Memory Archives was an innovative approach to working with Black elders living with dementia, using archival material as a reminiscence tool to explore experiences of migration and diaspora. Addressing the lack of culturally~specific dementia care for minoritized communities, the project also aimed to increase access to arts and heritage for underrepresented audiences. In collaboration with Culture&, I designed and delivered both instalments, a public programme in 2019, and a remote offer, responsive to Covid~19, in 2021.
Memory Archives: Public Programme
Memory Archives first launched on Windrush Day 2019, with a dementia~friendly programme celebrating Black cultural heritage. Held at the London Metropolitan Archives, this intergenerational event invited care home residents, along with their families and support workers, to engage with archives of significance to the city's African Caribbean community.
A participatory programme of visual art, music, storytelling, object handling and cultural food animated the collections with a range of sensory experiences.
Visitors could engage with interactive handling archives and listening stations, curated dementia~friendly refreshments, group reminiscence sessions with artist Michael McMillan, and Caribbean folk~song workshops with musician Keith Waithe and storyteller Sandra Agard.
Michael McMillan's immersive West Indian Front Room (an installation evoking a typical British~Caribbean home of the 60s), transformed the venue into a warm, hospitable gathering space for personal and collective histories to be remembered, shared and celebrated.
Memory Archives: Sensory Boxes
Responsive to Covid~19, the 2021 Memory Archives was reconceptualised, ‘packaging’ the programme as ‘sensory boxes’ sent directly to care homes. Whilst the pandemic raised new challenges, the project also took on greater importance, maintaining connection with an audience vulnerable both to the virus and the isolating effects of shielding.
The Memory Archives: Sensory Boxes were specially curated dementia~care packages, containing a range of interactive, cultural resources for African Caribbean elders. Like the original event, they animated archives celebrating the Black cultural experience ~ brought to life through an interactive resource booklet, a set of tactile and scented 'memory objects', a mini speaker loaded with a curated playlist, and QR code access to further online content. In addition, two bespoke works were commissioned by contemporary artist Larry Amponsah and fashion anthropologist Ezinma Mbeledogu.
These objects, images and sounds revealed the richness and nuance of Black cultural heritage and experiences of migration and diaspora ~ of the Windrush Generation and beyond. Stories were grounded in London locations, from Tilbury to Notting Hill, Brixton to Hackney, and reflected on themes such as Black British music, memories of work and home, Caribbean food and celebration, and Black identity and cultural dislocation. Importance was placed on the multi~sensory experience of the boxes; whilst Western collecting practices privilege the visual, engaging all senses not only helps stimulate reminiscence for people living with dementia, but offers a more culturally inclusive approach for people of diverse backgrounds.
The Memory Archives is an example of how collections can be opened to audiences often excluded from heritage spaces, and harnessed as resources for supporting health, wellbeing and cultural connection.
“It’s quite enriching... the stories, individual stories, about their journeys from the Caribbean ~ be it Jamaica, St Lucia, Guyana, Grenada ~ all of them coming here and telling their own stories...”
“Today impressed upon me the need for the stories to actually be told and be recorded in some way. And it felt like a safe atmosphere to be able to tell these stories...”
“It helps you to identify yourself in the United Kingdom and not to feel lost, that you’re actually part of the history...”