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Rob Fairmichael attended the 10th – 12th April 2017 conference of the International Network of Museums for Peace which took place in Belfast –
It was serendipitous, for me anyhow, that the International Network of Museums for Peace (INMP) should choose Belfast for the venue of their triennial conference. While marking a bit of a departure in that there is no 'museum for peace' in Belfast, there was an obvious interest in visiting a – slightly - post-conflict society. For INNATE and myself personally it provided a good deadline to get together a peace trail for Belfast city centre plus a local one for the Ormeau area, and this was run (or should I say walked, and in one case partly bussed) three times for conference participants.
I would be well aware of both Healing Through Remembering (HTR), and in particular their exhibition 'Everyday objects transformed by the conflict', and also arpilleras through Roberta Bacic of Conflict Textiles, both of which are using objects in 'dealing with the past'. However 'museums for peace' would not have been a topic uppermost in my thoughts. An important point is that the title of the network is 'Museums for Peace' and not 'Peace Museums', in other words any museum can have a function which is promoting peace, it does not have to be a self-proclaimed 'peace museum', and peace trails also feature in INMP's definition of its subject area.
And what is a 'museum'? One definition is "a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited". But an 'exhibition' or touring exhibition can provide the same function, e.g. HTR's "Everyday objects transformed by the conflict."
I am not going to even start defining 'peace' though I would take a fairly wide understanding. The working parameters for peace trails in Ireland include peace, justice, inclusion (newcomers, and Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland) and sustainability, with a nod to pinnacles of cultural achievement or scientific advances which have benefitted humanity. And peace trails don't need a museum building because the broader terrain covered is in itself a physical entity; the conference slogan, "Cities as Living Museums for Peace" could be written about peace trails though I would extend it beyond 'cities' to cover towns and countryside as well.
In this piece I will attempt to share some of the learning I acquired through the conference, and also reflect on the nature of the event and how it fitted into developments in this area in Northern Ireland. This report is fairly long to try to capture the breadth and depth represented at the conference, and I give references where possible (some other items are easily word searchable). 'Parallel session' references only cover the ones I attended or had a connection with; the full programme is on the INMP website.
The programme was quite intense with six parallel sessions in the two days plus several plenary sessions. The first evening was an opening reception at Stormont I did not attend but I hear Mairead Maguire gave a suitably challenging address. Participants had to choose what not to go to as much as choosing what to attend. With 140 people attending, and over half of those attending providing some input to the programme (plenaries or parallel sessions/workshops – I use the latter terms interchangeably) there was a lot happening. Inevitably you missed sessions you would really like to attend because of something else you wanted to attend even more, or you felt you should be there because of its direct relevance to your concerns.
The opening plenary had Brandon Hamber and Elizabeth Crookes speaking, setting out some questions on the contribution of peace museums, e.g. can remembering make change? Brandon Hamber pointed out the importance of looking at how people become killers as well as how people become victims. Elizabeth Crooke showed pictures of some objects such as a stomach pump used for force feeding in Ireland early in the 20th century, and asked about the issue of control – not listening and judging from a position of power but listening and challenging ourselves.
The issue of control was partly answered by one of the respondents in this session, Kate Turner, speaking about how for the 'Everyday objects' exhibition the descriptions are written by the contributors. Kate also pointed out that the Good Friday Agreement had no references to dealing with the past and very limited reference to victims, and that was thanks to the Women's Coalition.
Glenn Patterson, as another respondent, did his level best to be both humorous and provocative, and commented on the INMP reception at Stormont the previous night by saying that it was good to see the place being used. He read from a piece he had written saying it was time that the 'peace process' in Northern Ireland was declared ended so that people could not use it, or 'unfinished business', as an excuse.
One plenary session looked at INMP's history and evolution and briefly took us through a timeline/documentation feature on INMP at timeline.inmp.net This is in addition to the regular website at www.museumsforpeace.org Several prominent members of INMP contributed to this session. Clive Barrett (Bradford Peace Museum peacemuseum.org.uk ), in looking forward, hoped to see the development of staff exchanges, exhibition exchanges, exhibition coproduction and joint funding applications, as well as continued growth in the network and museums seeing the benefit of belonging.
A final plenary at the end of the conference programme shared comments from a panel and from the floor. Brandon Hamber commented on how the Maze 'Peace Centre' (Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre) had failed because it was seen as too risky. Clive Barrett wondered whether tourism in Northern Ireland was contributing to regeneration and breaking down divisions, or perpetuating and freezing them. Liz Lewis of Tehran Peace Museum www.tehranpeacemuseum.org spoke of the importance of sharing with people, and not feeling lonely any more in this field of work.
