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Sankofa dialogues: Making things to make sense of colonial saturated embodied landscape

Sobers, Shawn


Shawn Sobers
Professor of Cultural Interdisciplinary Practice


Sankofa is a Ghanaian symbol which represents the idea that there is no shame in going back to fetch that which you have forgotten. The symbol is of a bird looking back with a seed it its mouth. The common interpretation is that the seed represents culture, heritage, traditions, and a sense of African identity. This presentation will discuss how I have explored this idea of embracing Sankofa principles through my practice as a filmmaker and photographer, in response to the landscape of Bristol, which as a history of making vast wealth through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The use of the Sankofa principle as a metaphor in this presentation will highlight a key element that often gets overlooked in this discourse. That no matter what I choose to point my camera lens at, whether that be the material Bristol landscape, or at someone else to tell their story, ultimately the work is about me, my sense of self, and me making sense of the landscape within which I find myself.

During this presentation, I will show video clips and examples of my photography where I have wrestled with these themes, and point at some directions of where this creative journey has now taken me. As a maker of things, not all of my work is related to identity and colonial narratives, and nor do I want it to be. Though at the same time I accept the responsibility of using whatever platform I have to produce and present work that has some form of cultural resonance, with a motivation of African self-representation.

The Sankofa symbol resonates with me, as I try not to forget that even though the bird is looking backwards, it still flies forwards. This presentation will attempt to reflect that tension in duality – the need to look back, whilst at the same time shaping what the future can become.


Sobers, S. (2018, December). Sankofa dialogues: Making things to make sense of colonial saturated embodied landscape

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Location Museum Mucem, Marseille, France
Start Date Dec 19, 2018
End Date Dec 20, 2018
Acceptance Date Dec 1, 2018
Publication Date Dec 19, 2018
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords colonial, post colonial, landscape, creative practice, history, critical pedagogy
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : European colonial heritage in entangled cities (ECHOES)