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Unique volcano-shaped exhibition takes UEA research to the Caribbean

Academics from the University of East Anglia (UEA) have taken a unique volcano-shaped exhibition displaying their research on volcanoes to St Vincent in the Caribbean to showcase, share and commemorate the connections between the landscape, culture and people of the island. 

St Vincent is dominated by La Soufrière, one of the most active volcanoes in the Caribbean region, which has experienced five significant eruptions in just over two hundred years.

The three metre high and three metre square structure was designed to emulate the shape of a volcano with panels bringing together key scientific messages with historical and cultural materials about La Soufrière and its eruptions.

It was erected in the village of Chateaubelair in late April and was visited by several hundred school children and residents. The village is on the Leeward coast and experienced mass evacuation and devastation during La Soufrière’s last eruption in 1979.

Project Lead, Dr Wendy McMahon, Senior Lecturer in American Studies at UEA, said: “The volcano and its eruptions are a tremendous feature of the landscape and history of St Vincent, it pervades the cultural imagination of the island, as one of our contributors said ‘the mountains are a storybook landscape’.

“We wanted to explore the power that storytelling has in conveying messages of risk and how the communities live alongside such a volcano both now, and in the past.”

“It has been wonderful to bring our findings to life by co-designing the exhibition with the communities with whom we have worked.”

This unusual exhibit is part of a project which builds on and expands the research findings of the STREVA project which applies a practical and adaptable means to analyse risk, and explores how the geology, landscape, history, and culture of the island are intertwined.

Prof Jenni Barclay, Professor of Volcanology and STREVA Project Lead, said: “Our interpretation of rocks and volcanic deposits are just another form of storytelling, and we’ve learned even more about these connections through working together to bring to life the geological, historical and oral record of the relationship between volcanoes and the people on St Vincent.”

The project has brought together researchers from the schools of Art, Media and American Studies, Environmental Science, International Development at UEA, the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre (SRC) in Trinidad and Barbados, the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), and the Universities of Oxford, Bristol, Plymouth and Durham.

The team from UEA travelled to St Vincent in November 2017 to design the exhibit with community members, culture and heritage representatives, the disaster management agency, writers, arts practitioners, as well as academics from the Caribbean.

Prof Richie Robertson, Director of the SRC, said: “We at Seismic work closely with the communities who live alongside the volcano, and it has been great to work together on this from the design stage right to helping each other put the frame together ready for its first showing on St Vincent.”

The design was turned into a real structure through consultation with the design team at Norfolk Castle Museum and built by Rock Solid graphics.

The exhibition is a legacy of the successive projects and will remain on the island under the care of NEMO who will incorporate it into their educational programmes.

Michelle Forbes, Director of NEMO, said, “The communities on St Vincent were very clear they wanted something that could be brought to them and not held in a building further south. So we are very pleased to have this exhibit launched during Volcanic Awareness Week in the communities who would have to respond to the next crisis.”