The afternoon’s activity focused on a nameless film that dates back to 1953, and most of the special guests were from early cohorts at the then University College of the West Indies. But the emphasis was current – to help the UWI Museum capture information about the film, through an exhibition titled: Freeze Frame & Annotate! Engaging with images from a 1953 film on the UCWI. And one most interesting point of engagement was that between the elders and current students of the University of the West Indies who came to assist at a brief launch event.
The students represent UWISTAT, an acronym for Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow, and they were pulled in through our collaborator on the exhibition, the UWI Institutional Advancement Division. We asked them to take photographs of the alumni, especially at points of recognition of people or events and, where possible, to do mini-interviews with elder alumni, using their own phones or whatever usable cameras we could gather.
The exhibition launch went very well, with one highlight being our guest speaker – UWI alumna, Professor Emerita and former Principal Elsa Leo-Rhynie – ‘bigging up’ our “novel and intriguing” approach and recalling ‘freeze frames’ from her own UWI student experience.
“The heritage which this museum seeks to preserve is vital. It reinforces the sense of identity and belonging to the UWI and serves as our ‘rear view mirror’ (to steal from Professor Rex Nettleford) which reflects the institution’s tradition and culture. It is clear that the museum will become even more important to the university as we look towards the future with a greatly changed student population with objectives, goals and values which differ markedly from those which existed so many decades ago…” (Elsa Leo-Rhynie)
But another highlight was this small episode, perhaps only caught by the curator’s eye: Two students had set one alumni elder in front of a board that is covered with frames from the film; one was filming with a smart phone while another asked questions. Enter from left a classmate of the interviewee, not recognising the significance of the little group and bent on getting his friend’s opinion on an image just a little way away. The two immediately turned to go and ponder over the image, and the students, quite unfazed, turned and followed in their wake, to continue the interview in the new location.
The exhibition continues for for the rest of February. And anyone who may know persons in the film, which captures some of the people, places and experiences from the early years of the university, is especially welcome.