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Bosses at Ipswich Museum order review of ‘problematic’ artefacts in bid to ‘improve diversity’

Bosses at Ipswich Museum have ordered a review into ‘problematic’ artefacts in the hope of ‘improving diversity’. 

Staff at the venue, in Suffolk, have already labelled some of its artefacts as being ‘of questionable provenance’ and will now re-examine how it acquired some of its exhibits. 

A newly approved plan promises new research into the history of the artefacts it holds, along with a re-examination of how came to possess them.

The document is also said to acknowledge that the people who visit the museum do not reflect the local ‘diverse’ demographic.

Ipswich Museum holds objects from around the world and its collections cover both human and natural history.  

The review comes amid a wider national debate on Britain’s colonial past. 

It was sparked by the Black Lives Matter protests last year, which saw the toppling of 18th century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol.

Staff at Ipswich Museum – which is one of six sites run by the Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service – are said to have already identified some artefacts of ‘questionable provenance’.  

Bosses at Ipswich Museum have ordered a review into ‘problematic’ artefacts in the hope of ‘improving diversity’

Staff at Ipswich Museum - which is one of six sites run by the Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service - are said to have already identified some artefacts of 'questionable provenance'. Pictured: Artefacts from Nigeria which are on display at Ipswich Museum

Staff at Ipswich Museum – which is one of six sites run by the Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service – are said to have already identified some artefacts of ‘questionable provenance’. Pictured: Artefacts from Nigeria which are on display at Ipswich Museum

The institution’s review was approved by the join museums committee of Ipswich and Colchester borough councils, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The review will also involve the Norman-era Colchester Castle and the nearby Hollytrees Museum, which is based at an 18th century house. 

Ipswich Art Gallery and the museum Christchurch Mansion, which is based in a country home dating from the Tudor period, is also included. 

Frank Hargrave, Colchester and Ipswich Museums manager, said: ‘It is about better engagement and improving diversity. 

The gold death mask which was made for Roman citizen Titus Flavius Demetrius, who died in Egypt between AD 80-120. The mask is on display at Ipswich Museum. The mask was excavated by archaeologist Flinders Petrie at Hawara in Egypt in 1888

The gold death mask which was made for Roman citizen Titus Flavius Demetrius, who died in Egypt between AD 80-120. The mask is on display at Ipswich Museum. The mask was excavated by archaeologist Flinders Petrie at Hawara in Egypt in 1888

On Colchester and Ipswich Museums' website, a message apologises for some of the 'historic terminology' used on its database

On Colchester and Ipswich Museums’ website, a message apologises for some of the ‘historic terminology’ used on its database

‘It’s not about being unnecessarily provocative, it’s about finding long term solutions and working with people to find solutions without being tokenistic or overly antagonistic.

‘It is not about taking stories away or hiding things – we will be looking at the holdings of human remains and religious artefacts, as well as those acquired by those with imperial agendas of their time such as colonial officers, expedition captains and missionaries.’  

On Colchester and Ipswich Museums’ website, a message apologises for some of the ‘historic terminology’ used on its database. 

It says: ‘Historic terminology for cataloguing objects and belongings are recorded on this database and some of the language is discriminatory, offensive and upsetting.

‘We keep the historic terminology to allow us to see how people in the past perceived the world around them. 

‘We are working towards ensuring voices other than the Museums are reflected in the database.’

Ipswich Museum holds objects from around the world and its collections cover both human and natural history

Ipswich Museum holds objects from around the world and its collections cover both human and natural history

Earlier this month, the statue of slave trader Colston which was torn down in Bristol last year was put on display in the city.

It is now shown lying flat at the M Shed museum, alongside placards from the original protest and a timeline of events.

Art critic Alastair Sooke branded the public display a ‘partisan act’.  

He said: ‘Dredged from the riverbed, Colston’s effigy has been kept out of sight in storage, like a disgraced celebrity awaiting trial. Colston lies flat, overturned like a vanquished chess piece.

‘Presented alongside BLM placards, he’s still covered with graffiti, too. According to the authorities, the display is only temporary, designed to canvas public opinion about what should happen to the statue.

‘Moreover, it would, they say, be too costly for now to stand Colston upright again safely – hence, his supine position.

‘But that strikes me as mealy-mouthed. Let’s not pretend that presenting the statue horizontally is impartial, when, really, it’s a partisan act,’ he told the Telegraph.

The bronze memorial to the 17th century merchant had stood in the city since 1895, but was pulled from its plinth during the demonstration on June 7 last year.

It was damaged as it was dragged through the city to the harbourside, where it was thrown in the water at Pero’s Bridge, which is named in honour of enslaved man Pero Jones who lived and died in the city.

Days later, the statue was recovered from the water by Bristol City Council. 


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