Statue of a woman washing clothes in a bowl

The Freedom Park statue of the Washerwoman.

Photograph by Ros Martin 

Celebrating Black History Month at Watershed

Posted on Wed 4 Oct 2023

Watershed's highlights during Black History Month, October 2023

Black History Month is a moment to collectively highlight and celebrate African and Caribbean contributions to British society and culture.

Watershed aims to programme work all year round that is rich with diverse cultural perspectives and representative of the people living and working around us. This includes an ongoing commitment to working with and for the Black communities of Bristol and beyond.

Here are a few highlights – from our creative leads Jo Lansdowne, Executive Producer of the Pervasive Media Studio and Mark Cosgrove, Cinema Curator – of events and screenings that are happening during Black History Month 2023 at Watershed which offer audiences an opportunity to engage with Black creatives and their stories, both historical and contemporary. 

Connecting Through Culture as We Age – Anyone Remember the Washhouse?
Tue 17 Oct 10:30 to 16:00

Remembering, reflecting on and capturing a bygone ‘washhouse world’, in place, people and time. Washhouse world objects, sourced by the project, triggered anecdotes and sayings, stain removal recipes, improvised hand clapping and folk songs. A world remembered often as small children, through the handling and smelling of washing paraphernalia and hearing others’ stories.

Join participants from Connecting through Culture As We Age (a University of Bristol led project in which Watershed was a producing partner) as they share the prototype of Anyone Remember the Washhouse? as part of Festival of the Future City.

Led by Ros Martin, the prototype is a co-operative with Gill Simmons, Mike Stuart, Pedda Borowski, Andrew Hart, Gill Greenwood and many others. Seven workshop participants Doreen, Pauline, Belinda, Mary, Gill, Pam and Silu, aged 60-75 years, were brought together by word of mouth to remember and share with each other. Participants engaged creatively with memories in movement, shadow puppetry, song and creative writing and expression in three 2-hour workshops over three months at Bristol 1904 Arts Park Row.

Ros says:

Anyone Remember the Washhouse? renders visible a less known working-class history of the Washhouse and the hard lives of the little people of this world, reconstructed from elders’ memories. In the process of coming together to share, we powerfully affirm ourselves and our forebears.

When I was growing up and for a long time, I had thought the word ‘WASHHOUSE’ was uniquely my late Caribbean mother’s quaint expression for the high street launderette, this was until she began regaling her memories to us, her adult children, in her much later years. She had become quite frail and infirm, wheelchair-bound but still very lucid. She took great pleasure and pride in recalling her memories. It brought a smile on her face and clearly much joy. 

One memory she regaled was that of St Pancras, Prince of Wales Road, Washhouse, Kentish Town, London, from the late 50’s and early 60’s when she first arrived in the UK from St Lucia. She rose to the challenge of raising us five children in two rooms, a shared cooker on the landing and no bath. We small children bathed in a galvanise whilst the adults frequented St Pancreas bathhouse. None the less, we were immaculately turned out. My mother would make our clothes and her own, she was a seamstress by trade.  St Pancras Washhouse was the place she looked forward to going most. For every week, she would meet up with her girlfriends and spend the day there.…..

This event takes place at Watershed on Tue 17 Oct -  you can book your free place here.

Colston’s Last Journey
Tue 17 to Thu 19 Oct
Free, booking required for artist led walks

Bristol-based Pervasive Media Studio Resident, poet, writer and located audio designer Ralph Hoyte launches his work of located sound art, Colston’s Last Journey, which explores Bristol’s relationship with the Transatlantic Trafficking of Enslaved Africans. Colston’s Last Journey is available now on the Apple App Store and Google Play for the self-guided experience. It will also be part of the Festival of the Future City on Tue 17 Oct.

You will be immediately afloat on a sea of interactive audio layered over the whole of Bristol city centre from the Colston plinth to where Colston’s statue was plunged into the Floating Harbour at Pero’s Bridge in June 2020. Fragments of facts, various statements, re-created dialogues, names of captains, slave trade statistics, lost voices, voices of resistance, whispers of the damned etc arise out of its depths and spiral into you. Afloat or moored upon this ever-changing sea of sound are 9 audio ghost ships. These are the ghosts of real ships which sailed from HERE - from this very port - more than 250 years ago to the coast of West Africa, and then on to the West Indies, trafficking enslaved Africans. Each of these ships represents a different facet of this nefarious trade. When you find one of these ghost ships you can ‘board’ it and listen in to what it has to say. Finally, progress over Pero’s Bridge…

Content Warning – Colston’s Last Journey is a work of sound art not an historical guide. It contains unavoidably distressing content, so please take care of yourself when navigating these waters!

