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Behind the scenes at the International Slavery Museum

26 June 2008 by Richard

Hello there

One of the great things about my job is how incredibly varied it can be. I have frequently written about the different themed conferences I have attended, the many well known dignitaries I have met and the trips to other exciting and sometimes challenging museums. But I also get to do some curatorial work now and again, well, for an afternoon anyway!

The International Slavery Museum is part of a collaborative project with UNESCO which developed the Transatlantic Slavery gallery touring exhibition. The exhibition consists of over 30 panels which were part of the now closed Transatlantic Slavery gallery which was located up until last June in the Merseyside Maritime Museum. We have also designed some new panels for the exhibition explaining the work of the International Slavery Museum. It is a great project for two reasons in particular. Although some years old, the panels from the previous gallery are well written and informative and ideal for museums around the world who might not be able to resource new panels on the subject of transatlantic slavery. Secondly, it shows how committed we at the museum are in forging new international partnerships and links with sometimes smaller and less well resourced museums around the world, particularly in Africa.

Richard Benjamin covering a museum display panel in bubble wrap

Before the launch of the exhibition in Paris in July though the panels had to actually get there and this is where I came in! I was for an afternoon under the supervision (bossed around in my view!) of Angela Robinson - curator of transatlantic slavery here at the museum. We needed to get all the panels ready to be picked up by the specialist haulage company who would take them to Paris. This sounds easier than it was. The panels are quite heavy and needed to be carefully packed and inventoried ready for transportation. They were being stored in one of several specialist storage facilities that National Museums Liverpool has in Liverpool (I am afraid I cannot divulge the location though!).  

I have to say I was pretty excited at going behind the scenes of the organization so to speak. Not something I always have the time to do. Well we put in some hard graft as we say in Yorkshire. It is also worth stressing for those of you wanting a career in museums that it is definitely not the quaint profession that people often expect. Museums can be bustling hives of activity where most professionals in various departments have to multitask on most days… me included!

In contrast, earlier today I met with Doreen Lawrence OBE, mum of the murdered Black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Many of you will have heard of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and the subsequent inquiry but I also know that many younger people have not. Indeed not everyone here in Liverpool or Merseyside has heard of Anthony Walker who I spoke about in my last blog post. So it was a very poignant moment for the museum when someone as well respected and determined as Doreen Lawrence visited us. I am pleased to say she liked how we presented the subject of transatlantic slavery and its legacies in the museum. She told me about the newly opened Stephen Lawrence Centre in Deptford, South London  and we also discussed how our two organisations might collaborate in the future.

Watch this space for any developments.

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