Places never seen: A youth led, digital exploration of the 1911 Festival of Empire

South London Gallery’s young people’s forum, the Art Assassins, have embarked on a new project researching and re-examining the 1911 Festival of Empire.

Taking place in The Crystal Palace at Sydenham Hill (now Crystal Palace Park), the 1911 Festival included exhibits, sporting events and more. It was designed to inspire pride and wonder in the British Empire. This Festival was the biggest single event ever hosted at the site, and attracted visitors from across the UK.   

Today, many of us are more aware of the Great Exhibition at The Crystal Palace in 1851 than we are of the Festival of Empire exhibited in 1911; the documentation of the Festival’s exhibits showing how colonised peoples were represented at that time is uncomfortable for us to consider.   

Places Never Seen invites young people representative of contemporary South London to take the lead in examining this history, presenting a unique opportunity to explore new perspectives from within the modern context. Interrogating such histories can feel revelatory and empowering today, particularly for those of us who are racialised or have experienced racial discrimination.  

Through this project the Art Assassins are developing archival research and digital storytelling skills, in collaboration with researcher Lucy Panesar (Wikimedian in residence, UAL) and artist Jazmin Morris (UAL). By examining how stories from the 1911 Festival of Empire are told, for whom, and how they are shared through multimedia digital platforms such as Wikimedia, Places Never Seen can generate important new narratives for audiences of today. 

In partnership with Wikimedia UK and supported by The Audience Agency’s Digitally Democratising Archives project thanks to funding from DCMS and the National Lottery, as part of The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s, Digital Skills for Heritage initiative.

ABOUT

Art Assassins was established by the South London Gallery as a creative forum for young people aged 14–20 in 2009. Members of Art Assassins meet weekly at the gallery, and the size and membership of the group is continually evolving. Through collaborative projects, they have defined a peer-led approach, representing themselves and their ideas across a range of platforms with a focus on collectivised decision making and a culture of openness and inquiry.  

Lucy Panesar is an educational developer and facilitator in art and design education. Currently managing progression, attainment and curriculum decolonisation projects at UAL London College of Communication, including LCC Changemakers and the Decolonising Wikipedia Network. UAL’s Wikimedian in Residence.  

Jazmin Morris is a Creative Computing Artist and Educator based in London. Her personal practise and research explore representation and inclusivity within technology. She uses free and open-source tools to create digital experiences that highlight issues surrounding gender identity, race and power; focusing on the complexities within simulating culture and identity. Jazmin is the Lead Digital Tutor on the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins and a Lecturer in Creative Computing & Digital Outreach at UAL’s Creative Computing Institute.