Succession: an exhibition of portraits and film for Black History Month

Trinity students chart their own experience of being black at Cambridge in a compelling exhibition of portraits and a revealing short film.

In the first of its kind at Trinity, Black History Month features portraits of students of African and/or Caribbean heritage created by award-wining photographer Henry Kamara, with additional photographs by Aubrey Wade and Yiannis Katsaris. Alumna and filmmaker Sonum Sumaria has captured the perspectives, from the personal to the global, of new arrivals and students in later years.

Succession in Nevile’s Court

Succession was the inspiration of final-year Law student Wanipa Ndhlovu and second-year Medical student Serena Cole, based on their experience bringing about change at Trinity and the University of Cambridge. In the introduction to the exhibition, they write:

The word succession connotes the handing over of a title or the passing down of a tradition. A couple of years ago, Trinity had only six black undergraduates in total; this year there are more than a dozen. This might seem like a modest increase, but it is significant to those of us who understand the power of representation and community. One reason for this increase is simple: prospective students can see black students in their second and third years here, thus inspiring a new generation of applicants.

Succession signifies us sharing our experiences and handing over our voices to the new black students, in the hope that they will flourish and inspire more students next year.

Wanipa, who was President of Cambridge’s African Caribbean Society (ACS) for 2019-20, and Serena, who is BME Officer of Trinity College Students’ Union, were galvanised by the murder of George Floyd and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to organise the Black History Month celebrations at Trinity this year.

Each portrait is accompanied by the student’s testimony. Bijou Kaye, a first-year studying Law, wrote:

I love to subvert expectations, and the visibility of being a black girl at Trinity does just that. With every person who calls this place home who would have been barred from doing so at the nascence of this College, a new tradition is being written. I’m proud to be part of this novel heritage.

Students at a roundtable discussion for Succession: a short film

Michelle Acheampong, a first-year studying Land Economy, wrote:

If someone had told me even two years ago that I’d be studying at an institution as reputable as Trinity College Cambridge, I would’ve been completely incredulous. Not solely due to a lack of belief in my potential, but predominantly because I perceived prestigious institutions like these as being places where, as a black woman from a working-class background, I wouldn’t fit in.

However, it was through watching YouTubers such as IbzMo, following social media such as Cambridge ACS on Instagram, and the encouragement of my parents and tutors that I began viewing Cambridge as an inclusive environment that I aspired to be part of.

Sinmi Tokede, a first-year Medical student, wrote:

Many beautiful things fell in place for me to get where I am today. Who would have known my family making the brave decision to move to the UK from Nigeria in 2009 would be the genesis of something so marvellous? What initially seemed to be a quixotic ambition is now my reality. If you are reading this and identify as BAME, please keep working, keep striving for those grades, those internships. Don’t let your ethnicity diminish your aspirations, but rather let it fuel your work ethic because there is no ladder too tall for you to climb if you have the heart of a winner.

Henry Kamara taking Wanipa’s portrait for Succession

Photographer Henry Kamara said:

Challenging circumstances this year have forced us all to evaluate our contribution to society and the overall consciousness of past, present and future events. What will we leave behind for the next generation? It is my belief that it is within us all to do anything we believe to be possible. We all have the capacity to be creators.

I hope the photographs in this exhibition and the stories they encapsulate inspire the next generation to become creators of their own destiny where anything is possible. To spark ideas that change communities and create new opportunities for everyone, regardless of socio-economic, religious or political creed. I am deeply grateful to all of the individuals who bravely shared their own experience so that others might be inspired.

The most progressive institutions are built upon principles that are fair and accessible to all. It is a diverse pool of experience, thought and energy that enriches a community. I salute Trinity College and their effort to create a more inclusive and welcoming culture. It is our duty to do better, always.

Members of Trinity can view Succession: an exhibition and short film in the Nevile’s Court Cloister from 28 October 2020 until 15 November 2020. The film will be available Monday to Friday 10am-5pm. The exhibition is also online: web.trin.cam.ac.uk/succession/

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