Social programme included a 25th birthday party (dinner) at McHughs, suitably the oldest building in Belfast. At this there were a number of reminiscences and presentations made to Peter van den Dungen, retiring INMP general coordinator after 25 years, since the start of the network.
On a humorous note, Karine Bigand who spoke in a parallel session about analysis of responses to Healing Through Remembering's 'Everyday objects' exhibition, told of the teacher early in the Troubles in Derry who asked a primary school child about an image they had drawn of a man in a boat – the answer was that it was "One man, one boat"! She also spoke about how, because the objects are 'everyday', people can relate to them. Matthew Jackson in the same workshop spoke about the question of a 'Troubles museum' in Northern Ireland and the rise and demise of the proposed Conflict Transformation Centre at the Maze/Long Kesh. Julieann Campbell in speaking about the Museum of Free Derry, www.museumoffreederry.org recently reopened after a major rebuild, showed images from the time it covered and spoke about how it was as much about our future together as about the past.
Roy Tamashiro in a Memory and Peacebuilding workshop spoke of the infamous Son My (My Lai) massacre in Vietnam where in 1968 US forces killed around 500 villagers with rape and torture part of it. The director of the memorial museum there today was an 11 year old injured survivor whose mother, three sisters and brother were killed. A volunteer tour guide, whose mother was killed in the massacre, expressed gratitude that she could tell her story.
Joyce Apsel in the same workshop spoke about the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia, www.civilandhumanrights.org and its goal to make history more complicated; this is not named as a 'Museum' as the aim is to be a living space and for young people to come (who might be put off by the term 'museum'). The Center includes a replica of a protest at a lunch counter of Woolworths where visitors put on head phones to hear the kind of abuse to which civil rights protesters of the '60s were subjected. There was some discussion as to whether the Center permitted enough reflection and offer of support to people who might be (re)traumatised, though Joyce pointed out it is not a therapeutic centre.
Finally, this workshop saw Akiko Nakada speak about the Himeyuri Peace Museum in Okinawa. www.himeyuri.or.jp During the battle for Okinawa (islands to the south of mainland Japan) in 1945 around 200,000 people were killed, nearly half of them civilians. High school girls were organised into nursing units; of 222 students mobilised from one area, just 99 survived. In 1982, some of the survivors decided to tell their story, not to glorify war but to share their terrible experiences, and a museum was opened in 1989. As any living survivors are now around 90 years of age, work has been done to pass on the baton of telling the stories to a new generation. I was very impressed by what was shared and this was new and different information for me.
In a workshop on Creativity for Peace, Iratxe Momoitio spoke of the multi-faceted work of Gernika Peace Museum. www.museodelapaz.org One amazing example of creative thinking, given the infamous Spanish Civil War bombing of Gernika, was an aerial bombing with poems. She also talked about 'Artivism', a combination of 'art' and 'activism'.
Paula McFetridge of Kabosh (who also did a short dramatic presentation at the City Hall dinner) www.kabosh.net spoke about their methodology, using professional actors but with stories coming from or based on things which have happened; the aim was, she said, to help those who know a story to see it differently, or for people to relate to a story to which they do not currently relate. Ellen Frank of Cities for Peace www.efiaf.org shared some of the amazing artworks produced by this project in conflicted and traumatised cities. These are amazing and beautiful and, while their relevance might be contested, who is to say what they might inspire?
A workshop, or rather two, took place on peace boats, or the role of boats in the peace movement. This was about reclaiming particular history (memorialisation) rather than about a peace museum as such. I only made it to the first session which included Mairead Maguire speaking about her involvement with Palestinian and Israeli issues that developed from the Peace People trying to support nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. Mairead has been on several peace boats to Gaza. Peter van den Dungen, who chaired the session, also mentioned a peace boat, the Oscar II, coming to Europe from the USA with peace activists in 1915 to plead for mediation and visit neutral countries in the First World War. A poster display featured the Phoenix en.wikipedia.org
Karen Hallows of Peace Boat peaceboat.org spoke of how this began in 1983 in Japan in response to whitewashing of Japanese war activities – a 'textbook crisis'. A boat travelled around SE Asia, listening to survivors and compiling stories. The project grew from there and today a thousand participants – not 'passengers' – can be aboard the large chartered ship, with the aim to build a culture of peace. One suggestion was that a proposed new 'ecoship' could actually contain a peace museum. Peace Boat relates to a wide range of issues and geographical areas, and Karen spoke about Villa El Salvador in Peru as an example of a living museum of peace (and, I might add, self help); a word search online will throw up information on this.
