Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Bringing research alive – SSHRC grant for StFX professor will share research in film, dance, theatre and song

April 13th, 2017
A march by women of the movement, called the Yihi Katsɛmɛ (Brave Women)

For the past eight years, Dr. Jonathan Langdon has documented and gathered the voices of those defending a 400-year-old livelihood in Ada, Ghana. Now his research work is about to come to life—in film, dance, theatre and song.

Dr. Langdon, an associate professor in StFX’s Development Studies Program and Adult Education Department, and Canada Research Chair in Sustainability and Social Change Leadership, is the successful recipient of a $49,925 SSHRC Connection Grant.

The grant will fund an innovative project building on Dr. Langdon’s eight years of research and publications on the Songor Lagoon in Ada, where the communities, and especially the women, living around the salt-producing lagoon have mobilized through a social movement determined to defend their way of life, to connect audiences with the story through collaborative film and dance storytelling.

Artists based in Canada and Ghana, Ada community and movement members, and local community radio journalists, will come together to develop outreach through producing and sharing a community-generated dance/theatre piece, a short film, and a collection of traditional and protest songs.

“I’m very excited for what we’re going to be able to produce,” Dr. Langdon says.

“We have a lot of ways this story is coming out, but when you start to bring the arts and creativity into the mix, you open up connections that can come out of the research context to a whole set of folks who would not get to hear or know about the story, and I think that’s important. It builds bridges, and connects to non-traditional audiences.

“And, on a whole other level, involving artists adds another layer of richness to the research itself and creates places for connections in terms of ideas.”

Members of the Ada Songor Advocacy Forum (ASAF)

Bringing artists and activists into the research is not the only exciting part of the work. The grant itself is significant in a pretty fundamental way, he says.

“In a domain usually reserved for academic researchers, this grant is a daring departure from the kind of thing SSHRC normally funds. To give us the nod to say we think it would be fantastic to bring artists and researchers and activists together, that’s very special to me.”

It’s exciting, he says, to have a funding body so innovative in its support that it recognizes different ways of telling research stories and the potential that emerges when we push beyond traditional boundaries to open up a story to people who would not normally engage with this conversation.

Dr. Langdon will facilitate the collaborative connection of Cory Bowles and Liliona Quarmyne, both recognized names in the Nova Scotian and Canadian film and dance communities, with the vibrant Songor movement. Mr. Bowles and Ms. Quarmyne will work with the communities to collectively develop a dance/theatre piece and a short film.

The dance/theatre piece will be staged in Ghana, and digitally recorded to share in Canada and internationally, while the film will be screened in Canada and Ghana.

In addition, Kofi Larweh, an internationally-recognized community radio facilitator, as well as music arranger and producer, will work with the Ada movement to produce a collection of its protest and traditional songs.

“Ever since I got to know that this act is on, my joy is complete, Mr. Larweh says. “I have always wanted to rediscover my true identity as a Dangme "singing" person, to reconnect with the past through the time-tested oral literacy medium – the music, the rich expressions with encoded experiences and wisdom of my people. I want to serve the people.”

Dance choreographer Liliona Quarmyne says she is excited to be part of a project that recognizes art as societal fabric.

“So often art is used only as a medium; a means through which to convey a message. This project goes deeper. It acknowledges and honours the fact that the ways we express ourselves, and the art we create in the process, are integral to social justice and community empowerment.” 

Grounded in Dr. Langdon’s accumulated research, these three works will reach out to audiences, particularly to those who do not connect with traditional forms of academic publication, they say.

The aim is that those at the center of the research will be better able to communicate the nuances of their struggle, and that through art-based productions, policy-makers in Ghana will develop a deeper understanding of the Ada/Songor issue, and see it connecting to other resource contexts in Ghana, setting the stage for policies responsive to community needs.

It’s also hoped the outreach will establish and deepen connections between Canada and Ghana through better understanding of the challenges confronting resource-based indigenous livelihood communities; and at the same time the collaborative nature of this work will deepen connections between Ghanaian and Canadian artists.

Circulation of these stories through film, dance/theatre, and song will make them locally and internationally accessible and, enhance the skills of those involved in the effort telling of the ongoing challenges. 

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