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ISPA Fellow Neil Coppen Brings Archives to Life through the Performing Arts

Tuesday, March 5, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Nicole Merritt

2013 ISPA Fellow Neil Coppen2013 ISPA Fellow Neil Coppen is a playwright, theatre-maker, free-lance journalist, and the Artistic Director of Think Theatre Productions.  His work often centers around a wide range of historical and cultural interests, and his latest work Dundee Living within History is no exception.  The below article details this exciting community building and discipline-defying project.

The project began in 2010, when Neil and visual-artist Vaughn Sadie relocated to the historic Hamlet of Dundee as part of VANSA (The Visual Arts Network of South Africa) 2010 Reasons to Live in Small Town residency. The project works in conjunction with historians, community-groups, re-enactors, tour-guides and learners and has completed its first phase which you can see here.

Now, the artists have returned to Dundee to focus on documenting and recording aspects of Sibongile’s (a neighboring township) history. Under the guidance of Catherine Kennedy from The South African History Archives (SAHA) the team have run a series of oral- history workshops with learners selected from Sibongile and its surrounds.

Dundee Living within History PhotoOver the last few weeks a team of youngsters have been piecing together the story of the area by interviewing (and recording) a wide range of Sibongile’s senior residents. Copies of these recordings and accompanying transcriptions will be made available after the project’s completion through the Talana Museum archives as well as the Sibongile Public Library. 

Next, each of the groups were asked to reflect on their findings by participating in a series of collage workshops which incorporate photographs and visual-materials which have been collected over the past month.

For the third phase of the project (which Sadie and Coppen are in the process of securing funding for) the recorded narratives will form the basis of a series of collaborations with visual-artists, musicians, community-groups and school kids from the area. 

"We are not entirely sure what the final outcome of these collaborations will be” says Sadie, "but we anticipate the project will culminate in a festival of sorts which will weave together narratives of the region- using various mediums and media.”

"In this day in age” says ISPA Fellow Coppen, "we can’t count on people sitting in museums or galleries and wading through hours of interviews.  We intend to make the archives as accessible and relevant as possible and from the previous project we realised the best way to achieve this is through a series of unlikely creative and collaborative interventions.”

To learn more about Dundee Living within History, visit the project website here.  Learn more about the 2013 ISPA Fellows (including Neil Coppen) on the ISPA website.