Although mentioned in Northern Ireland before, one of the pieces of information I picked up during the conference was that campaigning journalist WT Stead from England was a victim of the Titanic disaster. He certainly had eccentricities but he was a fervent supporter of an end to the arms race and also a supporter of women's rights. He was very active during both the 1899 and 1907 Hague peace conferences. He was travelling to speak at an international conference on world peace and arbitration at Carnegie Hall when he drowned with the Titanic sinking; he helped others on to lifeboats but refused to take a place himself. This is a great little story connecting the Titanic to the peace movement although quite tangential for Belfast.
Roberta Bacic also provided a guided tour of the Conflict Textiles/INNATE exhibition on War-Torn Children at the Linen Hall Library. cain.ulster.ac.uk Apart from optional tours of Belfast and Northern Ireland outside the main conference programme, and the peace trails, this was the only workshop activity 'off campus'; however some of HTR's 'Everyday objects' exhibition was on display at the conference venue and a guided tour was provided there.
In a Peace Building workshop focusing on Northern Ireland the speakers were Paul Mullan (Heritage Lottery Fund), Deirdre MacBride (Community Relations Council) and Karen Logan (Ulster Museum). This included helpful coverage of principles for remembering in the public space. www.hlf.org.uk Karen Logan spoke about the developing approach within the Ulster Museum to coverage of 'the Troubles' and the move to include personal stories and artefacts.
I was a bit player in a panel on peace trails ("Peace trails and walks in divided cities") with the first Belfast peace trail for INMP immediately afterwards. Not there as a speaker, the only contribution I made was in response to a question about how peace trails can deal with divisions; I pointed out that as it is a trail with different inputs/information, different approaches can be stated, and that it is also possible to tell the relevant truth but not necessarily the 'whole' truth (i.e. overcomplicating things). Negotiating what is said on different sides may require both empathy and tact. For the Belfast peace trail, information about currently existing groups would be given to them to check before any peace trail is launched. But in most cases it is not an issue.
The peace trails session was chaired by Petra Keppler, office organiser of INMP in Den Haag/The Hague. INMP has been behind the development of peace trails for a number of European cities (Budapest, Berlin, The Hague, Manchester, Paris, Turin, Vienna), see www.discoverpeace.eu Marten van Harten spoke at the peace trails session about attempted engagement – not always successful - with a wide variety of groups including an Islamic school in developing the Den Haag peace trail, which links various museums including the Yi Jun Korean peace museum. Marten ended with the quote from James Joyce's Ulysses (as spoken by Stephen Dedalus) that "History is the nightmare from which I am trying to awake".
Clive Barrett in the same workshop emphasised finding peace stories where you are, and I would go on to say that while this may be presented through a peace museum, if appropriate, it is easiest done in peace trails and, indeed, if a 'peace trail' seems impossible, even a 'peace feature' should be a lesser alternative. Questions he posited included who is a peace trail for, what you want users to get out of it, and whether it is updateable. Other speakers included Lonnie Franks, who spoke about organising 'peace builders' walks (and using cards and stickers to give to people on peace heroes and values espoused), and Liska Blodgett who has been involved with a peace museum and walks in Colorado and a peace museum or display in Vienna where the displays are in windows (aka 'Windows for Peace' www.peacemuseumvienna.com) facing outwards and therefore always 'open'.
The peace trail route in Belfast which I had devised for INMP consisted of part of a city centre route (straight rather than circular) linking with an Ormeau local peace trail. The first day of the conference the Ormeau part was done by bus to enable more participants and those who could not walk too far to come, and also a greater possibility of translation for some people. The difficulty in doing this is that a bus cannot stop on the pavement to look at a building, get told a story, or ask a question. In fact the bus journey was speedier than anticipated for a rush hour journey, possibly because it was coming up to Easter and traffic was lighter, but fortunately the driver found somewhere to pull in and park for five or ten minutes - otherwise the coverage would have been very much truncated.
Bus tours and walking tours are rather different; you can use travel time in a bus to give information, and you can get out at suitable destinations. But if the distance you are travelling is not too great, and you want to impart frequent information about places you pass, then walking is by far the better option. However in this case the partial 'walking trail by bus' worked out all right, and a group walked the city centre part of the route.
