I’ve been wearing my Stolen Lives wristband for about a month, it is high time I told you what it represents. Stolen Lives is a new educational resource and digital platform, that looks at issues of historical and contemporary slavery, through a combination of music, songs, words, images, film and animation.
The city of Hull has been linked to the story of slavery for centuries. William Wilberforce born in Hull, who led the abolitionist movement in parliament and campaigned against horrors of the slave trade, helped bring about social and political reform and the eventual Abolition of Slavery. Stolen Lives is a project by WISE (Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation) – led by Professor John Oldfield and directed by Paul Field – which continues the work done by the institute, of raising public awareness of historical and contemporary slavery, human rights and social justice.
Stories of slavery have been source material for many cultural endeavours in the past – I recall writing about a contemporary play by E52 called Disposable People back in 07, staged to great effect in a boatshed on Hull’s Marina.
With narrative and visual threads that lead back to the 1700s, Stolen Lives is a digital project built around 17 stand-alone music videos. Each three/four minute film highlights different issues and themes, around slavery and people trafficking.
Sadly it becomes almost like a horrific tick list for our time:
- young women trafficked into the sex trade
- child labour on cocoa plantations in Africa
- bound slaves in the brick kilns in India
- illegal trade of conflict minerals
- sweatshops in the textiles industry
- women trafficked into domestic servitude
- World Cup stadium construction
the list goes on…
At the launch event attended by seventy or more people held at Hull University in August, Stolen Lives and WISE were keen to point out that this was not a campaign, but a toolkit of resources to provoke discussion, to raise questions and to educate.
It is an ongoing, longitudinal project with all the material and content being made open source, in the hope that teachers, educators of all kinds, community/faith groups and other interested parties, will use the source material and work with it.
The films are viewable on the site or each component part: soundtrack, score and lyrics can be downloaded and used accordingly.
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know“.
William Wilberforce, close of House of Commons speech 1791
At the outset I can see that some of the music tracks are ripe for a remix; prose or poetry could be generated from the images, perhaps an inspiring school project being tailored from the materials, to engage pupils in a comprehensive discussion about, what it means to be a 21st Century slave. I’m not a teacher but I see this being useful to those studying geography, history, social studies, economics, politics and more besides; as well as all the creative disciplines.
The films vary in subject matter, mood and composition some have a cinematic quality with slow building portentous synths. Other tracks are more lively with a more hopeful message, danceable even, while yet more are in the singer/songwriter mould and some purely spoken word. They are radio friendly and suitable for broadcasting, so I see no reason why local radio stations could not play them, to raise awareness of the issue and resources offered.
Having all the materials freely available, makes this project differ from those that have gone before. It leaves the door wide open for the next generation, to use the source material and create fresh, eye-catching and interactive content, with the potential to cross global boundaries and reach out to the world.
Stolen lives is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council with support from the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE) at the University of Hull.