Into the groove
I have worked closely with the museum sector for 20 years, speaking at events, contributing to exhibitions, being a guest curator and as part of various advisory groups on representation and interpretation.
Through this experience, I discovered that museums hold a wealth of information about Black British history. This work also shaped my work around family history and the development of the campaign and book, 100 Great Black Britons.
I was frustrated with the temporary nature and lack of commitment in development of the archival heritage of Black history and heritage. So I decided to establish my own museum based on the concept of Afrofuturism, Star Trek and Blade Runner, and my love of music.
The museum takes the form of a radio show on community station Reel Rebels Radio, which is based in Hackney, east London. Museum of Grooves is based on the principles of restorative justice and the legacy of enslavement.
The museum has repatriated artefacts and images that belong to Black people from all the major mainstream museums, art galleries and private collections around the world. These objects are housed, for future prosperity’s sake, on a space station in the future.
Museum of Grooves MC (Master Curator) Patrick Vernon is based at space station SS Sankofa, which is 200 billion miles from Earth in the Nova quadrant region in the year 2300. He is the curator and archaeologist at the Museum of Grooves. The museum was established by the Intergalactic Commission with the objective of preserving African diaspora heritage from the 20th century for education and research purposes for humanoids who live in space and have never been to Earth.
The MC has been able to restore music from this period based on archaeological research of soul, disco, jazz, house music, dub techno, and funk and leftfield tracks. There is an extensive Black heritage collection covering objects, clothing/fashion accessories, prints and photographic images. The museum is open to all species and alien life forms interested in Black history and the existence of Black people who lived on Earth prior to world war four.
The museum has restored oral interviews and film footage linked to specially designed interactive holographic images of respondents (each respondent or replicant has a reference number), as part of a database of interviews with people from the 20th century who have interesting perspectives (sometimes called opinions) on the arts, music, enterprise, politics and community affairs.
The interviews are linked to a respondent’s favourite tracks to help understand the contextual meanings of culture and lifestyles. This research information provides listeners and visitors with rich ethnographic information on the social habits of Earth species.
Audience and reach of the show
I presented more than 45 shows from my first broadcast in January 2016 to lockdown in March 2020. They attracted a huge number of listens. I have had a wide range of guests who have shared their lived experience and their music selection, as well as making a symbolic donation to the museum. More than half of my guests are female and a third are from an LGBTQ+ background. The shows have covered all aspects of the Black British experience, with topics covered including:
- Growing up Black British and gay
- Rastafari and Shashamane
- The diversity of the Caribbean and the legacy of indentured labour
- Black masculinity and stereotypes of Black men
- Thirty years of Black History Month
- The Windrush scandal and Windrush generation
- International Women’s Month
- Black women writers
- UK Black Pride
- African Remembrance Day
- Black British Museum
- Mental health and wellbeing
Since the pandemic began, I have taken a break from doing the show as result of my activism and my work around 100 Great Black Britons. The shows have been self-financed and I also help to fundraise the running of Reel Rebels Radio. I want to resume the show in 2022, but working with a heritage partner, so I can use the Museum of Grooves as part of audience development and engagement.
In the past, shows have taken place at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Hackney Archives with a live audience, which had positive feedback.
I think there is a real opportunity, in the context of the national conversation around Black Lives Matter and the culture wars, for the museum to contribute to this debate using the lens of Afrofuturism.
Patrick Vernon, OBE, is a fellow of Clore, the Imperial War Museum and the Royal Historical Society, and a former associate fellow for the department of history of medicine at Warwick University. He is co-author of 100 Great Black Britons and other publications