The information sheet which participants on the peace trail walks were given was 'notes to accompany a guided tour'. The finished self-guided peace trail, a couple of years down the line, will follow the same basic outline but will require additional information on many features to make sense. And while the feedback on the peace trail walks was positive, the most helpful comment was from a participant who said that people coming to Northern Ireland for the first time required more information on the peace process to be able to understand things. While it would be very difficult to do this while being on a peace trail, it would indicate the need for supporting information which would be available to people.
At INMP's suggestion I also wrote a short article, produced as a leaflet, giving a peace movement perspective on Belfast City Hall; this is available from INNATE on request, contact email@example.com
One of the websites I became aware of through the conference details several thousand 'peace monuments' worldwide; it is compiled by Edward Lollis from the USA www.maripo.com This is extensive and includes many entries that might be thought of as conflict or war memorials rather than peace memorials but it is a fascinating resource.
Brief introductions of 'who was in the room' were facilitated by one of the panel members at a plenary on the second day; there had been no such introductions previously. While informal introductions and chat are a natural part of any such conference, there should have been facilitated introductions on the opening night.
One suggestion which INNATE had made six months before is that the opening event should have been a 'marketplace' where delegates, and local people not attending the conference but who wanted to get a flavour of what was happening, would attend. For this, people could stand by a stall with leaflets and information, or wander around carrying a sheet with who they are and what they are involved in, and impromptu conversations would begin and end, and flow on elsewhere. The result would have been a deeper understanding of who was there. It would also have enabled civil society locally to engage with the conference, and those attending the full conference to meet a broader swathe of local people. There was a very limited number of local students, academics and people involved with museums attending; I would have liked to see an opportunity for considerably more to attend.
INMP is a cash-strapped organisation. The fact that it could not offer subsidies to attend meant that Africa, Latin America and Asia aside from Japan were almost totally unrepresented. It would require major fundraising work to correct this situation. A limited number of student and community bursaries were made available in Northern Ireland through fundraising by Healing Through Remembering and administered by them. But when you are meeting in a particular location it costs little or nothing extra to have some open sessions which locals can attend and this opportunity was missed.
Part of the problem was in the set up of the conference. With no one locally (e.g. a peace museum) who had the peoplepower resources to organise the conference, a deal was done with Visit Belfast by the international organisation (nothing to do with the local steering/advisory committee) who then hired conference organisers. While I presume the hired conference organising was generally excellent - and what I saw seemed to work as smoothly as any such international conference I have seen - for an impecunious peace network it was the wrong model and it meant a £250 fee for anyone attending the conference.
This is a hefty whack of money as a participation fee before you add on travel and accommodation, and particularly as Ulster University gave all rooms and space for free (well done UU). If requested to do so, I think local contacts and the local steering/advisory committee could have found someone to be hired to organise the conference for even less than half the price; this would have meant no reception at Stormont, no City Hall dinner (excellent as it was), but I feel would have been more suitable to the needs of the structure.
Perhaps a surprising omission from the programme was anything in the nature of technical or detailed workshops for people who are curators, directors and decision makers in peace museums or peace related exhibitions. Workshops or 'parallel sessions' were based on the usual 'call for papers' for the conference and while a certain amount of 'how to' might be shared anyway, more technical or specific approaches would not be something which individuals or institutions might suggest themselves. There might therefore be a role for INMP – or equivalent organisations in other settings – commissioning workshops which would assist those already heavily involved to think through some of the approaches and issues they face.
I came away with additional knowledge about the range of peace museums and knowing a little more about peace trails and approaches to peace. I didn't get to learn as much as I would like about Japanese peace museums – uniquely a country with its very own peace museums network – but that may have been my own fault in choosing to attend the sessions that I did. I note that INMP has a 2009 publication on grassroots peace museums in Japan so I hope to get a copy of that.
I would certainly like to see more 'museums for peace' developments in relation to Northern Ireland, and in Ireland in general, beyond HTR's 'Everyday Objects' exhibition and the peace trails for Belfast, Derry and Dublin which are in train. Obviously funding is an issue, the major issue, for many developments. In the Northern Ireland context I feel Healing Through Remembering, with a little help from their friends, could do miracles with some of the ideas generated in their 'Living Memorial Museum' project if they had even a modicum of funding. See here.
Although there were some frustrations along the way, the conference itself was very enjoyable and I found it a good learning experience.
- An album of photos from the conference can be found on INNATE's Flickr page.