the temporary exhibition will be on show at the event on the 13th of May with live music and refreshments.
As part of the 150th commemorations we of the David Livingstone Birthplace museum will host a new residency with Thistles and Dandelions. Thistles and Dandelions is a group of migrant, ethnic minority, refugee, & asylum seeking women led by Empowering Women for change charity and over the next 6 months’ they will participate in a programme of workshops, training and collaborative outputs at DLB. This is supported by funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund. There will also be a series of events in the next year at the David Livingstone Birthplace site in Blantyre, marking this historic occasion.
Alasdair Campbell, Curatorial and Engagement Manager at David Livingstone Birthplace said: “It’s been a huge pleasure bringing the DLB Community-led research group together and being part of their journey researching our collection. Working collaboratively and co-curating new exhibits with the group has allowed us to bring vital new perspectives into our permanent exhibition and will create a lasting legacy for the project.”
Pictured: Members of the DLB Community-led research group with Josie KO painting in background