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The beauty of humanity shines through

8 June 2010 by Sam

young woman sitting in an office

It’s great to see our venues through fresh eyes. One of our work placement volunteers has written this great review of the International Slavery Museum, which has made me want to visit it all over again:


“My name is Lauren Edwards and I have been volunteering for National Museums Liverpool for just over a year but have spent the half term shadowing Rebecca Watkin, curator of the International Slavery Museum. Working within the museums is something that is both diverse and challenging and the International Slavery Museum has been a great place to gain experience and see how much National Museums Liverpool has to offer. The International Slavery Museum is unique in its subject content and links to the city and is a groundbreaker and I have found it a privilege to spend time there. From dealing with enquires behind the scenes, to assisting on handling sessions on the gallery floor, I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience and the International Slavery Museum and would encourage all to pay a visit.

As you enter the International Slavery Museum the Slavery Wall begins a journey into the history of transatlantic and modern slavery, life in Africa itself and the legacy that slavery has left behind but also acts as a physical reminder of the pain and suffering, yet hope and strength that those touched by slavery showed. It iincludes quotes such as:

“I prefer liberty with danger, than peace with slavery.”

The above quote, though anonymous, shows the conflict that runs through though the history and debate of transatlantic slavery and indeed thought the gallery itself.  Perhaps it is yet more significant through its anonymity amongst the quotes from politicians and activists, as a voice of all those nameless but not forgotten enslaved people which the International Slavery Museum can help to remember.

The International Slavery Museum is a moving and poignant site and perhaps many may think that it is a serious and solemn museum to visit. Yes, there is a great deal of pain that is dealt with in the galleries and the subject is not treated lightly, but the museum is extremely successful in combining this with stories of great courage and bravery and celebrating African culture both of the past and present. The museum is very much about taking visitors on a journey. A journey that will challenge them, educate them and inspire them.

The visitor begins in the vibrant, colourful Life in West Africa gallery where the elaborate African fabrics lead into the Igbo compound, where the orange glow will excite both children and adults alike. This gallery gives a small snapshot into village life and shows visitors how diverse and rich the culture was of those taken into slavery. This joyful, bright gallery is contrasted with the Enslavement and the Middle Passage galleries and presents the visitor with a sharp contrast and a jolt from the orange and yellow light of African life into the darkness of slavery.

The Middle Passage itself tells of the terrible conditions endured by Africans and of the life that they led in the Americas. Whilst some may find the information upsetting, it is dealt with in a careful manner, and gives a real insight into how the slave trade was operated and what life the enslaved Africans led if they survived. The gallery is a dark one and stands to be a sombre and respectful area which pushes those passing through it to confront the true horror of slavery.

From this sadness the museum moves on to the Legacy gallery which deals with the effects of transatlantic slavery today. Yet again the visitor is forced to question their own perceptions of the legacy of slavery and is confronted with conflicting ideology. The Ku Klux Klan outfit, symbolising the continuing struggle of racism, is housed only a short distance from the stunning, sequinned African costumes. It is perhaps not coincidental that the feathered and multicoloured beauty of the African costumes far outshine the plain and drabness of the Ku Klux Klan outfit.

This celebration of African culture today is a strong theme in the International Slavery Museum. From the interactive music desks to the sculptures, all aspects of African culture are celebrated. Traditional African music is combined with the music of resistance and the words of Martin Luther King to form the soundtrack to the Legacy gallery. The music lifts your spirits and lights up the colours in the gallery. Perhaps the centrepiece is the Black Achievers Wall featuring those who have had a successful impact on life today. The wall stands as a testimony to the strength of character that can, and has shone through adversity. From politicians to rock stars the wall covers all walks of life and continues to grow, with the recent additions added to a new wall for International Women’s Day.

The International Slavery Museum deals with perhaps one of the most difficult and terrible aspects of Liverpool’s history but has become not a place of mourning but one of remembrance and celebration. It combines the pain and suffering of those affected by slavery and racism with the vibrancy and strength of both culture and character. Through education the International Slavery Museum aims to create a social change and is still fighting against slavery that continues today.  When leaving the International Slavery Museum I felt a sense of sadness but also one of understanding, of protest and of joy. Joy that the beauty of humanity can shine through even the darkest of times.”

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