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Khadijah Hayden- interview

Joining this year's line up at Peckham Fringe, Taking It Back is a play that explores the source of artefacts currently housed in British museums, as a group of vigilantes opt to steal and return them to their countries of origin. Written by Khadijah Hayden, the piece is an intriguing discussion of heritage and belonging- keep reading to find out more.


 

What is the show about and why did you choose this topic?


Taking It Back follows the story of a group of vigilantes who decide, with the backing of African ministers, to begin to rob or ‘take back’ stolen African artefacts from British museums and return them back to African soil. I have always been passionate about African history and exploring the history of African cultures and traditions. I have always supported the idea of restitution of African artefacts. However, the initial idea for Taking It Back was actually inspired by the 2020 protests when the protesters in Bristol dumped the statue of Edward Coulson into the water. This led to conversations about the story of museums and the history inside of them. That, and during this same time when I watched Oceans 8 and the idea just came to my head from there, and I began writing.




How was the writing process, and what research did you do to accurately discuss the subject?


The writing process was quite interesting for me because I got a lot of the dialogue and the ideas from news outlets and real life situations and new stories. I also watched and listened to activists who discuss the restitutions of this argument. In the piece you will see that both sides of this debate are addressed and so I actually had to give you reports, news articles and previous debates on restitutions and reparations to see the current rhetoric on this so it can be as accurate as possible. For example, Mwazulu Diyabanza who tried to take African artefacts from a Paris museum. I took a lot of inspiration from this case as a basis for the actual play itself. I also read on the dialogue about the restitution of African artefacts back to Africa from reading the 2018 restitution report.


Personally, one thing that really helped with my research was visiting African exhibits in the museums. How I accurately went to discuss the subject was of course I started at the source and visited many exhibits in London, such as the British museum, V&A museum and Horimann museum. I even went to the Louvre in France and was able to see the types of artefacts that was put in museums, the origins of the artefacts and the narrative the museums are using to address these.




How can a fictional narrative be used to educate those watching, and what does the story aim to teach audiences about the artefacts in British museums and their origins?


Fictional narratives help educate audience members by actually bringing in factual information that can be a basis for that narrative. For example, although this is a fictional piece (if anything happens in the near future no one is involved lol) there is basic and historical evidence that I have used to back this narrative to naming and talking about certain artefacts in current museums and their origins. This piece unintentionally I think will teach a lot of people about the history of colonialism and the perspective of many African countries on the aftermath of colonialism which often we do not hear about.




Why is history like this so important to you, and to raise awareness generally?


Coming from an African and Caribbean background, history, especially when it comes to that of colonialism and the issues that surround it, have often I believe have been downplayed and misconstrued throughout history. We are not taught this in schools and for the larger part, as someone from a Black British background, it can be very hard to know and understand who you are if you do not know the history of where you came from. This is why material such as this is something I like to explore without exposing audience members through trauma per say, and I think a piece such as this uses something quite traumatic and devastating and gives a lighter feel to it whilst tackling a sensitive subject or a controversial one.




How do you intend audiences to receive the production, and what would you (ironically) like them to take from it?


I think it ultimately can open and further the conversation on reparations and returning of artefacts. The UK has been particularly mute on this dialogue and I hope that the play can be a conversation starter for some people to actually consider the possibility of the return of stolen artefacts. There’s a quote in the play that resonates and takes me through my writing, because for me in some ways I see a lot of the writing I do as my own form of activism. The quote comes from Malcolm X “ If you fail to stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”. The characters in the play take a lot of risks in order to achieve their goal and put their lives on the line for something that they believe in. I want the audience to heavily consider their own virtues and whether they would risk everything for their beliefs and how far would they go.




What has been the most rewarding part of putting the piece together as a whole?


This is probably the play that for me has been the most research heavy and identity challenging for me. For me, as someone who has ancestors and grandparents that were born under colonial rule, I think the research and the writing of the play itself caused me to battle and explore my own identity and this has led to a deeper connection to any other piece that I have written. I think because of seeing the words on paper actually being acted out and seeing what that looks like, for a long time this has been a major visualisation project and so seeing it come to fruition just feels very surreal.




How would you sum up the show in 3 words?


Engaging, Tactical and Conversation-starting

 

Many thanks to Khadijah for her great answers about the authenticity of the things we have- I hope you have a fantastic run of the show!


Get your tickets here:


Additional thanks to Caitlin Plimmer for coordinating this interview.


{Some grammar has been amended for clarity}

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