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Exploring Of Us with Liara Barussi 

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Director Liara Barussi delves into the inspiration behind Of Us in conversation with the British Library

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Liara Barussi discusses her journey of Directing and Choreographing Of Us, her creative process, and the journey of bringing the short film to life. Commissioned by the British Library, the film is currently being presented at Beyond the Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music

Filmed in South Wales, the film pays homage to the heritage of one of the UK’s oldest Black communities, based in Tiger Bay Cardiff. Through movement, it reflects on themes of migration, identity and the enduring ancestral connection between body and memory.

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British Library: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the film?

Liara: The inspiration for Of Us was deeply rooted in the exploration of narratives around the Black communities in Wales and the connection they share with the ocean. I began by exploring the memories carried by the waves, and recognising the ocean as more than a geographical boundary; It is a repository of collective memory, carrying within it the dreams, hopes, aspirations of those who embark on the journey across in search of a new life.

The film was shaped by spiritual practices, movements, and rituals associated with bodies of water. Drawing inspiration from across Africa and diaspora, we researched different traditions that have been passed down and explored how these interweaved and connected. 

British Library: How did you incorporate Welsh heritage and traditions into the film?

Liara: Connecting with the funeral traditions in Butetown, Cardiff, and the shared ways the Black communities come together, as music and celebrations of life are intertwined with the solemnity of loss. Through the act of rememory, we sought to honour the lives of those who came before us, acknowledging the trauma of the ocean crossing while also celebrating the spirit of endurance and renewal that defines the migrant experience. Our aim was to connect with contemporary audiences, especially the youth, using playfulness and joy within our narrative and drawing links with current movement styles.

British Library: What was your approach to movement and dance ?

Liara: We wanted the dance to feel organic and narrative-driven, rather than choreographed. The movements tell stories, rooted in everyday life and the emotions and histories we inherit. We collaborated with our cast of young people in Wales, guiding them to reconnect with their ancestral roots. This journey was about more than dance; it was about paying respect to their heritage and preserving traditions that have been passed down.

We looked to communities with strong connections with water, exploring their daily rituals, practices, and taking inspiration from their unique dance traditions. This exploration led me to discover water drumming, or ‘liquindi’, by the Baka People of Cameroon, a practice that creates rhythmic patterns which are both musical and meditative. With strong connections to water, exploring their daily rituals and unique dance traditions. 

To keep things playful, I explored the ring games in Jamaica, a universally recognisable children’s game, embodying music and rhythm in its most basic form, serving as a vital link to the past. We also re-imagined the Takai Dance of the Dagomba in Northern Ghana, a celebratory cultural practice performed during joyous occasions as a blessing for the community.

Through these multiple influences, we connected with the rhythms of water and shared living expressions of identity and community. It was about embodying the past while also resonating with the youth of today. 

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British Library: Can you tell us a bit about the performers in your film?

Liara: The performers in Of Us represent a diverse diaspora, reflecting the Black communities in South Wales. From our leading cast, Venice and Monet who have roots in St. Kitts, to Gui with his Angolan heritage, each cast member embodies the essence of the film – a celebration of identity and shared ancestral memory of the ocean crossing. 

The majority of the cast, aged 8 to 19 years old, are students of our Academy Programme, where we specialise in artist development through multi-disciplinary workshops, mentorship and creative industry insight sessions. 

British Library: What was the process of filming and creating Of Us like?

Liara: The process of creating Of Us was a multifaceted journey that unfolded across various stages, each contributing to our final presentation at the British Library. Beginning with receiving the brief from Dr Aleema Gray, which provided our starting point of exploring the themes. Moving on to research, movement development, filming and finally the installation.

Using conceptual frameworks like Tidalectics and Black Aquatics, and drawing on historical and contemporary discourse around migration, reaching out to local communities about their lived experiences and memories, we started to weave the narrative of the story.

The soundtrack by Touching Bass also shaped the emotional landscape of the film.

British Library: Where did the filming take place?

Liara: Filming took place across beautiful seascapes of South Wales, representing those initial moments where our ancestors stepped foot in Tiger Bay, and the connections they felt between the terrains of Wales and landscapes of West Africa and the Caribbean. Despite the unpredictable weather, our young cast showed resilience and gratitude, embodying the spirit of the film.

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Liara Barussi’s Of Us is a moving homage to the untold stories beneath the ocean’s surface, celebrating the legacy of those who forged new paths in the face of adversity. Through organic movement, deep cultural connections, and a talented young cast, the film resonates with contemporary audiences while honouring ancestral memories. 

As Liara continues to explore and share these powerful narratives, Of Us stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of Black communities in Wales and their rich, intertwined histories with the ocean.

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Of Us is currently showing at Beyond the Bassline: 500 Years of Black British Music, at the British Library till 26 August 2024.

Tickets to the exhibition can be purchased at beyondthebassline.seetickets.com

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