Collaborative Work of Storytellers Featured in International Museum Exhibit

The Sunjata Story: Glimpse of a Mande Epic produced by Canada Research Chair Marcia Ostashewski, is being featured at London’s British Museum exhibit West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song.

Singing Storytellers 1When visitors arrive at the exhibit, after proceeding through the introduction area, they will see and hear a large projection with ambient sound filling the front section. On repeat is a six-minute excerpt of the live performance of the Sunjata epic. The epic praises Sunjata, founder of the 13thcentury Mali Empire. Today, his memory and deeds are kept alive by griots (musicians and storytellers) such as those performing in this film. In the story, Sunjata freed the Mandé people from the oppressive power of Sumanguru, and founded the Mali Empire, which at its height ruled over some 20 million people and lasted for almost three centuries.

The live performance featured in the exhibit took place in October 2014 as part of he International Singing Storytellers Symposium. The symposium was an opportunity for Cape Breton University, The Cape Breton Regional Library and other partners to make workshops and performances available to the wider community. It allowed community members to hear about research (taking place here and around the world) and learn about storytelling through song, to share stories, discuss and ask questions.

For Ostashewski, this project has involved the development of new research, skills and capacities for her and the international group of faculty involved, as well as students and staff whose participating has been facilitated by the Social Sciences and Humanities Council (SSHRC) funding and partnership of local organizations. Such opportunities for learning, for so many, are what doing research is all about.

“It’s been exciting to work with bards and scholars from around the world, to hear new music and stories, to learn about histories and cultures of others and, in doing so, also come to understand our own heritage and practices with greater depth and insight,” says Ostashewski.

Singing StorytellersWorking in new media creation has opened up new means of carrying out, representing and sharing research, helping Ostashewski and her collaborators to connect with much wider audiences than envisioned when planning the project, as well as continue to develop earlier stages of the project and build a legacy for the work. The skills and networks developed in this project have already facilitaed new research, creative and collaborative opportunities for local researchers and students, as well as international collaborators.

“All of us are absolutely thrilled to have this collaboration included in the British Library’s West African culture exhibit, especially that it is in such a prestigious international institution. We are pleased for the artists that they and their work are featured so prominently and we are also very pleased that this Canadian publicly-funded research is being recognized for its excellence and contribution to public education,” says Ostashewski.

Fortunately for CBU and our surrounding communities, we may not have to travel to the British Museum in London, England to view this marvellous work of Ostashewski and the fantastic group of collaborators. A screening of the half-hour performance documentary film The Sunjata Story is expected to be held in our community in the near future.