Sudan to Oxford Family Event

A post from Jane Cockcroft, Ashmolean Family Learning Officer and Nicola Bird, GLAM Community Engagement Officer about working with our Sudanese community partners to deliver our first co-created community family event

“The Sudanese can make a party happen anywhere” commented the Henna artist at our Sudan to Oxford family event as we watched the joyful singing and dancing of Oxford’s Sudanese community together with museum visitors and volunteers. She had, until now, been painting beautiful Henna patterns on visitor’s hands, but was then suddenly there with the band, microphone in hand, singing a well-known Sudanese song. Her voice was joined by many others and the celebration continued.

This was a landmark family event for the Ashmolean, reflecting our aim to work and collaborate more authentically with our local communities. The partnership with the Sudanese community began with family workshops in Summer 2015 that aimed to connect more local Sudanese visitors with the ancient Sudan collections at the Ashmolean. It then developed as the museum hosted a performance of local Sudanese Band ‘The Nile’ in 2016 and the relationship progressed with visits to the other Oxford University Museums. The Ashmolean’s exhibition of the work of the world-renowned Sudanese exhibition Ibrahim El Salahi in Summer 2018 created the perfect opportunity to collaborate on a bigger scale. Through working alongside the Community Leaders we aimed to create a family event which would celebrate the exhibition, Sudanese heritage and culture and coincide with Eid celebrations.

The co-creation process began with Nicola working with the children at the Sudanese Supplementary School. It started with a simple question: What must we have in the family day Sudan to Oxford? The children were very clear about their ideas. Sudanese food and drink along with music and henna came top of the list, along with a ‘tree’ on which to hang visitor feedback (echoing the beautiful tree imagery in the exhibition). A Sudanese history time-line was also requested, which children and their families could decorate with their own artwork and images from the Ashmolean’s Sudanese collections and El-Salahi’s art work.  The children were also keen to include a ‘write your name in Arabic’ activity, which they could potentially help non Arabic writers with.

Members of the Sudanese Community became integral on how we delivered the children’s plans on the day. With the budgetary support from the exhibitions team, we pulled together all the elements: we commissioned a local Sudanese cook who supplied delicious falafel, cheese and meat pies and the most delectable fruit juice imaginable made from Baobab fruit; the brilliant ‘Nile Band’ made a welcome return and the Henna artist.

“I liked it because it was loud and usually museums are really quiet. You could taste the drink. Planning was really good: it was nice to take part”

Comment made by one of the children who planned the event

On the day, the community owned the event – lifting the museum with singing, dancing and providing a genuine atmosphere of celebration. We look forward to deepening this community relationship, and would like to see this model of collaborative event co-creation with Oxford’s communities become core to the way we work and the events we programme.

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