But this year, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, I’ve been working with artist collective Re-Dock, digitising both my photograph and video archive. We’ve done a whole range of things so far as part of the project, such as presenting it at the Without Borders conference in London in July, and installing a permanent exhibition of photographs from my archive in the Lisbon, Liverpool’s premier LGBT bar.
One of the main things I’m excited about is that we’ve been able to make three new short films inspired by and utilising the newly digitised video archive.
I’ve made one of the films, which I’ve called Planet Tumbleweed: The Light of the Female Species, and we’ve been able to commission two other black women filmmakers, Evan Ifeykoya and Hayley Reid, to make their own films using the video archive.
All three films are being premiered at the Unity Theatre as part of Liverpool’s Homotopia Festival.
The process of making Planet Tumbleweed started in 1970 when I reinvented myself, and started a new life in Liverpool. I got a job as a barmaid in the Lisbon on Victoria Street, and the first thing the manageress said to me was: “We get a few puffs in here but they won’t bother you.” Well, half way through the evening these three gay boys came in and they had me laughing all night. We became friends and would be in John Powell’s Bar Royale, the first gay club in Liverpool on Wood Street, and every night of the week the place would be chocker. Everyone knew each other’s names – the gay scene was underground because Liverpool was very homophobic, and very few people from the black community ventured into Liverpool’s city centre.
I had been living in Walton, north end of Liverpool, and the people were very racist and homophobic. I moved to Toxteth in South Liverpool in the 1980s, where there was a lot of mixed race people and an Afro Caribbean community, and for the first time in my life I felt safe. I loved living there because I could relate to the people who had been living in Toxteth for 10, 11, even 12 generations of families, and with being mixed race, with a brown face, and being a gay girl. I would do the gay clubs in town of a weekend and when they closed, I would go to the clubs and shebeens in Toxteth. Sometimes I would bring gay boys and gay girls with me, and the black elders would look after us, along with the young black men, and over the next few years I started taking photographs of the gay scene and the Toxteth scene.
In the 1990s, I was very aware of the lack of representation of me and others who were black or gay, or elders. I didn’t notice any written or visual social history. I continued taking photographs and videoing my mates, where we went and what we did. I was recording and documenting Liverpool bands, theatres, clubs, fashion sub-cultures and the intersections between local LGBT and BAME people. Sexism in the media industry forced me to look at myself as a woman and as a member of society in an entirely new and enlightening way, and there was a rise in the number of women filmmakers, both independent and studio directors, in Liverpool.
As a freelance filmmaker and photographer I got projects to film Liverpool’s marginalised people. I obtained stories that expressed and defined people’s cultural identity, and I also turned the camera on myself and continued conversations about my own perceptions of race, gender and other “isms”. I felt the need to define what we have to give to one another. That will inform us and can be passed on to those who come after us.
Back in the day, you lived close to your family and as a community. You got to know each other and pass on local information to each other. There was power in being a community, with people coming together with an old African saying – “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”
When I was documenting Liverpool’s many diverse communities, all the footage was on analogue tapes. After 2000 they changed to mini digital video cassettes. After the noughties, filming went digital with SD cards. I realised the importance of securing my films and photographs, because I was aware that no one else was doing what I was doing. For me it was an alternative education and a basic need. When I became 60, I bought myself an Apple Mac computer to continue editing footage using digital equipment, and making documentaries and pop-up films about Liverpool people and events.
My film Planet Tumbleweed is important for debate and to explore the lives of Liverpool women as they continue to be marginalised in dominant, controlled discourse. The interviews are the women’s stories about their lived experiences.
My archive is a wealth of material and a back-up for Liverpool’s communities. Each generation is the heir – the next in line to benefit from each of the stories – so the next generation won’t carry over the problems of the previous one. We do not need to be defined any longer just by what we need from public services but instead by what we have to give – to one another.
I feel very passionate while revisiting my archive of Liverpool’s local history because I had none of my own – no origins, no family background or ancestry. Growing up in the grassroots of Liverpool’s diverse communities, I am able to use my heart and my head to spread these stories, as women wear them like armour, turning struggles into triumphs, and taking it to the limit in a modern-day spaceship of equality benefits.
Source: Big Issue North
Tim Brunsden and Helena Smart from the Liverpool Archive present
Rewind Fast Forward: Sandi Hughes’ History of the Liverpool Scene at OUTing the Past:Liverpool on Saturday 25th February 2017