Ou est Richard?

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Last week I was fortunate enough to be in Paris for the launch of the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery exhibition at the UNESCO HQ. Along with Katérina Stenou, Director of the Division of Cultural Policies and Intercultural Dialogue and HE Mr Peter Landymore, Ambassador, permanent delegate of the United Kingdom to UNESCO, I said a few words. It was well attended by a number of delegates; interestingly one was a relative of the Senegalese poet and statesman Léopold Senghor who is on our Black Achievers Wall

Two smiling men, one in a suit, the other in traditional African clothing, in front of display panels

Richard Benjamin with Edmond Moukala

It was a very satisfying occasion as this was the culmination of at least 12 months work by several members of National Museums Liverpool and UNESCO staff. The conception of this exhibition began when I met Edmond whilst attending a conference in London. Edmond was fully aware that the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery was closing down as a result of the International Slavery Museum opening up on 23 August 2007. A date familiar with UNESCO as it is Slavery Remembrance Day.

Up until June last year the Transatlantic Slavery Gallery in the Merseyside Maritime Museum was one of the most challenging, thought provoking and informative galleries in the world on the subject and was visited by politicians and dignitaries form most countries around the world. As such it had quality, well researched displays and information panels, of which 30 now make up this touring exhibition.

ISM is one of the newest and most highly technological museums in the world and as such there was the possibility that these panels might not be used again. But both Edmond and I agreed that this would be a great loss, especially as it is quite obvious that many museums, some which have exhibitions and displays about transatlantic slavery, do not have the resources available to them that ISM does.

Not one panel was simply packaged and sent to Paris. We went over all the panels to see whether we felt the information was still relevant and indeed accurate. Due to the professionalism and expertise of people like Tony Tibbles, in 1994 the curator but now director of the Merseyside Maritime Museum, we felt that most of the panels would still be a valuable educational tool on the subject. Along with some new panels detailing the work of ISM our learning team designed some educational materials to accompany the exhibition.

As well as being an informative exhibition on the subject of transatlantic slavery it will hopefully visit many countries and continents in the coming years. I was pleased to hear that representatives from Ghana, Serra Leone, Angola and Barbados had enquired about the exhibition.

Well I could not justify three days in Paris just for the launch so I had a very busy schedule of visiting museums and art galleries which might inspire me in some way whist planning the research and resource centre for Phase 2 of ISM.  I was particularly impressed with the Centre Pompidou and its array of stylish and very functional sections. I found the media centre to be very interesting with its simple layout and vast archive of music and art videos. I am not an art aficionado, or indeed a prude, but I was slightly embarrassed by finding myself looking at a film of the Viennese actionist artist Hermann Nitsch. Lets just say it would be shown after the watershed in the UK so I quickly fumbled with the mouse to change the film!

I also managed to visit the architectural wonder which is the Institut du Monde Arabe. It covers Arabic art and the sciences and has a large exhibition area (which had a temporary café inside serving great coffee) a museum and library. It was one of the 'Grands Projets' in the 1980s, initiated by Francois Mitterand, the French president. Other projects included new wings at the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay.

One final observation is that all the places I visited had an entrance fee, some only a few Euros but it does add up. It made me realize that here in Liverpool we have free entrance to world class museums and art galleries unlike anywhere else in the world.

But before I left France my admiration for French innovation and architecture was severely challenged by having to spend several hours in Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport. I understand that certain low cost airlines might not be given a prime slot but to say that the terminal where you go to fly to Liverpool was dreary is an understatement. You will get a flavour of the place when I say it had a café there which made Little Chef look like The Ritz. No offence to Little Chef, I used to work at one for over two years many years ago!

Au revoir.