People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester will open 2020 by unveiling a new exhibition of historical and contemporary banners (Saturday 25 January 2020 to Sunday 3 January 2021) that will give visitors the first introduction to the theme of migration, which the national museum of democracy will be exploring in a full programme of activities throughout the year.
25 new banners will go on display over two floors of the main galleries in the museum, with each of those featured for 2020 having played an active role in a chapter of history spanning the period 1899 to 2019. The theme of migration is reflected in a number of different ways from individual campaigns to those that were part of international pledges of solidarity and support. Brought together for the first time they represent a powerful and compelling narrative that helps to give a greater understanding and insight into the issues, experiences, consequences and opportunities of migration.
Katy Ashton, Director of People’s History Museum, says, “Our 2020 banner exhibition has been curated to explore the stories of migration and understand more about the people that are behind these stories. It will lead into a year in which the museum will deliver one of its boldest programmes ever, with co-creation and community participation at the very heart, each being fundamental aspects of how People’s History Museum opens its doors and welcomes the voices of all.”
The 2020 exhibition of banners looks at migration in many different ways from both a historical and contemporary perspective, often tracing how the two connect. The legacy of colonialism, how migration has shaped the lives of individuals, communities coming to the aid of each other, the movement of people and workforces, the individual experiences and the impact of laws and legislation are all elements explored through the strong and impactful visual of banners.
As with all of People’s History Museum’s banner collection, the pieces vary considerably from those that were commissioned by professional banner makers to those created by campaigners ‘in the moment’. There are even stories within the banners themselves. For example, the oldest banner in this year’s exhibition is that of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers (1899). A work of art in its own right the pure silk banner lavishly hand painted in oils is the creation of the George Tutill workshop. One of the most famous banner makers of his time, George specifically established his business in east London to be close to the skilled, mainly migrant, traditional silk weavers who were of Huguenot descent (French protestants who fled following persecution).
Mahoro Must Stay (2007) is an example of a homemade banner made by campaigners. Mahoro Mugabo arrived in the UK in 2002 seeking asylum from Rwanda. Her husband was murdered in 2002 by militia for giving evidence about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, following which Mahoro was imprisoned and raped by her captors. HIV positive, Mahoro was unable to access life-saving drugs so sought asylum in the UK. She was twice held at a deportation facility, before in 2010 those supporting her campaign in the UK were successful in securing her asylum.
There are also layers of stories to be discovered, including that of German philosopher Karl Marx, who came to the UK as a refugee in the 1840s having been expelled from his home in Paris for his radical beliefs. His thinking and philosophy would go on to influence the founding of communism movements around the world, and the Communist Party of Great Britain banner (around 1920) reflects this. The Transport & General Workers’ Union (TGWU) led a campaign in 2004 to regulate the practices of gangmasters (people who organise and oversee the work of casual manual labourers) following the drowning of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morcambe Bay that year. The campaign to stop the exploitation of illegal immigrants is symbolically represented by a TGWU banner from the early 1980s.
The UK’s show of solidarity to international crises is highlighted by banners that have witnessed different situations, including Printers Aid Spain (around 1937) and Bread, Work and Freedom for the People of Chile (around 1980). During the Spanish Civil War trade unions throughout Britain responded by sending aid and assistance to Spain and, following a successful campaign after the bombing of Guernica (April 1937), 4,000 children were evacuated to Britain. In the aftermath of the Chilean coup of 1973 individuals and organisations in the UK rallied to Chile’s aid. The banner that appears in PHM’s exhibition was part of the demonstrations that took place in London to demand human rights for the people of Chile. The World University Service (WUS) was the biggest of the UK based campaigns and it alone assisted over 900 Chileans, who were fleeing General Pinochet’s persecution, to come to the UK.
Representing very active projects of today are two banners from the Revive Women’s Group that were made during Refugee Week 2019. Working with artist Ibukun Baldwin, commissioned by ArtReach in partnership with Revive UK, the banners were created during workshops held to support women refugees and those seeking asylum as part of the Journeys Festival International, funded by The National Lottery Community Fund. The banner making process helped these women communicate and discuss the issues they face and share these with the public to achieve greater understanding and awareness of the refugee experience.
Zofia Kufeldt, Programme Officer at People’s History Museum, says, “Migration is a theme that has many different dimensions to it and within the 2020 exhibition of banners we’ve sought to feature as many of these aspects as possible. There are incredibly moving stories to discover that we hope will inspire discussion and further participation in our programme for 2020 as it evolves. During the year ahead we’ll see gallery takeovers, new exhibits, digital installations, artistic responses and collaborations, Family Friendly activities and much more, all centred on the theme of migration.”
The new exhibition of banners is a key moment in the annual calendar for People’s History Museum that revamps a quarter of the museum’s main galleries and its visitor experience. PHM’s team of specialist conservators oversee the whole process, with each of the banners first being expertly cared for in The Conservation Studio, a dedicated studio space where a viewing window enables the public a behind the scenes look at conservation in action. People’s History Museum holds the largest collection of political and trade union banners in the world.
People’s History Museum is open seven days a week from 10.00am to 5.00pm, Radical Lates are on the second Thursday each month, open until 8.00pm. The museum is free to visit with a suggested donation of £5. To find out about visiting the museum, its full exhibition and events programme visit phm.org.uk.
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Katy Ashton, Director, People’s History Museum
As PHM marks its 10th birthday Katy can talk about the history of the national museum of democracy and its role today. Part of this conversation is about how the museum has shaped co-creation, its programme-led approach, its partnership work and what it believes the future of democracy might look like.
Dr Shirin Hirsch, Researcher, People’s History Museum
Shirin is a Researcher and key spokesperson for PHM. She specialises in the history of modern Britain with a particular focus on the labour movement, as well as questions of race and Empire. Shirin’s current research on migration includes an exploration of the Grunwick strike and its leader Jayaben Desai.
Zofia Kufeldt, Programme Officer, People’s History Museum
Zofia has been working with the Community Programme Team as well as other groups and individuals to plan PHM’s 2020 programme. She is responsible for curating the 2020 banner exhibition and also inviting people to take over the main galleries, challenging and reinterpreting the history we share. In addition to talking about the migration story PHM tells, she can share insight into its rich collections.
Jenny van Enckevort, Conservation Manager, People’s History Museum
Jenny oversees The Conservation Studio where the team look after not only the museum’s collection, but also take external commissions. The Studio’s large scale facilities and specialist equipment make this a unique operation. The work that it does to conserve the museum’s world class collection of banners is just one of the areas that Jenny can talk about.
Kloe Rumsey, Conservator, People’s History Museum
Kloe specialises in object conservation and cares for the museum’s whole collection, including banners, furniture, ceramics and posters. Kloe worked on the banners that will be on display in 2020 and can talk about these items and their stories.
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About People’s History Museum (PHM)
People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester is the national museum of democracy, telling the story of its development in Britain: past, present, and future. The museum provides opportunities for all people to learn about, be inspired by and get involved in ideas worth fighting for; ideas such as equality, social justice, co-operation, and a fair world for all. PHM offers a powerful programme with annual themes; 2018 looked at representation and commemorated 100 years since the first women and all men won the right to vote in Britain, 2019 sees a year of activities around protest movements to mark the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, and the programme for 2020 is on the theme of migration. Previous winner of Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award.
About Arts Council England (ACE)
PHM is an Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisation (NPO). The work of PHM is supported using public funding by ACE, the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. ACE support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, ACE will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from The National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. artscouncil.org.uk