Archival Repair: Shaping Collective History as Collective Future
Prompted by Garrett Bradley’s film America, the teams behind a series of MoMA and Studio Museum in Harlem workshops reflect on what they learned along the way.
Isabelle Hui Saldaña
May 5, 2021
During Memories for the Future: Garrett Bradley, Trevor Mathison, and Tina Campt in Conversation, Mathison, composer and founding member of Black Audio Film Collective, reminded us that archives must not only be consistently filled, but also regularly revisited and examined to surface gaps and unnoticed areas. The evening’s speakers emphasized the immense value of having everyday people involved in both the contribution and review processes.
Archives, when defined in the most traditional sense, are places where documents of history are held and made publicly available. The collection and distribution of these materials has historically been mediated by institutions. When the state and other institutions determine what is worth archiving, distrust becomes a barrier for marginalized people—especially given the devaluation of our contributions and personhood and the brutal mistreatment we’ve faced that archives document and erase. This is a challenge that many in the global Black radical tradition have risen to meet, creating blueprints for others to tear down barriers to access by forging pathways forward into the places where archives have been held, and by documenting their existences with whatever resources are available in order to fill the gaps in representation.
However, a question remains: How can we continue to expand the opportunity to be involved in the work of archival repair to all who may want it?
Inspired by Bradley’s eagerness to instill the value of our capacity for storytelling for youth audiences, Memories for the Future forefronted workshops for school-age students and teens. Each of these workshops included direct artist engagements to supplement the access to resources and facilitated spaces for exploration.
Both alumni and current members of The Studio Museum’s Teen Leadership Council and MoMA Teens cohorts collaborated in a three-week, hands-on workshop series discussing America, learning about archives and filmmaking, and creating new work.
Before beginning to engage with America’s reparative prompt, workshop leaders Ginny Huo, Rachell Morillo, and Amara Thomas wanted to make the specific role of a museum archive less opaque for the teen cohort. In a virtual visit with archivist Mimi Lester, who manages the collections databases and archives at The Studio Museum, Lester explained the operations and function of a museum archive. Additional activities, such as creating mood boards from images of loved ones and exploring filmmaking through social media apps, became entry points for the teens to start thinking about how they could contribute a portion of their personal history to an archive before utilizing editing software to create video vignettes.
Live program compilation reel, featuring teen participant FredriqueGuevara-Prip’s film Best Part, March 18, 2021
At the end of the series, Bradley attended a special premiere of the teen films, which the teens named as a highlight after having studied and been inspired by Bradley’s work.
Workshop coordinator Amara Thomas, Petrie Fellow for Teen and Community Partnerships at MoMA, recalled how “generous and encouraging Garrett was with the teens, giving everyone thoughtful comments and praise for their films,” which Amara went on to describe as, “an intimate portrait of their lives, family, and meaningful moments” during a time when teens have felt isolated from their communities and extracurricular hobbies due to precautions taken by schools responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ginny Huo, senior coordinator for Teen Programs at The Studio Museum, shared how critical it was for youth to meet directly with the artist because “it helps expand their ideas on what’s possible for them.”
Access in Transition
One of the films featured in the final compilation was created collaboratively by the students at ReStart Academy, Euphrasian Residence, which is a Studio Museum in Harlem School and Community Partnership. ReStart Academy provides services for students in transitional settings throughout the five boroughs and upstate New York. Euphrasian Residence is a diagnosis center and rapid intervention center that serves teenage girls aged 12–17 who have been referred by the New York City Administration for Children’s Services. Teens spend an average of three months living communally with educators at ReStart before transitioning into foster care, adoption, or back to families and guardians.
Soundscape of community partner sessions with Garrett Bradley. March 16, 2021. Courtesy Jennifer Harley and Alex Parker
Visual Storytelling Workshops recording, adapted to an at-home resource, January 23 and February 6, 2021. Edited by Jacarrea Garraway
Celebrating Collaboration and Community
In March’s final Memories for the Future conversation program, the participants’ final films were screened in compilations edited by filmmaker Jalea Jackson.
After the screening, we heard directly from the participant filmmakers. Though the films alone had already visibly moved panelists Bradley, Mathison, and Campt, the participants’ inspirations and processes for the films they created only made them resonate more deeply. Rodríguez Píneda, who saw the films after being involved in so many elements of the program series, remarked, “It was a special moment in which you understood just how precious time, life, our daily experience truly is.”
Visual and Sonic Quilt, featuring excerpts from submitted films from public, teen, and community partner workshop participants, March 18, 2021. Edited by Jalea Jackson.
Recording of Memories for the Future’s final program, Garrett Bradley, Trevor Mathison, and Tina Campt in Conversation, moderated by Ravon Ruffin and Isa Saldaña, March 18, 2021. Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art
Memories for the Future
Garrett Bradley’s America inspires and challenges us to play an active role in making and telling our stories.
Jan 20, 2021
Artist and filmmaker Garrett Bradley speaks about her re-envisioning of Black history.
Thelma Golden, Legacy Russell, Garrett Bradley
Nov 19, 2020