May 22, 2018

No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain – The Migration Museum

This was the first time I had visited the Migration Museum at The Workshop in Lambeth, which opened last year. The project aims to increase knowledge about how migration has shaped Britain through having a permanent project space, education programme and a sharing network between other heritage-sector organisations.

Prompted by the EU referendum result and the negotiations for Brexit this exhibition – No Turning Back – explores seven turning points in Britain’s history surrounding migration events. The exhibition delves into Britain’s relationship with the world, it’s attitude towards migration and the affect on communities and individuals. Each of the moments is explored through text, art, photography and visitor contributions and are presented as initial insights into the history of migration.

The exhibition includes a broad mix of contributors each who present their personal migration experience using various mediums. I found the venue space exciting and was struck by the size of the exhibition. The curation of the exhibition felt inviting, with a yellow-orange colour scheme, and far from the white cube style of gallery. There were places to sit, relax and contemplate the work and plenty of spaces inviting the audience to contribute with their own thoughts.

Each of the seven moments were contextualised in writing and then explored further through case studies and visual works. I found startling comparisons between the English expulsion of the Jews in 1290 to the events under Nazi Germany over 600 years later. I was unaware of previous events that discriminated against Jews in such a large scale and organised way. This ‘expulsion of the Jews is an extreme example of how the gradual build-up of simmering hostility against a particular group of people can escalate into something more drastic’ (sourced from the exhibition content).

‘On one level, the expulsion of the Jews from England is merely a date in history. But on another, it is part of a recurring pattern in which Jews have been marginalised, denied equal rights, subjected to special rules, ghettoised, vilified, driven from cities and expelled from countries. Such a history cannot fail to have an impact. It leaves a heightened sensitivity to the suffering caused by prejudice, ignorance, inequality before the law and the denial of dignity to our fellow human beings’ – Jonathan Wittenberg, Rabbi, New North London Synagogue

The exhibition drew startling viewpoints together as one text spoke about marginalised Jews and the next a perspective from a Muslim facing similar discrimination in the current society. Sidrah Mirza, an earth scientist, feels that ‘the media and populist politicians are fuelling this Islamophobia’ and that she has to ‘be the perfect Muslim because everything [she says or does] will get attributed to [her] entire religion’ (sourced from the exhibition content).

I particularly liked the artwork ‘Humanae’ by Angelica Dass (2012-2017) which catalogs human skin tones in a Pantone style format. The project ‘invites people to rethink their identity [and] to bring people together instead of separating them’ (sourced from the exhibition content). i found the art work really beautiful and almost like a patchwork of the human race.

I found the artwork ‘Patching’ by Leyla Reynolds (2017) really playful and interesting to view as her work was bright, bold and graphic. In this work, Reynolds is responding to 2021 where the growing number of mixed-raced Britons may produce more conversations around mixed identity and move beyond the narrative of being caught between two cultures.

‘We seem more at home in self-congratulation over the past than in confronting the needs of those fleeing persecution today’ – Professor Tony Kushner, author of The Battle of Britishness

A part of the exhibition that interested me was the 2017 Global Passport Power Rank that showed how many countries your passport can gain you entry to visit. The top five were Germany (with 158 countries), Singapore, Sweden, South Korea and Denmark with the UK (with 156 countries) being twelfth of the list. At the other end of the list shows Afghanistan (with 26 countries) being last on the list followed by Iraq and Pakistan.

One of the wall titled ‘conversations’ gives the viewer the chance to read other views and contribute to the exhibition, such as asking ‘Could we ever live in a world without boarders?’. Overall I definitely felt challenged and that I had learn more about the history of migration and Britain. More importantly I read some current perspectives from people today who, along with the rest of the exhibition, ultimately poses the question, ‘What’s your migration moment?’.

Images from the ‘No Turning Back’ exhibition at the Migration Museum