Nursing Nostalgia: Archival traces and the social lives of Zimbabweans in Britain


UK and Zimbabwe

Synopsis and Position

This project seeks to engage people as living archives, centring histories and narratives of community that are not always present in the “official archive”. Archiving as active, dynamic and connected to questions of knowledge production as collaborative, shared and accessible. Additionally, this project explores the material items migrants bring, their function and meaning to them – the stories ‘objects’ hold. Furthermore, adding to a vocabulary that refuses the colonial hierarchies and ordering of knowledge, the project seeks to engage artists in Zimbabwe as collaborators, including their interactions with diaspora in the creation of archival representations; recognising their ability to ‘archive’ through capture – the affective dimensions of ‘return’ using different forms of creative expression.

Objectives and Methods

To explore alternative ways of archival practice

To understand the circulation of materialities, the knowledge that they produce and meanings associated

To establish how artwork and craft is shaped by diasporic movements and requirements

Qualitative approach, we intend to carry out interviews with Zimbabwean healthcare workers in Britain as well as Zimbabwean artists engaged in the construction of materials that represent ‘return’. Collating the narratives and practices that locate the “things” in everyday cultural practice, revealing the life of “objects” outside the archive as a static space of storage and documentation, thus “enlivening” objects. Through open ended inquiry and conversation, we will elicit from our collaborators the material and nonmaterial aspects of their experiences of mobility. Collaboratively excavating and connecting these different moments and experiences as part of histories of mobility and inhabiting the elsewhere, that do not always seem coherent, but are sutured by the kinds of postcolonial ruptures and crises that produce them – the shared experiences of making life “mhiri kwemakungwa”, “kudiaspora” (abroad).

Workshops and Events



Roselyne and the team have undertaken some incredible interviews with project participants focusing on objects. The interviews have brought to the fore ideas around home and how returning to home can be achieved through ways other than a physical, geographical journey. Home might not be a place but could be a feeling, a smell, a taste. Even the act of speaking about home can be a way to return. Here the team have shared a selection of the objects discussed in the interviews, with brief narrative descriptions.

Food – Home as taste and smell. Lemon & Orange Cookies, Mopani worms & Cheeky Chilli, Maputi(Zimbabwean Popcorn)

Utensils – A way of returning through a preservation of home by using these utensils. Traditional wooden spoon and whisk – used to make the staple food – SADZA, small black pot – also typically used to prepare SADZA, wooden bowl with lid

Mopane seeds – larger light brown ones and Masau seeds- smaller darker ones. Mopane trees – always in the region where this participant spent their childhood, where the mopane worms are harvested from. Masau (sour plum) was not in always in the area however on one of the return journeys for this participant these trees were now plentiful in the area – symbolising change during their absence and how ‘home’ was becoming somewhat a notion differing from the reality (changes in environment, evolution of culture, movement of familiar people, new people in the area, traces of the old and beginnings of the new)

Currency – symbolic of economic circumstances representative of migration push factors. Additionally operating within the household as a dialogue point between parents and children born in the UK but of Zimbabwean heritage

Sculpture – A dialogue point and way to express identity

Headpiece and wrist band jewellery – Traditional wedding ceremony marked by the material decorative pieces, participant asked to bring these items for a friend for whom he was the ‘munyai’ (go-between) for the two families joined through the marriage of the bride and groom

Books and literature (Home as collective memory) – Some seminal Zimbabwean texts indicative of collective memories of schooling, childhood stories, role of values and belief systems, iconic landscape features etc