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Weaving herstory

23 January 2017 by Mitty

Susan’s grandmother Helen Akiwumi (nee Ocansey) and her family

The Sankofa project aims to highlight people’s amazing collections and offer advice about how these precious histories can be preserved for future generations. Passing down information to future generations can be done in lots of ways.  A brilliant example is Helen Renner’s and her daughter Susan Goligher’s incredibly vibrant collection of textiles. Helen and Susan came up with the idea of the company Afrograph in 1985 and have exhibited their collections across the country. Here’s Susan to tell us more:

“Afrograph’s textile collection encapsulates both an oral tradition and a women’s history. Many of the textiles have been passed down through five generations of women within the family. The textiles have passed from mothers to daughters. They were the only daughters of only daughters, until Helen’s generation when the textiles were shared for the first time by Helen and her sister.

Other pieces within our collection represent the comings and goings of grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts. They visited us during my childhood bringing presents of precious parcels of clothes, carefully folded and smelling of Ghana, Nigeria or Sierra Leone. Other textiles represent personally chosen fabrics carefully crafted into stunning couture outfits by skillful seamstresses in time for us to bring them home from our holiday. Each piece tells its own story which can only be fully understood when worn.

Helen and Susan at a dinner together

The Afrograph textile collection reinforces the value of the oral tradition and has helped us to increase understanding of Black History, cultural engagement and learning. It links the study of West African art and culture to contemporary Britain, raising confidence and supporting the achievement of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic children and adults.”

Having seen Helen and Susan’s collection first-hand I was completely fascinated and did feel a definite connection with the vibrant sarees my mum still wears for special or religious occasions.

Some top tips for looking after fabric treasures are:

  • make sure your hands are clean and handle with care
  • keep them away from light, heat and damp
  • check items regularly (every few months)

Join us on Saturday 28 January for our Activism and archives event, to share your stories and objects and learn more about how you can be involved in the Sankofa project. Together we can make sure that the incredible histories of Liverpool’s Black communities are told and not forgotten.

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