Shawn Sobers' project was exhibited at Back from the Front: Re-membering I at the Royal West of England Academy.
'Inconsequential Monuments' is a collection of experimental visual anthropology works which ask: how do communities respond to personal memorial? Read the project blog SS Mendi - Making of 'Inconsequential Monuments'
'African Kinship Systems: Emotional Science – Case Study: The Fate of the SS Mendi' is an audio visual work, made with local filmmaker Rob Mitchell, the creative media producer with whom Shawn founded Firstborn Creatives Production Company in 1999. It focuses on the tragic fate of the SS Mendi and the South African Native Labour Corps on-board.
646 men died in devastating circumstances when the troopship Mendi, on route to France, was accidently sunk off the coast of Isle of Wight after it was hit by a meat transporter the SS Darro. Controversially, the captain of the Darro made little attempt to save the lives of the drowning men.
Following the tragedy none of the surviving or deceased Black servicemen were awarded a British War Medal or ribbon – in contrast to their white officers. This decision by the pre-Apartheid South African government was used to emphasise the racial divide, and now, in post-Apartheid South Africa, the SS Mendi has been reclaimed as a symbol of reconciliation. Outside of South Africa little is known about the Mendi and its wreckage still lies under the waters off the coast of the Isle of Wight.
Shawn's work includes underwater portraits of former soldiers of African-heritage and one member of the Army cadets. Each was invited to have their photograph taken in the water as a means of personal commemoration and remembrance, along with reflective audio interviews.
Also included are coastal and water landscapes of the Isle of Wight at the land point nearest to the SS Mendi wreckage; recitals of official documentation from the time; a commissioned poem by Rob Mitchell, and an underwater dance piece by Remi Tawose, creating an audio visual work which resonates on this tragic event in history from multiple viewpoints.
This projected work is accompanied by a screen-based text piece which carries the names of the 646 men, and a small installation piece titled 'Libation – Remembrance Ritual', in keeping with the tradition followed in Africa and other cultures, of pouring out a beverage in respect of the ancestors and those who have died.
Shawn is a filmmaker, photographer, academic researcher and Senior Lecturer of Photography and Media at University of the West of England. His work is primarily concerned with the use of media and arts in socially engaged contexts, advocacy, heritage, marginalised voices and untold stories. Working across a range of different mediums, his work is predominantly framed within the context of visual anthropology and participatory methodologies, and has been exhibited internationally. Since co-founding Firstborn Creatives he has directed documentaries for BBC, ITV West and Channel 4.
He appeared at World War One and Present Day Soldiers on 8 November and First World War Day: Bristol 2014 Arts Projects on 15 November. Both events were at Watershed. He took part in the Black and Asian Perspectives on the First World War event at Moved by Conflict in February.