Installations are Reanimating Cultural Heritage in Sierra Leone at University College London

By Culture24 Reporter | 17 January 2012
A photo of two young African women in a forest
© Paul Basu, UCL
Exhibition: Reanimating Cultural Heritage in Sierra Leone, North Cloisters and North Lodge, University College London, until February 17 2012

If Sierra Leone's creative past is little-known, its exposure at UCL should prove an entertaining introduction.

An audio-visualisation at the main entrance on Gower Street is screening short documentaries featuring music, dance and masquerade traditions such as weaving and basket-making.

The culmination of a three-year research project between African and English observers, it aims to show how culture can invigorate developing societies in the aftermath of conflict.

"We've been working with partners in Sierra Leone to create short video documentaries about all kinds of things relating to the country's cultural heritage," says Dr Paul Basu, of the College's Institute of Archaeology.

"When you see a Sierra Leonean object like a mask in a museum collection it's static, it's a dead object. But those masks were part of a living, colourful, musical dance tradition.

"Many of those videos literally reanimate some of those museum collections – reconnecting an object with the video then brings that object back to life, to some degree."

Anthropology, museum research, informatics and a wide range of other disciplines informed the collaboration, leading to an online collection merging museums in both countries.

And at the sister venue in the North Cloisters, large format photos capture iconic photos from the British Museum and the Sierra Leone National Museum, including traditional masks, nomoli sculptures and garments thought to hold magical powers when they were worn by the Kamajor militia during civil war.

"There's a bigger aim as well," adds Basu. "What role can cultural heritage have in re-animating society more broadly?

"By bringing the collections and that heritage back to life in an engaging way, our bigger hope is that it will contribute to a broader societal re-animation."

Watch a video about the project: