Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Rejecting ‘Neutrality’

The International Slavery Museum’s current exhibition, titled “Broken Lives” focuses on the victims of global modern-day slavery.

D. McKenzie, Museums Taking Stand for Human Rights, Rejecting ‘Neutrality’ Inter Press Service News Agency, 28 July 2015

An exhibition on modern-day slavery at the International Slavery Museum in this northern English town is just one example of a museum choosing to focus on human rights, and being “upfront” about it.

“Social justice just doesn’t happen by itself; it’s about activism and people willing to take risks,” says Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, which includes the city’s International Slavery Museum (ISM).

The institution looks at aspects of both historical and contemporary slavery, while being an “international hub for resources on human rights issues”.

It is a member of the Liverpool-based Social Justice Alliance for Museums (SJAM), formed in 2013 and now comprising more than 80 museums worldwide, and it coordinated the founding of the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) in 2010.

The aim of FIHRM is to encourage museums which “engage with sensitive and controversial human rights themes” to work together and share “new thinking and initiatives in a supportive environment”. Both organisations reflect the way that museums are changing, said Fleming.

“Museums are not dispassionate agents,” he told IPS. “They have a role in safeguarding memory. We have to look at the role of museums and see how they can transform lives.”

The International Slavery Museum’s current exhibition, titled “Broken Lives” and running until April 2016, focuses on the victims of global modern-day slavery – half of whom are said to be in India, and most of whom are Dalits, or people formerly known as “untouchables”.

The display “provides a window into the experiences of Dalits and others who are being exploited and abused through modern slavery in India”, say the cur

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