Long Walk to Freedom

The importance of the relationship between human rights and museums was highlighted to me during a recent return to South Africa. A trip to my birth country is always a bittersweet experience – it highlights our collective neglect of humanity, while confirming how far we have come.

About 2 hours out of Durban on the R103 is a small cairn which commemorates the place that Nelson Mandela was captured by armed apartheid police on 5 August, 1962. I’ve visited the site during each of my returns to South Africa. It always struck me as strange that the capture site was commemorated – was it first erected in triumph, or was it later put there to serve as a reminder of the nation’s darker days?

Either way, for a long time the site was small and insignificant – a semi-circular stone wall, no higher than my hip, with a brass plaque. But in the (nearly) three years since my last visit, something extraordinary has been built in the Midlands. Continue reading “Long Walk to Freedom”

Looking After the Future as well as the Past: Human Rights in Museums

Most people think of museums as repositories for nice old stuff, interactive exhibits and historical or scientific information. While it’s true we have some nice old stuff (and the other bits), the modern museum often has priorities that have more to do with who we are now and who we wish to be. How does our old stuff inform that? This is where museum perspectives and traditional Māori perspectives might meet: for Māori, our past lies in front of us, leading us towards our future. In other words, we cannot know where we are going unless we know where we’ve been.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) conference at Te Papa. Human rights are not generally the first thing most people think of when they consider museums, but as UN youth delegate Melissa Gibson noted in her closing panel remarks, FIHRM  transforms perceptions of what museums are for, and how they can affect our lives.

Continue reading “Looking After the Future as well as the Past: Human Rights in Museums”

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