Do You Remember Olive Morris?
21st November 2009 – 24th January 2010
Do you remember Olive Morris? is an exhibition which draws together a multi-faceted project of the same name, taking as a starting point the historical figure of community activist Olive Morris (1952-1979). Do you remember Olive Morris? was initiated in 2006 by Brixton-based artist Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre working in collaboration with community activist Liz Obi, a friend and colleague of Olive Morris.
Olive Morris was a key figure in 1970s South London. She co-founded the Brixton Black Women’s Group and the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD). She was part of the British Black Panther Movement and was central to the squatters’ campaign of that decade. She died tragically young at the age of 27.
Despite having a council building in Lambeth named after her, little information and material about Olive Morris is to be found in the public realm, but in recent years a small group of people have worked to make public a chapter of recent British history mainly known only to those who had partaken in it.
The exhibition is the result of a long-term dialogue between Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre and Gasworks’ exhibitions curator. It aims to examine the complex interplay of multiple authorship, research, process and outcomes of the project as a whole. Echoing the project’s chronology, the exhibition will start with the image that triggered Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre to begin the project three years ago. Taken in 1969 by photographer Neil Kenlock, the photo shows Olive Morris standing at a Black Panther Movement demonstration in Coldharbour Lane, and holding a placard reading: “BLACK SUFFERER FIGHT PIG POLICE BRUTALITY”.
Historical material including a selection of items from the recently created archive about Olive Morris, together with photographs documenting the movements and campaign groups with which Olive Morris was associated, will provide the exhibition with a contextual platform for a programme of events. This will be devised with the Remembering Olive Collective, and will consist of a wide-ranging series of events whose themes and formats reflect and further Olive Morris’ legacy. Events will include surgeries, talks, film screenings, walks, music events and workshops themed around squatting, immigration, self-education, women’s groups and music and poetry.
Additionally, a publication documenting the project as a whole will be launched in January 2010. Further details and contributors to the exhibition, events programme and publication will be announced in autumn 2009.
Background Info While doing research at Peckham Library in 2006, Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre came across Neil Kenlock’s photograph of Olive Morris with the placard in The Windrush Legacy: Memories of Britain’s Post-War Caribbean Immigrants, a book published by the Black Cultural Archives in 1998. Recognising the name from a Lambeth Council building – Olive Morris House – she embarked on a journey that took her from researching archives, libraries and the internet, to finding those who had known and worked with Olive Morris, and were willing to share their memories.
With this, Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre started to piece together the fragmented and under-documented history of South London Black activism in the 1970s. This was made possible by a collaboration with Liz Obi and with the ongoing support of other friends, colleagues and the Morris family. As documents, images and stories were unveiled they were progressively made available to the public in the project’s blog and through insertions in publications, presentations and informal public events.
This growing network of supporters led to the creation of the Remembering Olive Collective (ROC) in October 2008. ROC is a women-run volunteer group composed of over 30 members including artists, activists, academics, archivists, curators, cultural theorists and community workers of varied generations and cultural backgrounds. The group meets once a month at Lambeth Women’s Project and is involved in researching and creating public memories of Olive Morris, other activists and the community organisations that she worked with during the 1970s in South London and Manchester. ROC organises regular presentations, and runs fundraising activities at cultural and political events, festivals and fairs.
ROC is undertaking an extensive oral history and cataloguing project leading to the creation of a community archive based around the figure of Olive Morris. The centrepiece of this archive is formed by a collection of Olive Morris personal documents donated by Liz Obi, alongside over twenty oral history interviews and associated research materials gathered by ROC. The archive will be made available at Lambeth Archives for permanent public use in October 2009. A launch event for the Olive Morris archive will be held at Brixton Library on Wednesday 21 October as part of Black History Month 2009.
Gasworks and Lambeth Archives have been involved in supporting the Do You Remember Olive Morris project from its early stages. The partnership was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant in Spring 2009. This has allowed the training of ROC volunteers in archiving, cataloguing and oral history, as well as the production of a publication that will be launched early in 2010. The project’s advisers and partners also include the Black Cultural Archives, Brixton Library, Lambeth Women’s Project and the British Library. For ongoing updates on the project’s various activities
Olive Morris (1952 -1979) Olive Morris was born in Jamaica and moved to the UK in 1961. She studied at Manchester University, gaining a degree in Social Sciences in 1977. She co-founded and worked for various organisations including: the organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD), The Brixton Black Women’s Group, The Manchester Black Women’s Co-operative, the Manchester Black Women’s Mutual Aid Group and the Brixton Law Centre. She was also active in the Brixton Black Panther movement and involved in the squatter movement. She died from cancer at the age of 27.
Remembering Olive Morris