Sunderland: Hidden Histories – Cannonballs

Three large white blocks hold an installation of coiled rope. The coils of rope are filled with black cannonballs
  Cannonballs installation in the Journey to Justice exhibition, Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens. Courtesy of Martin Spafford

When

2016

Where

Sunderland

Inspiration for this project came from learning about heroes of Sunderland’s history who fought for their belief in justice. 

Men and women such as: Freeborn John Lilburne, leader of the Levellers; Annabella Milbanke, Lady Byron, who campaigned to abolish slavery; Henry Binns who was also an abolitionist and would only sell cotton picked by free labour; Norman Gaudie, Sunderland footballer and First World War conscientious objector; and the Women on the Wear who worked tirelessly to keep Sunderland’s shipbuilding industry going during both world wars.

I enjoyed hearing everyone’s stories and putting art and history together. It was interesting to think about my hidden history. Sharing is extending your arms towards the other and inviting them in. It was fascinating and therapeutic. It was giving them part of me.

participant in the cannonballs workshop, bangladeshi centre, sunderland

The stories of Sunderland’s campaigners for freedom and justice were shared with participants who then recorded their own struggles for justice on paper and hid them inside clay spheres. Each person hand crafted their own sphere and decorated it with a pattern, drawing or symbol, giving a hint as to what was inside.

In telling their stories, participants connected with both the past and today, a reminder of Sunderland’s long association with human rights and the work still needed to ensure equality for all.

There is a large table with lots of people sitting around it. The people are shaping grey-coloured clay into cannonball shapes.
Cannonball making workshops run by MBC Arts Wellbeing.
Courtesy of MBC Arts Wellbeing

For many years I worked with and championed the cause of younger people with dementia. People can be very judgmental and families struggled on a daily basis.

I have witnessed many forms of discrimination towards those who have committed a criminal offence… Often by employers before they have met the person and had a chance to find the skills and abilities they have to offer.

I can remember walking to the colliery to give my brother his packed lunch and spend time on the picket line. It felt we were one big family, fighting for people’s livelihood and futures.

My journey started at the age of 11 going through the care system…My struggle was I wanted to be educated and reel some self-worth…[We] didn’t feel we were listened to and craved a family unit.

The shape of the spheres is reminiscent of stones called Cannonball Rocks which are a geological limestone secretion found only on the North East coastline. They were displayed in the form of cannonballs to reflect Sunderland’s maritime past. They represent and celebrate people from all over the world who have come together to live in Sunderland and some of the conflicts they face or have fled.

A book lies open on top of a coil of rope. The books shows pictures of people participating in a cannonball making workshop.
Hidden Histories book created to tell the story of the cannonball project.
Courtesy of Martin Spafford

Many thanks go to the wonderful staff and customers at Sunderland Care and Support, the Bangladeshi Centre, the Sangini women’s organisation and Pennywell House Approved Premises, all of whom were so open in sharing their amazing stories. Our lives are reflected in theirs.

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