Following the Brexit vote last year, the Syrian refugee crisis and Donald Trump’s shock presidency, the issue of migration is bigger than ever. London is renowned for being a multicultural city so it’s no surprise most of the capital voted against Brexit. Most Londoners recognise the huge contribution migrants have given to the city. However, migration is no new phenomena, with waves from various parts in the world dating back centuries. London itself after all was founded by migrants, aka Romans, in the 1st century. As someone who was born, grew up and continues to live in London, I can’t think of many friends who are British going back generations. I myself am a first generation Brit born to Irish parents and most of my best friends have migrant parents.
With migration being such an important part of London’s history, it’s amazing there hasn’t been a museum dedicated to the subject until now. However this spring, the Migration Museum opened its doors at The Workshop in Lambeth. The Workshop, an arts and community space which is home to the London Fire Brigade Museum among others, is a temporary venue for the Museum until 2018. The museum aims to explore how the movement of people has shaped the country throughout history.
I paid a visit recently and checked out two exhibitions: Call Me By My Name and 100 Images Of Migration. The latter was a collection of thought-provoking images of migrants in Britain from professional and amateur photographers, dating back decades to present day. Although some photos were very different, they collectively demonstrated up the variety of experiences and lifestyles of migrants in the UK. I especially liked a photo of children from different ethnic groups playing together, which was a lovely display of integration and reminded me of my childhood at a multi-cultural, south London primary school.
Call Me By My Name is a particularly powerful exhibition, giving a voice to those who experienced living in Calais’ infamous ‘Jungle’. Following a lot of negative criticism and pigeon-holing in the media, this multi-media exhibition humanises them. Through art, images and other media, it delves into individuals’ motivation for leaving their home country, their desperation to seek safe refuge and their hopes for a new life in the UK or Europe. Reading some of the first-person narratives was incredibly moving and I think many MPs should check it out before making decisions regarding the UK’s treatment of migrants. The exhibition is far from one-sided, giving the views of politicians, lorry drivers and others who hold more negative opinions of migrants. I was specially struck by the tear gas curtain – what looks like a piece of decoration from afar, it’s only on closer inspection you realise it is made of tear gas canisters used in ‘the Jungle’, provoking a disturbing image.
Overall, the Migration Museum provides a balanced, informative and moving collection, putting migration in context and demonstrating it cannot be generalised. Regardless of your background, it’s well worth visiting to explore how movement of people having shaped our country, particularly when Brexit is likely to make a huge impact on this in the coming years.
- Migration Museum @ The Workshop, 26 Lambeth High Street, Lambeth, SE1 7AG. Nearest station: Vauxhall, Westminster or Lambeth North. Open Wed-Sun 10am-4pm. Free admission. For more information, visit the Migration Museum website.
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