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Art inspired by History

22 April 2013

In March 2013, a group of academics and students from the History department organised ‘Art Inspired By History’ as part of the Past Matters Festival of History.

In March 2013, a group of academics and students from the History department organised ‘Art Inspired By History’ as part of the Past Matters Festival of History.

This event, run in partnership with Single Parent Action Network (SPAN), was designed to bring the Festival’s aims of ‘reading, writing, making history’ to an inner-city and multi-generational audience.

Milica Prokic, PhD student, Department of History

Being an artist as well as a postgraduate student in the History department, I found great pleasure in running one of the workshops at the Art Inspired by History event. I was invited by Dr Josie McLellan to design an art workshop focusing on Bristolian family histories. This was a part of a vibrant and dynamic all day event which also included story telling, a women's history taster session and a wonderful art workshop run by a talented local artist Grace Engel. Grace joined us to create a collective art piece which encouraged the participants to map and illustrate their ancestry and migration to Bristol. 

My monoprint workshop "Portraying Female Ancestors" was designed as a casual printmaking class, inviting the participants to bring photographs of favourite women in their families. I was deeply moved by the wonderful energy that Saturday. Daughters bringing their mums to sit for the portraits in person, and mothers and daughters posing for each other added to the spontaneity. We were all thrilled by the beauty and quality of the final pieces. The most enthusiastic and productive were of course, the young kids who, joined by their parents, made the place buzz all day long. I was particularly honoured and pleased to have the members of SPAN taking part in the workshops. As this was the first time we experimented with this concept, we were delighted by the response. Supported by Mark Whiteford, another local visual artist and a group of student volunteers from Bristol University, I had a wonderful experience of creativity, inspiration, meeting a bunch of great people and discovering the Silai centre, an amazing Bristol community centre which supports women education, art and craft - a place I will certainly come back to time and again.

Sophie Wenham, undergraduate, Department of History of Art

I really enjoyed helping at the Art Inspired by History day. For the first half of the day, I worked in the portrait and mono-printing room. Children were asked to bring in a photo of their mother which they would then draw. Everyone got really stuck in to the activity and the atmosphere was very friendly and supportive. For the second half of the day, I worked in the collaging workshop where the activity was to create a collage of your family, then map your ‘journey’ to Bristol onto the communal board. The collaging workshop was structured to emphasise the diversity of the group - for many parents, English was not their first language, and lots of the families had lived in several countries. By celebrating this, the group could feel a sense of bonding over their shared experiences, despite perhaps being at risk of social exclusion in the wider Bristol population.

The Single Parent Action Network obviously makes a huge impact on parents - it’s a place to socialise, but offers educational opportunities too. History and art were used as the academic background on which children could connect with their own past and their family’s history. The children seemed to appreciate having some younger volunteers there too. I’d really recommend it to other students, just giving the odd day to do some volunteering makes a difference to the community, but it may also improve your understanding of the role of your subject outside of a university environment.