Dig Where You Stand
Dig Where You Stand is an archival justice movement made up of artists, archivists, educators and local community members.
Our mission is to address the harm and erasure endured by racially marginalised groups in historical processes. We do this by unearthing the untold stories of people of colour who have lived, worked and put down roots in South Yorkshire over hundreds of years. We also support people of colour to access archival records and use creative practices to reimagine the lives contained within them. These stories are then shared in public exhibitions, screening and events.
The Centre for Equity & Inclusion has been granted £112,100 by the National Lottery Heritage fund to develop the Dig Where You Stand (DWYS) project in partnership with artist and activist Désirée Reynolds, who originated the project, and Sheffield City Archives. Over the next two years we will be working with these partners and other collaborators, including WOC Azadi Collective and Victoria Okoye, to develop a comprehensive programme of activity.
The DWYS programme includes:
- 10x new commissions for artists of colour
- Public exhibition in 2024
- Archival training programme for women of colour
- Educational resources for young people
- One off online events, workshops and panels
- Study guides and open access DWYS website
This work builds on a project developed by Reynolds during her six month residency at Sheffield City Archives in 2021. In this time, Reynolds uncovered and reimagined the lives of working-class, African-Caribbean people reduced to bare facts and figures in archival documents. She also used creative responses to grapple with the violence, erasure and conflict of the archival process itself. Collaborating with other creatives in Sheffield, Reynolds then showcased this work at an exhibition at Moor Market and Sheffield General Cemetery, as well as a series of one-off public events with festivals, schools and community hubs. Her reflections on this experience are detailed in a series of articles produced for Now Then.
The project is largely inspired by Swedish writer, Sven Lindqvist, who produced the popular “how to” guide Gräv där du står (or “Dig Where You Stand”) in the 1970s. This guide encouraged and helped everyday working people to explore their own histories. It also gave a name to a growing socialist movement that spread across Europe in the late twentieth century.
In this iteration of Dig Where You Stand, emphasis is placed on the racial dimension of working class histories. In particular, there is a focus on stories from before 1945. This is to address mainstream narratives about migration in Britain, which suggest that people of colour only came to these shores after World War II. Our work shows that people of colour are deeply embedded in the history of South Yorkshire. This overlooked regional history nuances wider accounts of migration, diaspora and the operation of race and racism in Britain.
We use creative practice to disrupt the inherent violence and harm that comes from the marginalisation and erasure of people of colour from the archival record. In this way, the project is also inspired by Saidiya Hartman’s work on ‘critical fabulation’, which demonstrates the power of using creative approaches to address racial violence and erasure in the archive. Significantly, it also makes clear the responsibilities of reimagining lives reduced to partial facts and figures in the archives, and gives voice to the pain of never being able to fully reconcile the past. This is a fundamental aspect of Dig Where You Stand. We seek to place ourselves amongst the fragments of history and touch, consider and present each piece with tenderness and care.
Ultimately, by disrupting both historical accounts and processes, we seek to empower racially marginalised groups in the present. This means encouraging people of colour to assert their claim over the archives. Our central message is clear: you have long been here, now come find out for yourselves. Dig Where You Stand.