The power of images

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woman looking at framed photographs

Visitor at the Living Apart exhibition


Well there have been plenty of things happening here at the museum since my last blog post. We have launched three very successful and eclectic exhibitions: Living Apart: photographs of apartheid by Ian Berry; '42' Women of Sierra Leone, a series of photographs of Sierra Leonean women, highlighting the alarming fact that life expectancy for them is only 42 and Toxteth 1981, a community exhibition developed in collaboration with the Merseyside Black History Month Group to mark the 30th anniversary in July 2011 of the 1981 riots in Toxteth, Liverpool. The latter involved members of the Liverpool Black community who lived in Toxteth during the disturbances loaning photographic material for the exhibition. The images gave them a voice which I believe is very important if museums are to be truly seen as a resource by the local community in particular.

The power of images was further highlighted on a recent trip to London where I visited one of the most disturbing and thought provoking exhibitions I had seen in quite a while called Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America at Rivington Place gallery. The room itself was small with whitewashed walls and I was the only person in there for nearly an hour. It was quiet, solemn, disturbing and it made me angry. Angry that such horrific acts of violence were made into macabre souvenir postcards, which showed people laughing and smiling at the horrific suffering of the victims. Tragically children as young as 4 were taken along to witness such barbarous acts.  

I was familiar with several of the images as we have them on display in the racism and discrimination section of our Legacy gallery. That said, we do not have the postcards, and in some ways seeing them in their original form made it even more chilling. Even after five years at the International Slavery Museum I am not desensitized from the human suffering which is on display. I believe to do so would be to lose part of one’s own humanity.

James Allen - the collector and custodian of the objects - noted:

"I believe the photographer was more than a perceptive spectator at lynchings. The photographic act played as significant a role in the ritual as torture or souvenir grabbing... Even dead, the victims were without sanctuary."

Finally, we have now completed our new ramp leading to the Dock Traffic Office.  By early next year we hope to have a public offer of some kind which will allow people to see what a fantastic building it is and get an idea our plans for the state-of-the-art education and research centre we will be developing in the space. Watch out for further announcements.

Bye for now.