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Collecting new perspectives – Peace and Anti-racism

September 29, 202210:39 amSeptember 22, 2023 12:41 pmLeave a Comment

The 21st of September is recognised by the United Nations as an International Day of Peace, and every year a different theme is chosen; in 2022, the theme was ‘End Racism, Build Peace’. We wanted to use this opportunity to reflect upon where anti-racism is currently explored in our collection, and how we’re changing our approach to incorporate new stories.

While our collection is a fairly modern one, a large number of our objects come from the twentieth century, and don’t reflect the current concerns of anti-racist campaigners across the world. Within our collection, anti-racism has often been looked at in terms of violent conflicts, for example the Rwandan massacre of 1994. We have a number of items from groups who campaigned for justice or worked to create unity in the aftermath of racially motivated conflicts, such as these peace baskets created by Avega, a Rwandan survivors’ organisation for women. The weaving of the baskets symbolises the need for healing in Rwanda, and their sale helps to financially support survivors of the violence. These objects help to tell the story of the terrible consequences of the violence of this period, the lasting impact it had on survivors, and the ways in which creating peace means more than ending the original conflict.

Anti-racist human rights movements are also featured in our collection. We have these items like this banner, which was carried by world leaders at the head of the Nelson Mandela Freedom rally protest march in 1988. The march was organised by the Anti-Apartheid movement as a 70th birthday tribute to Mandela, who would be freed from prison in 1990, and go on to become the President of South Africa. With the issue of Apartheid gaining international attention, people from all around the world created campaigning materials showing their support of the campaign and calling for Mandela’s release. The end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa was celebrated as a huge victory for racial equality in the country, and by allied movements around the world.

In a similar vein, we have items looking at the Civil Rights movement in the USA, such as this clipping from the Peace News publication in 1963. Reporting on the March on Washington, at which Martin Luther King made his famous “I have a dream” speech, the publication went out to audiences in the UK – what was happening in America was understood as an important action of peacemaking by campaigners around the world. A history of peacemaking should incorporate these key moments where people worked towards equal rights in the past, and we are glad to have these objects in our collection to help tell those stories.

However, the need to look at the issue of racism within contemporary ‘peace time’ societies, including the UK, is becoming more widely recognised too, and we know that this is an area in which our collection is lacking. The Black Lives Matter movement’s growing popularity in 2020 led to many organisations, including museums, re-evaluating their connections to ongoing societal racism. As the [something] of the Museums Association, one of the key membership bodies for heritage professionals in the UK, said in a statement:

“…we take responsibility for ending racism in the heritage sector. This work is overdue. This work is non-negotiable. It cuts across all aspects of our sector, from the collections we curate and preserve, the people who make up the heritage workforce, to the learning programmes we deliver.”

As well as updating our recruitment policy and developing a new education session on race equality, we have been looking at where we need to diversify our collections and exhibitions. Although this work began for us in 2017, it is still ongoing, and we are taking steps to ensure that our collection continues to tell these stories in the future. Our curator, Charlotte, has been working on this for the past few years:

“We recognise that although we sit within an incredibly diverse city, our collections do not adequately reflect this diversity, and this is something we are committed to changing. We started a contemporary collecting programme in 2017 to start collecting history that is happening now, this included working with the diverse communities in Bradford and collecting objects that represent peace for them. Peace is a worldwide concept and means different things to everyone and our collection should reflect this. We made sure that our collection policy wording was updated to show this so future collecting would continue this work.”

Over the past few years, we have made a conscious effort to make sure we’re including stories of contemporary anti-racism movements in the UK. When we developed our digital Peace and Pandemic exhibition, we created a section on the Black Lives Matter protests that took place over lockdown. As part of this, we spoke to Funmilola Stewart, who attended one of the protests in Bradford:

“I often see people referring to BLM supporters ‘living in the past’ or ‘playing the race card’ when ‘racism no longer exists, especially in the UK’. To hold any of these views is to be in a privileged position. To be able to ignore the legacies of the history of anti-Blackness on a global scale is to be in a privileged position. Black people may no longer be enslaved, but they do continue to suffer vast economic inequality due to the harrowing lives of their ancestors. Segregation may no longer be enforced under the law but in both the US and the UK black people are viewed as an ‘other’ rather than an ‘equal’.”

We know that it’s important to think about contemporary movements such as Black Lives Matter as working for peace, and that including them in our collection is one small way of acknowledging that racism is still a big problem in the UK and around the world. We intend to continue this work beyond 2020, and ensure that we continue to collect objects and stories from these movements going forwards as part of our contemporary collecting programme.

Beyond looking directly at anti-racist movements, it is also important to us that people from all different backgrounds are able to see their stories represented in our museum. One of the things we have learned through working on our Equality Action Plan that it matters to our visitors as well; when we created our ‘Faith and Peace’ exhibition in 2019, featuring stories from Bradford’s South Asian communities, we received more South Asian visitors than we ever had before. However, temporary exhibitions are not enough, and when our permanent exhibitions have often focused on the work of white peacemakers, we have isolated all other audiences. We are going to ensure that this changes in the new museum.

Click here to visit our Peace and Pandemic exhibition 

Written by Ezra Kingston

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