This project explored the commonalities between the experience of East Belfast Residents during the current pandemic and the pandemic of 1918 through the lens of History and Creativity. The project involved Research, Conversations, Storytelling, Poetry and Art.
The research built on the enthusiastic work of a local amateur history group, whose conversations helped us shape the project.
We told the story of an imagined visit of a Doctor from a silent movie about the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, who somehow ends up in East Belfast in 2021.
We met via zoom with focus groups representing the intersection of Creativity and History; one group of Artists and one group of Historians. We asked the participants to imagine what the time-travelling Doctor would make of Belfast today, and in particular what would he think about our response to the current pandemic. We discussed public health messaging, resilience, and trust. We shared our experiences, insights and imagination. Partly inspired by a conversation around Princess Mary’s gift of a tin box containing chocolate and cigarettes given soldiers during World War 1, we wanted to present a cultural gift to the people of east Belfast.
The conversations included our Poet, and inspired this commissioned poem.
During the first surge they built borders and beds.
Scrap wood: boards, wardrobes, and pallets;
all measured, trimmed and sanded.
Boxy raised beds planted out
with seeds of subsistence.
In summers second swell
they swam every day at high tide,
keeping heads above water. Sometimes
they swallowed sea, spluttered and spat.
Watched kids hunt beached treasure,
as rainbows refracted on ripples.
By the time the tidal wave came
there were sea borders and more controls,
but they’d learnt to surf; balance waxed boards
on surface tension. Feeling winds, currents, changing course
and the wave subsiding they edged towards shallow water’s safety.
The poem in turn inspired these 3 designs which we made into postcards, with the poem on the reverse and a link to this webpage, explaining the project.