Posts Tagged ‘Migration museum’

A migration museum

May 8th, 2012 | Alina Müller

(Image from Samamidon's video 'Saro' )

I’m always searching for instances that document some aspects of the shared experience of people that have migrated. I continue to find fragments of it in music, literature, films and conversations. The most recent example that comes to mind is Ian Nagoski’s presentation of the record ‘To What Strange Place’, a collection of music recorded in New York by immigrants from the dissolving Ottoman Empire between 1916 – 1929. Among the tracks is one with the brilliant title ‘I wish I had never come to America’. Another example was the London launch of the ‘Aliens’ issue of Granta magazine, which features a selection of photographs by Afshin Dehkordi, who, having grown up in London, went back to photograph his country of origin, Iran.

But I have very rarely – actually I can’t think of any example – found an initiative, political or cultural, that represents migration and the story of people that migrate as a coherent and, more importantly, distinct narrative decoupled from that of the national one of the country of origin or of the ‘receiving’ country.

I recently came across The Migration Museum Project, a project initiated by a group of people that seek to create Britain’s first major migration museum.  The idea that a Migration museum always evokes for me  is precisely that of a place that tries to represent and explore the migration experience and process in a historical perspective. I imagine it as a place where I as a migrant would walk in and be able to situate my own personal narrative, very much shaped by moving and settling across national borders, within a broader historical one shared by others. A place that would offer me what I feel is a much needed alternative to the default national narrative  and identity of either my country(ies) of origin or the one where I currently live.

The objective of a museum as proposed by the Migration Museum Project is however slightly different. It is that of creating a space that conveys the importance of the British history of immigration and emigration in the national narrative. In the context of  today’s culturally diverse British society, this would in turn help to ‘advance a shared sense of history and through that to create a stronger sense of shared identity and common values’.

This purpose should perhaps not be surprising. It is after all a ‘national’ museum. And to help British people think of themselves as a nation of migrants is a worthy cause in itself. Nonetheless, I would argue that if such a space fails to engage with and explore what aspect of ‘Britishness’ has been shaped by the migrating experience  and in what way, only half of the job will be done.

In one of the papers produced by the Migration Museum Working Group, there is a really great reflection on the need for a migrant museum: ‘ For when a group or individual’s heritage is ignored or overshadowed by the dominant narrative- in other words when they cannot see themselves reflected in the mirror – the long-term outcome can be ‘disaffection, disillusionment and disenfranchisement (..) it is like being rubbed out of history’.

But what if, to this end, the task is not to re-define the dominant narrative with the purpose of making it more inclusive but instead to provide a space for displaying and exploring a narrative that is out there and in the making – the migrant narrative?