Ulster Museum has launched Inclusive Global Histories, a new exhibition which demonstrates National Museums NI’s commitment to decolonisation, diversity and inclusion.
Inclusive Global Histories highlights how National Museums NI is re-evaluating its World Cultures Collection, to better understand the complex global stories of some 4,500 items - how and why they came to be in Belfast, how they can be connected to audiences, and what the options might be for their future.
The exhibition reflects the Museum’s ambition to be a dynamic space that allows visitors to explore our shared and contested histories, discuss important contemporary issues and develop new perspectives, with the aim of bringing about positive social change.
The exhibition has been created through collaboration with various communities both on a local and international level, such as the Belfast Multi-cultural Association (BMCA). Working in partnership and ‘co-creating’ in this way has enabled National Museums NI to better understand the cultural heritage and contexts of these collections. Collaborating with local communities, who have shared their own perspective and lived experiences, is essential to understanding the ever-evolving diversity of our society, the complex legacies of our past, and how we can together build a shared future.
Tríona White Hamilton, Curator of Modern History at National Museums NI, said: “The World Cultures Collection includes material from the Arctic, Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania. Most items were acquired in the 19th and early 20th centuries, by members of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, and later transferred to Belfast Museum and Art Gallery, and subsequently to National Museums NI.
“Whilst the motivation behind the acquisition of ethnological material can appear strange today, it reflected curiosity about the wider world and a desire to present diverse cultures in Belfast. However, the European bias and power imbalances that often characterised this collecting leave a complex and sensitive legacy for us to address today.”
On display in Inclusive Global Histories is a photograph of a cheque being presented to Belfast Multi Cultural Association. This cheque was a result of a fundraiser that was set up to help the association continue its community outreach work after its building was subject to an arson attack in January 2021. This item is a reflection on the live issue of racism in our society as well as the strong show of community support for marginalised communities here.
Ali Khan, Chairman of BMCA, said: “I felt it was important to showcase these items, to let people know that within Northern Ireland there was an organisation who wanted to serve the community and help those in need, while sharing knowledge and compassion about the Islamic faith.”
A wooden food box is also being exhibited. It originated amongst the Haida peoples who traditionally occupy Haida Gwaii, an archipelago just off the coast of British Columbia. The Haida are known for their craftsmanship, trading skills, and seamanship.
Chelle McIntyre-Brewer, Native American Cultural Liaison, who is of Cherokee descent, said: “My elder Michael Nephew and I are honoured to play an integral role in the decolonisation efforts at National Museums NI, particularly with the establishment of the Inclusive Global Histories exhibition. Gadugi is a Cherokee value we take seriously. It means coming together in all things. The team at National Museums NI has shown their commitment to reconciliation, healing and community as we work together to provide meaningful experiences to visitors.”
Also on display is a Isicholo, a hat worn in cultural and religious ceremonies by married Zulu women to signify status. Zulu people are a group in KwaZulu-Natal province, South Africa.
Claire Njanina, Member of the African and Caribbean Support Organisation Northern Ireland (ACSONI), said: “People from all over the world live in Northern Ireland and young people just like I am grow up with several identities. I identify as Northern Irish and Zimbabwean and seeing my heritage and footprints in the history at Ulster Museum is important to me. Inclusive Global Histories is a powerful exhibition – it is actively addressing the issues of inclusion and diversity. It sets a strong example that National Museums NI, as an organisation with authority, is listening to and hearing the black community and keen to educate others. This will influence society to also listen and to learn about the many cultures Northern Ireland is home to.”
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Director of Amnesty International, said: “It is great to see the Ulster Museum bringing a new lens to our history and having the courage to interrogate important issues like colonialism and how it links to racist violence today. This exhibition is a much-needed fresh look at our past, our present and even our future. It is also an opportunity to tell the story of our increasingly multi-cultural society, and of people who are actively involved in striving for justice at home and around the world.”
Commenting on how decolonisation can support good relations into the future, Hannah Crowdy, Head of Curatorial at National Museums NI, said: “Ulster Museum is a vibrant place where people can experience both local and global culture, and the rich tapestry of stories objects tell. It is a safe and shared space where we want diverse voices to be heard, and difficult challenges to be explored. By increasing representation and promoting respect, tolerance and understanding, museums and their collections can and should play a part in promoting diversity and inclusivity and decolonisation can be a positive force for encouraging respect and promoting community pride.”
Inclusive Global Histories exhibition is one manifestation of National Museums NI’s international outlook. The organisation is committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and build peace and prosperity for all. National Museums NI believes museums can play a central role as a public forum for exploration and debate on local and global issues that affect us all.
Earlier this year, in partnership with ACSONI and Northern Ireland Museums Council (NIMC), National Museums NI was selected to receive a project grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, which is awarded by the Museums Association. The project entitled ‘Global Voices, Local Choices’ will support a dedicated post for 18 months and see marginalised communities engaged with to ensure they have a fair opportunity to make choices and personal responses relating to items within the World Cultures collection.
Entry to Inclusive Global Histories is free as part of wider admission to Ulster Museum. For more information visit nmni.com.