The International Slavery Museum (ISM) is the first museum in the world to focus specifically on slavery, both historical and modern. Managed by National Musuems Liverpool, it opened to great acclaim in 2007 and has since welcomed over 3.5million visitors. Through its displays and wide-ranging events programme, the ISM aims to tackle ignorance and misunderstanding in today’s society by exploring the lasting impact of the transatlantic slave trade around the world.
On entering the ISM visitors immediately arrive in a space designed to provoke thoughts and discussion- the walls are etched with powerful quotations from historical figures and contemporary activists, many from the African diaspora. There is a display of West African culture, designed to showcase the breadth and depth of African civilisation before the devastation caused by the transatlantic slave trade, which includes examples of textiles, musical instruments and other ethnographic material. The display then goes on to look at the trade itself; the logistics, the processes and who benefitted on one hand, whilst also exploring the experience of the enslaved through multisensory interpretive techniques, including an emotive film of what the Middle Passage may have been like.
All of these displays are supported by the rich, local archival collections, drawing on Liverpool’s own history as a prosperous, slave-trading port. Moving forward along a chronological timeline, the exhibition then covers abolition, significantly beginning with the acts of resistance from the enslaved themselves, through to organised abolition movements and then discussing the continued fight for freedom through the post-emancipation then civil rights era, right into the twenty-first century. The lasting legacies of the trade are thoroughly examined, from racism and the under-development of African countries, to the spread of African culture and diverse nature of Liverpool’s communities.
A unique feature of the ISM is its ‘Campaign Zone’, opened in 2010, which houses temporary exhibitions just off the main gallery space. These are frequently run in conjunction with campaign organisations and usually focus on aspects of modern slavery, highlighting to visitors that it is very much still a live issue and not one that has been relegated to history. Recent exhibitions in this space have included 'Broken Lives' organised with the Daalit Freedom Network and 'Afro Supa Hero' with artist Jon Daniels.
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