Colston’s Last Journey is supported using public funding by Arts Council England, as well as by Bristol Ideas and by the University of the West of England Regional History Centre.

Colston’s Last Journey is a self-guided activity, but two artist-led walks will be run on Thu 17 Oct with Ralph Hoyte, the audio designer behind the project. These will be held at 10:30 and 13:30, each lasting an hour and a half. Meet at the Cenotaph in Bristol to take part.

Book your free place on the guided walk here.

Container Magazine

Throughout October you might also want to visit Container Magazine, which we run in collaboration with UWE Bristol, where you will find a number of articles sharing Black perspectives on creative technology  

For example, as part of our collaboration with Control Shift Festival in 2023, researcher and creative producer (and great friend of Watershed’s) Russel Hlongwane invited artist Mark Mushiva to a discussion on working with technology from within African contexts. Russel, based in South Africa, wanted to begin the process of convening a roundtable to think about theories of making coming from within Africa and the broader global south.

Diving into the history that is driving their ideas the two find topics ranging from being raised on System of a Down, the accessibility of tech discourse to the continent, and the relevance of cyberpunk's genre trappings to these contexts.

CARGO Classroom

Finally, if you or your family want to learn more about history from the perspective of those African and African Diaspora descent, we recommend the resources of CARGO Classroom, which have been created by poet, educator and Pervasive Media Studio Resident Lawrence Hoo, with filmmaker and creative director Charles Golding.


Over in our cinema programme we screen films from across the world offering a range of representations, issues and ideas beyond the mainstream and during Black History Month we will be showing…

Black Again! Fifty Years of Blaxploitation 
Fri 13 to Fri 27 Oct

Still from Cleopatra Jones.

In partnership with Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds and Park Circus we mark the 50th anniversary of this groundbreaking genre that emerged in the 1970s which showcased African-American culture and tackled social issues prevalent in black communities. These movies typically featured strong, charismatic black protagonists navigating ‘urban’ environments, often involved in crime, corruption, and fighting against systemic oppression, offering a defiant representation of Black identity at a time of social and political upheaval. Though criticised for their often exploitative nature (hence the genre name), films like Cleopatra JonesBlack Caesar and Coffy played a significant role in shaping African-American cinema and cultural identity.  

James Baldwin and Cities: On Film
Sat 21 Oct  14:00

In partnership with Bristol Ideas we're screening three short films celebrating James Baldwin's life and work in three cities – Istanbul, London and Paris – as we count down to the 2024 celebrations of the centenary of this great writer.

Now recognised as one of the great American authors, James Baldwin was a passionate and tireless advocate of the Black struggle during the 1960s and 1970s. His writings remain essential reading 26 years after his death. His novels and essays made a significant impact on the culture in his time and are more relevant today than ever. He taught generations of readers and campaigners the realities of racism and how we might find ways to move forwards. His own experience of racism in the US often led to him leaving for Europe, and he lived in France for most of his later life. This programme of three short films presented as part of Festival of Ideas explores his connections with London, Paris and Ankara.

Coming up in November...

Horace Ové 

“Horace Ové is undoubtedly a pioneer in Black British history whose work provides an essential perspective on the Black experience in Britain.”

Sir Horace Ové was a ground breaking Trinidadian-born British filmmaker, photographer, painter and writer. He was the first black British filmmaker to direct a feature-length film, with his debut Pressure (1976). He sadly died this September, aged 87. The British Film Institute (BFI) recently restored Pressure as part of a retrospective 'Power to the People: Horace Ové’s Radical Vision’, and we’ll be screening this restoration from 10 Nov. (sign up on our Coming Soon page to get notified when tickets go on sale).  

Also screening as part of the James Baldwin and Cities programme is Ové’s documentary Baldwin’s N****r (1971), which features the author at the top of his game, funny and in good spirits, in conversation at the West Indian Student Centre, a cultural hub and social organisation for Caribbean students living and studying in London.

Plus look out for the forthcoming Afrika Eye Film Festival, now in its 17th Year. Afrika Eye presents a rich and eclectic programme of films both from and about Africa and the diaspora.  

Further information

For more information, resources and events relating to Black History Month in Bristol visit the Black History Month website.

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