Welsh and Khasi Cultural Dialogues: raising awareness, affecting working practices and allowing for greater understanding of the artistic process

The cultural exchange between the Welsh and the Khasi people of North East India is little known. It is a complex transcultural history rooted in the presence of the Welsh Presbyterian Mission to the Khasi-Jaiñtia Hills between 1841 and 1969. Raising awareness of how cultural identities have been affected and how histories have been defined by transcultural relationships is crucial in times of social and cultural division worldwide. Research by the University of South Wales (USW) conducted by Professor Lisa Lewis at the Centre for Media and Culture in Small Nations (CMCSN) led to Welsh and Khasi Cultural Dialogues, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, for which Prof Lewis was Principal Investigator (2015-2019). Through this interdisciplinary arts and performance project, researchers and artists from India and Wales investigated the Welsh-Khasi cultural exchange and its effects on cultural identities in various (post)colonial contexts. The collaborative creative outputs included a theatre performance, co-produced with Chapter, Cardiff and Lapdiang Syiem, India (2019), and an India-Wales tour as the Khasi-Cymru Collective (2020), as well as film screenings, musical performances/gigs, exhibitions and an album led by Gareth Bonello. The work was also discussed and broadcast on television and radio in both countries. 

This innovative work has increased awareness and understanding amongst communities in both India and Wales of the history of the Welsh-Khasi cultural exchange and the importance of discussing it. It also affected working practices for participating artists and cultural facilitators in both countries and has become a model of international artistic collaboration. In its sharing and development with artists, cultural facilitators and the museum and heritage sector, e.g. National Museum of Wales, the work led to greater understanding of how artistic practice can reveal complex and hidden histories.

The impact of this work has been recognised by cultural representatives in both Wales and India, including the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural HeritageNational Museum of Wales and the Presbyterian Church of Wales. The research was recognised by The Learned Society of Wales in its 2020 report Wales Studies: research about Wales, for Wales and the World, as one of the projects revealing ‘challenging accounts of our nations’ global heritage’.

Providing expert research evidence for improved screen media, policy and sustainable TV production in devolved Wales

All media systems must navigate global competition and technological innovation on the one hand, and national regulation and public needs on the other.  Small nations are challenged by limited resources, the greater muscle of powerful neighbours, and complex multi-tier governmental systems as in devolved Wales. 

Research conducted by the University of South Wales (USW) Centre for Media and Culture in Small Nations (CMCSN) led by Professor Ruth McElroy, provided evidence of failures in UK and Welsh media adequately to build a devolved democratic public sphere despite increasing legislative powers in devolved nations. 

This research-led advocacy for change has helped transform the media landscape in Wales by enhancing public scrutiny of broadcasting. Collaborative research undertaken by USW with the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) informed the establishment of the Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliament Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee (CWLCC) which provides democratic scrutiny of devolved media policy. Delivering rigorous evidence of under-investment, this research-led collaboration culminated in the publication of the IWA Media Audit (2015) which recommended greater resourcing by the BBC of programme-making in Wales, and which resulted in increased investment in Welsh television production with the BBC announcing an extra £8.5million investment in Wales. 

USW’s research and recommendations also informed the UK Government review of S4C, the Welsh-language public broadcaster. It led to reforms of S4C’s statutory remit so it better reflects the digital era and serves modern Welsh-speaking audiences across the UK.

The Centre’s expertise in screen production systems helped secure major new investment for innovation in Wales’ screen sector.  Our research and industry collaborations underpinned the creation of Clwstwr to stimulate R&D and innovation in screen industries in Wales, which Prof McElroy co-directs. Clwstwr is one of only eight UK Creative Clusters funded by AHRC’s Creative Economy programme and Welsh Government. It leverages £1million annually of new investment for R&D in Welsh screen industries and has supported more than 60 industry/HE R&D projects. Finally, our public and media engagement has improved the public’s understanding of how policy shapes what we see on screen, while also offering informed, research-based advice to inform the regulator, Ofcom.