Refugee Tours

An artefact, whether a painting, vase or samurai sword, will inevitably have a multitude of stories to tell, stories of miners in times long past, forgers’ furnaces, battles, artists’ workshops, aristocrats’ houses, temples, churches and so on.  And then there are the stories of modern recovery and interpretation, often involving imperialists or archaeologists, communities, maybe the odd chancer with a metal detector or perhaps more excitingly the Russian Mafia.

We can of course focus on materials and techniques, but mostly what draws the crowds in are the human stories associated with these inanimate objects, whether ancient or modern – whether we are facinated with the sexual exploits of Cleopatra or the series of ominous events which befell so many members of Howard Carter’s team after discovering Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1923.

Last week was Refugee Week and one of the most interesting efforts to mark it I read of was in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.  They want more stories told about and around their collection, and on Sunday the BBC reported that the V&A held a series of events to mark Refugee Week including inviting refugees to give personal tours of their collection, reflecting on their own experiences and journeys, discussing and reacting to the collection as they go.  It’s a facinating article and a wonderful idea, which all museums could consider implementing.  Not only would visitors gain insights into the lands from which the various items were pilfired and the experiences of people from those places, but there is also a lot of integrative and educational potential in such an idea.

It would be great to see this rolled out in Scotland.  The Royal Museum in Edinburgh had a related event, Travelling Tales, but this had a more limited scope, being concerned with children and fimilies as part of Storytelliing Week also.  I’d love to see an event which involved old-time Highlanders and Islanders, for example, reacting to the material culture of the Kingdom of Scotland exhibit in the National Museum in Edinburgh.  Imagine how much they could potentially have to say on the materials, crafts and fishing techniques, for example, evidenced there.  The fantastic collection in the Kelvingrove in Glasgow also has huge potential with respect to Glasgow’s culturally diverse population.  Plenty of potential here.

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