As the early morning sun came out over Amsterdam, the team at Impact Journey took a train to Leiden. Coffee in hand, we were excited for a research trip and a brief change of scenery from the new location on the Keizersgracht. Our first stop was the Volkenkunde Museum to see the Mentawai exhibition (on display until 28 May 2018) for a bit of research on a potential prospective project.
The Volkenkunde Museum is dedicated to the ethnology in the Netherlands, the first of its kind in Europe. From the start of its conception in 1837 it strived to be more than a simple collection of artefacts and cabinet of curiosities, and instead aimed at strong scientific research, presentation to the public and education. The Mentawai exhibit demonstrated just this. Presenting the history, culture, art, and instruments of the indigenous people of the Mentawai Islands near West Sumatra in Indonesia. Through the research of Reimar Schefold, the University of Leiden’s professor emeritus of the anthropology and sociology of Indonesia this exhibition showed their ‘toys of the soul’ and wonderful adornments that linked to the belief that everything has a soul, their traditions and shamanistic culture and how they struggles with keeping these rich traditions alive in the face of modernity.
After watching Schefold’s documentary and looking at all the beautiful objects, we walked back into the sunlight a little more inspired for the future…
Next we headed in the direction of the African Studies Centre, the only multidisciplinary academic knowledge institute in the Netherlands devoted entirely to the study of Africa. Here, Steyn set about researching for the Togolese railroads that he had photographed last year and were part of a bigger visual storytelling project (Link). The construction of the railway started in 1904 during the German colonial rule and after WWI was extended during the French occupation, and their story connects with the bigger picture of oppression and suffering that continues to this day in Togo. With this project Steyn hopes to create a visual journey that is part of the upcoming exhibition and launch of the photobook.
In the meantime Claire and I excitedly dove into the archives to find the many boxes containing those beautifully preserved copies of DRUM magazines from the 1960s and 1970s. Our aim was to find James Barnor’s photographic contributions to the East/West editions of the African publication which showed the African communities and societies of the era.
With the help of the wonderful librarian we successfully commandeered a reading room, spread the material out on the table and set to work. We discovered new articles, fashion pictures, the negatives of which Claire had scanned at Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière in Paris in November, and James’ name attached to editorials which he had believed to this day to be anonymous (“I didn’t care then, as long as I got paid!”).
"I didn't care then [if I was credited], as long as I got paid!"James Barnor
Perhaps the best part of the day was FaceTiming with James while he made a cup of tea, to discuss our findings. Discovering that he was credited in the publications provoked a shout of joy and he excitedly declared that this news had given him a new life and drive for the project ahead.
Certainly a productive and inspiring Wednesday!