Radical thinkers remembered with Highgate Cemetery sound trail

Stuart Hall in Trafalgar Square 

Stuart Hall in Trafalgar Square - Credit: Hall Family Archive

An immersive soundscape, unveiled ahead of the Highgate Festival, will explore the legacy of a Jamaican-born radical thinker buried in Highgate Cemetery.

Audiences can listen to sound artist Trevor Mathison's 40-minute work on headphones while following a path through the burial ground's monuments, flora and fauna.

The Conversation Continues: We Are Still Listening re-examines the lives and histories of the radical thinkers artists and writers buried in the cemetery in the context of today's anti-racism movements - while honouring the memory of Professor Stuart Hall, who arrived in the UK in 1951 as part of the Windrush generation.

Eygptian Circle in Highgate Cemetery

Eygptian Circle in Highgate Cemetery - Credit: Archant

After studying at Oxford, the political activist and Marxist cultural theorist, co founded the New Left Review, presented a TV programme on colonialism and the Caribbean, and taught courses at Birmingham University and UCL which helped transform public conversations around culture, race, and identity at a pivotal time of immigration and social change.

Mathieson's artwork weaves together field recordings from Highgate Cemetery with extracts from Hall's lecture Through the Prism of Intellectual Life, and memoir Familiar Stranger spoken by actor Joseph Black, alongside extracts from Selina Nwulu's poetry.

Mathieson is both interested in the cemetery's history and botanical landscape: “I'm fascinated by the number of individuals buried in the cemetery who have contributed so greatly to our own realities; from scientists, philosophers, writers, painters, and academics."

Sound artist Trevor Mathison

Sound artist Trevor Mathison - Credit: Aniruddhas Das

"First among them for me is Stuart Hall who was one of the most important social and cultural thinkers of our time. I feel the need to keep them close, to acknowledge their work and think about how their ideas and questions continue on through our present-day debates.

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"I have also been drawn to the plants that grow alongside the graves, imagining how voices might permeate, connect and continue to flourish through the rich layers of its natural landscape.

"I hope the soundscape provides a meditative space for the listener to relate back to the cemetery, reflect on Stuart Hall’s legacy and consider the community resting there, with all its multiple, active connections."

Despite an uneasy relationship with belonging in Britain, upon his death in 2014, Hall wished to be buried alongside friends and leftist intellectuals: Karl Marx, Eric Hobsbawm, Raphael Samuel and Claudia Jones.

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall - Credit: Photograph: Eamonn McCabe/Hall Family Archive

Becky Hall, trustee of the Stuart Hall Foundation, which is committed to public education around race and inequality, said: "The origins of this project lie in a conversation on love and loss traced along the much-loved pathways of Highgate Cemetery and framed by the shifting seasonal hues of a cool, June day.

"A pinch of mischief was involved, as well as generosity, graft and collaboration – all vital ingredients for public, political and personal work that would have pleased Stuart greatly. It is with gratitude from his family and the Foundation that we celebrate Trevor Mathison’s special capacity to bring the wonder of sound and space alive in conversation and we welcome his public invitation to listen.”

The soundscape is unveiled at a special event on Thursday ahead of the Highgate Festival, which runs from June 11-19.

Ian Dungavell, chief executive of Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust, said: “Highgate Cemetery is thrilled to be a part of Trevor Mathison’s new work which responds to the community of left intellectuals buried here and the cemetery’s wonderfully romantic landscape.

"As the final home of thinkers from around the world, Highgate Cemetery is the perfect setting in which to reflect on Stuart Hall’s legacy of debates around culture, race and identity. Cemeteries are the natural place for such reflections.”

Dr Ian Dungavell chief exec of Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Polly Hancock

Dr Ian Dungavell chief exec of Highgate Cemetery. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Audiences can download The Conversation Continues: We Are Still Listening from June 11 via the Stuart Hall Foundation’s website at www.stuarthallfoundation.org/events/special-preview-the-conversation-continues-we-are-still-listening/ and visit Highgate Cemetery daily from 10am- 5pm. Visit highgatecemetery.org/