Butetown artist creates digital graphic novel capturing the historical racial conflict of the Cardiff 1919 race riots - National Theatre Wales

Butetown artist creates digital graphic novel capturing the historical racial conflict of the Cardiff 1919 race riots

30 July 2020


Kyle Legall, a Welsh artist from Butetown, Cardiff, has created an illustrated, digital graphic novel which brings accounts of the Cardiff race riots to life. Cardiff 1919: Riots Redrawn is the contemporary response from Legall looking back at the shocking moments of racial conflict of the riots through spoken word and illustrations, which conjure up the atmosphere, the people and places involved and violent events of the time on the streets of the Welsh capital.

Cardiff 1919: Riots Redrawn comes at a time when demonstrations and protests by millions around the world take place calling for change against racial injustice. Over one hundred years prior, the same racial injustices were highlighted on a smaller scale – bringing demonstrations, and unrest to the streets of Cardiff. 

On 11 June 1919, Cardiff was plunged into four days and nights of violent mayhem that left three dead, and buildings wrecked and burnt, in what the Western Mail called ‘An amazing orgy of pistol firing, window smashing, and skirmishes between white men and coloured men’. 101 years on, Kyle, a multi-disciplinary artist and Welsh animator, has illustrated the events of the riots, pieced together from reports in local newspapers, following the dynamic ebb and flow of the rioting. 

Commenting on the project, Kyle Legall said “Cardiff 1919 Race Riots was an explosive period for the people of Cardiff, but more particularly, the families that lived in Tiger Bay.  The Race Riots are a lived experience within my family and is part of our folklore.

The Cardiff 1919 Riots Redrawn was inspired by my time as an emerging director with NTW. I observed Mike Pearson and Mike Brooks direct Storm 2, the script of which was researched from newspaper reports from the time of the riots. Whilst listening to the actors deliver the play, I started doodling little illustrations on my copy of the script of the events and the faces, because the dialogue painted such detail in my imagination.

I was encouraged by the directors and producers of NTW to expand on my artwork, to take it to another level. 

When I think of the riots, my community and family 100 years ago, having had to defend their right to be in Cardiff, have families and work for a living, fills me with disgust and then pride. The fact that after fighting in the war, the people of Tiger Bay had to fight again for their lives, families and homes. They had to fight against racism.

Being brought up in Tiger Bay, understanding our unique heritage and identity. Black and white people living in peace, this place is what the future will look like. This is what the residents of Butetown fought to protect and this was what the racist rioters wanted to destroy. Tiger Bay ultimately became a part of the makeup and fabric of Cardiff.”

Having studied as an animator and filmmaker, Kyle went on to make films about black history and his community. 

His relationship with NTW began in 2011, as part of the creative team for the production of The Soul Exchange, which unearthed the secrets of the well-loved streets of Tiger Bay – one of the UK’s oldest multicultural communities. In 2015, Kyle became NTW’s first Artist in Residence before taking on the role of an Emerging Director for NTW’s Storm series. It was here he first worked with theatre maker Mike Pearson, creator of Storm 1 and 2 who is now fellow-collaborator and researcher on Cardiff 1919: Riots Redrawn.  Kyle has been a member of NTW’s TEAM Panel since 2018 and has worked with many different communities, artists, performers and practitioners. Last year, he worked as an illustrator for Wild Scenes at Cardiff – a live performance marking the centenary of the Cardiff riots. Having evolved with the company over a number of years, Kyle now takes the reins of his own ambitious project, backed by NTW, as the lead artist on Cardiff 1919: Riots Redrawn.

Lorne Campbell, Artistic Director at NTW said “Kyle has created a painfully timely and tragically timeless piece of work. With incredible insight, empathy and a deep connection to community, ‘Cardiff 1919’ has grown organically alongside Kyle’s development as an artist. The practice of supporting artists to find and develop their voice and practice is central to the idea of NTW so it is of particular pride for everyone at the company to see this work realised and meeting its audience.”

Cardiff 1919: Riots Redrawn can be explored from home but can also be experienced on location, in places where events took place. Cardiff 1919: Riots Redrawn takes audiences to the spot, as close to the original sites as possible, to tell the story of the people, places and incidents involved in a shocking moment of racial disharmony in a cityscape now completely changed.  It can be explored by visiting https://www.cardiff1919.wales/

Kyle’s drawings also draw from the accounts and stories passed down the generations of a moment of trauma that left an indelible mark on the Butetown community.  Combined with a soundscape by Chris Jenkins and voice overs by Ali Goolyad and Mike Pearson, this vivid, visual day by day, hour by hour account follows the dynamic ebb and flow of the riots, immersing you in the visceral madness that took place on our capital city’s streets 101 years ago. 

Lead Artist: Kyle Legall

Researcher: Mike Pearson 

Voice over by: Ali Goolyad and Mike Pearson 

With original music by: Chris Jenkins

Cardiff 1919: Riots Re-Drawn contains images and descriptions of extreme violence and contains language, including racial slurs, drawn from historical documents and accounts which may be offensive to a modern audience.

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